Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510
The story consists of twenty-four vignettes, or short scenes. What the reader learns about Kennedy is filtered through what the narrator and Kennedy's acquaintances say about the man, as well as what Kennedy says about himself and about his views on the world. The story opens with a description, given by the narrator, of Kennedy at work. The description sets the tone for the rest of the story: these scenes will be brief and will often present contradictory ideas. K., as Kennedy is referred to throughout, is neither abrupt nor kind, or he is abrupt and kind, says the narrator. He uses the telephone both to dominate and to comfort those at the other end.
There is no plot in the traditional sense of the concept. The vignettes are not arranged by a sequence of events that build to a climax and resolve themselves in the falling action. Instead, the vignettes are arranged much as collages are. Therefore, some of their import depends upon what scenes are next to each other. For example, in one scene readers find one of Kennedy's friends speaking about Kennedy's solitary nature and how difficult he is to get to know. The next scene offers Kennedy's own commentary on his relationships with crowds of people. Often, like the narrator's comments in the opening scene, these juxtapositions offer contradictory views of the man.
Many scenes are concerned with the ordinary things that Kennedy does. At a party, he goes behind the bar to make himself a drink only to be asked by the bartender to leave. He receives twelve newspapers a day. He travels through unnamed towns in France and Germany. Later, he wanders unnamed in towns in what is presumably the United States and sees the young people of the country. He reacts emotionally to music on the radio, or to stories he has read in the newspapers. He comments on art. He fails to understand his children. He dreams. He struggles in the water, nearly drowning, though without any emotional reaction whatsoever.
Five of the twenty-four scenes offer direct quotes from Kennedy's friends and employees. His secretaries and administrative assistants, for example, recount stories of his actions. One secretary tells how he personally delivered tulips to her when she was in the hospital; the assistant tells how he resolved a mounting (but unidentified) crisis with a single phone call His former teacher identifies compassion as perhaps Kennedy's most distinguishing quality.
The remaining scenes introduce Kennedy's own comments on the world and his role in it. Like the narrator's descriptions, these comments are often contradictor).', or give multiple facets of the man. He speaks about how he responds to and manages crowds of people. In another, he speculates that he has no effect on the world at all. In all cases, however, Kennedy identifies with what he calls the "Marivaudian being," a person who is always in the immediate present.
In the final scene, the narrator finds Kennedy in the water, drowning. The narrator throws a rope to him and pulls him to safety.
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