Belacqua’s aunt lives in Dublin. He goes and visits her, bringing her a lobster for their meal. She is a very down-to-earth and practical person, focused on the facts of everyday life. In many ways, she is the opposite of Belacqua.
Mademoiselle Glain teaches French lessons next door to the room where Signorina Ottolenghi works. She has a cat that tries to eat Belacqua’s lobster while Belacqua is taking his Italian lesson. Because of this, Belacqua decides he hates her, calling her a ‘ ‘base prying [b ]” and ‘ ‘a devout, virginal blue-stocking, honing after a penny’s worth of scandal.”
According to the narrator, the grocer is “a warm-hearted human man [who] felt sympathy and pity for this queer character who always looked ill and dejected.” However, he is a “small tradesman” and is not motivated entirely by charity. Belacqua goes to the grocer’s shop to buy a slab of Gorgonzola cheese for his sandwich. Belacqua thinks of the grocer as a ‘ ‘decent, obliging” person, but he also behaves badly toward him, quickly changing his mind about the grocer, calling him an “impudent dogsbody” [or low servant]. Although he curses the grocer for giving him a second-rate piece of cheese, he takes it anyway and leaves without paying. Because of his “small tradesman’s sense of personal dignity,” he is unwilling to make the effort to chase after Belacqua for the few pennies he steals from him.
McCabe is a murderer who is to be put to death in the coming days. Belacqua sees his picture in the newspaper that he lays out on his table as the story opens, and thoughts of McCabe go through Belacqua’s mind as he goes through his day. He symbolizes death, and since Belacqua has his mind on death throughout the day, death takes on the face of McCabe. He appears in many of the stories in More Pricks than Kicks, the collection in which ‘ ‘Dante and the Lobster” appears.
Signorina Adriana Ottolenghi is Belacqua’s Italian tutor. He calls her “the Ottolenghi,” a name similar to the names he gives to other women in other stories in More Pricks than Kicks—the Smeraldina, or the Alba, for instance. He has a ‘ ‘crush” on her (calling her’ ‘charming and remarkable”) and looks forward to their meetings. The narrator says that he “had set her on a pedestal in her mind, apart from other women.” She is “of a certain age,” which means that she is no longer precisely young and marriageable, but neither is she old quite yet. The narrator says that she found ‘ ‘being young and beautiful and pure a bore,” a trait which must certainly be alluring to the perverse Belacqua. During the class, he attempts to impress her with his knowledge of an Italian saying and by asking her questions about the particularly difficult passage in Dante’s Paradiso that he was studying at the beginning of the story. At the start of the class, she compliments Belacqua on his progress in Italian, but by the end she mutters of how she regrets his lack of progress, saying that they are “where we were, as we were.”
Belacqua Shuah is the main character both of ‘ ‘Dante and the Lobster” and of the collection More Pricks than Kicks as a whole. His primary characteristics are aimlessness and futility, characteristics that he takes from his namesake, Belacqua from Dante’s Purgatorio. That Belacqua is condemned to remain in the Ante-Purgatory for a time equivalent to his entire life span and cannot enter Purgatory (where his sins will be purged and where he will be prepared for entry into Paradise) until that time has ended. Dante sees him slumped “with his arms around his knees, and between his knees he kept his head bent down” (Purgatorio Vl.lQ 7-&). “What’s the use in climbing?” he asks Dante when Dante questions him about his lack of motivation.
When we first see Belacqua Shuah, he is ‘ ‘stuck” or “bogged” in his reading, and the story follows him as he attempts to accomplish things. Some he does accomplish (he makes toast, after concerted effort, and obtains a slab of quite satisfactory cheese); others, he does not (the encounter with Signorina Ottolenghi does not go as well as he had hoped). It takes Belacqua an enormous amount of effort to accomplish the smallest things, and he seems always on the verge of getting stuck and not going on. He is also followed by images of death, thinking repeatedly of condemned murderers and finally realizing that the lobster he carried around all afternoon is in fact alive and that he will be present for its death. The lobster begins to represent him: “for hours, in the midst of its enemies, it had breathed secretly. It had survived the Frenchwoman’s cat and his witless clutch.” Like Belacqua, the lobster survives a hostile world only to be plunged into boiling water to meet its death. Futility, it seems, is at the very core of human (and crustacean) existence.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Samuel Beckett, Published by Gale, 2002.