(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A discussion of “The Street of Crocodiles” must begin with the difficulty of identifying its central figure or hero. The first sentence reads in a deceptively clear and straightforward fashion: “My father kept in the lower drawer of his large desk an old and beautiful map of our city.” Later, very little is clear. As in the works of Franz Kafka, a “terrible ambiguity” seems to hang over the story. It is not a story about the father, nor is it really a story about the narrator’s town, even though that town is the principal character. It is a story about modern life, its degeneration as a result of the triumph of commercialism and cheap values (see the metaphoric title), a story about the “degradation of reality” as a modern Polish critic (Artur Sandauer) has called it. There may not even be an actual city—at least none is ever named, and its geographic location would be difficult to pinpoint except to say that it is a city in the Western world where Western goods are traded. The reader knows no more of it except that an “old and very beautiful map” exists of this city where the engraver entered with great care every significant detail: “streets and alleyways, the sharp lines of cornices, architraves, archivolts, and pilasters.” The city has an old and a new section, and it is the new section with its “pseudo-Americanism” and its “shops with the stigma of some wild Klondike” that the author uses as his metaphor for the decrepitude and illusoriness of life in the twentieth century. Here, starting with the vegetation, everything is cheap and shoddy....

(The entire section is 648 words.)