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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Rosen, an elderly former coffee sales representative, lives in a drab and spartan room, into which Davidov, a census-taker, has limped without knocking. Davidov is surprised that the worn, black shade over the single narrow window is closed, but Rosen grumbles that he does not need light. After cryptic—and, for...

(The entire section contains 464 words.)

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Rosen, an elderly former coffee sales representative, lives in a drab and spartan room, into which Davidov, a census-taker, has limped without knocking. Davidov is surprised that the worn, black shade over the single narrow window is closed, but Rosen grumbles that he does not need light. After cryptic—and, for Rosen, uncomfortable—preliminary exchanges, Davidov opens a notebook and prepares to write. Finding his pen empty, the census-taker pulls out a pencil stub and sharpens it with a razor blade, letting the flakes fall to the floor.

Davidov finally prods Rosen into revealing the nature of his acquaintance with Eva Kalish and the charities that Rosen extended to her. Eva, thirty-eight years old and the mother of two young girls, is the recent widow of a nearly bankrupt immigrant Jewish grocer who died at Rosen’s feet. Rosen’s subsequent efforts to aid the new widow clearly play a critical role in the census-taker’s inquiry.

Rosen is made to relate his persistent attempts to help Eva and her children as she struggles, and fails, to keep her dead husband’s business afloat. Drawing on his own experience, he repeats to Eva the advice that he once gave her husband: The store is in a bad neighborhood; it was a mistake to begin with; it will be a grave for him and his family; they should get out. After Mr. Kalish’s capital was exhausted, he had agreed with Rosen, just as he fell dead. Rosen tells the widow to take the insurance money bequeathed to her, leave the business to creditors, and go to relatives.

Rosen is secretly in love with Eva, and his pleading becomes more insistent, but Eva is deaf to him. She cannot go to relatives; Adolf Hitler has killed them. She refuses his offer of credit. She even becomes upset when he brings her a piece of sirloin. She will not consider rent-free living in part of a house Rosen owns. She will not even allow him to pay for someone to watch her children while she looks for a job. Rosen fails, too, when proposing a platonic marriage, from which he seeks nothing but to care for her. Eva steadfastly rejects each of Rosen’s overt and covert offers of charity.

Each rejection, none of which he comprehends, plunges Rosen more deeply into despair. Nevertheless, he is determined. Drafting his will, Rosen leaves all of his worldly goods to Eva and her girls, turns on the gas, sticks his head in the stove, and commits suicide.

Rosen is a suicide looking out the window of his coffin; Davidov is an angel sent to record Rosen’s charities. When Eva appears at the coffin window to apologize, Rosen screams at her: “Whore, bastard, bitch. Go ’way from here.”

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