(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narration begins with a pronouncement that the present established by calendars and clocks is merely arbitrary; that the self and the people around the self constitute the true present. The reader is thus introduced to the ensuing interior monologue and its obsession with time.

The narrator’s present is dominated by his retirement from business and an impending inertia. It is also largely dedicated to medicine. In arming himself against disease, the narrator, Zeno, is aided by his nephew Carlo, just out of the university and conversant with the most up-to-date remedies. Guided by Carlo, Zeno is committed to preventive treatments. Having determined that Mother Nature will maintain life in an organism only so long as there is hope that it will reproduce, he prescribes a mistress for himself.

Zeno and the tobacconist, Felicita, to whom he becomes attracted, agree at the outset on a monthly allowance. Felicita rarely neglects to mention the stipend falling due by the twentieth of the month. For his part, Zeno never lets on that his interest in her is primarily medical. Zeno learns, however, that another person is a “complex medicine,” impossible to take in doses. On one of the two days of the week he is scheduled to visit his mistress, he decides that he would be better off listening to Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1823). The next day, however, he determines to take advantage of what is due him. He reminds himself...

(The entire section is 468 words.)