The story opens with Belacqua Shuah, the protagonist, studying the “canti of the moon” of the Paradiso of Dante Alighieri. He is confused by the text and becomes bored with it. Frustrated, he slams the book shut and thinks about what he has to do with the rest of the day. “First lunch,” he thinks, “then the lobster, then the Italian lesson.” To prepare lunch, he spreads out a newspaper on the table and then goes over and lights the gas burner on the stove. He takes out the toaster and thinks about the proper way to make toast. Slicing some bread, he carefully and methodically toasts it. Coating the toast with mustard, hot pepper and salt, he prepares to eat it, then thinks better of it. He wraps the toast in newspaper and leaves his apartment.
Keeping his head down so as not to be bothered as he walks the streets of Dublin, Belacqua goes quickly to the cheese shop where, he knows, the proprietor has a slab of Gorgonzola waiting for him. But when Belacqua arrives at the cheese shop, he refuses to take the cheese; it is not rotten enough for him. However, he relents, and cursing Angelo, he nonetheless takes the cheese and leaves without paying. Leaving the cheese shop, he reconsiders his schedule. He thinks that he can probably spend his money on beer and drink it while he waits for the fishmonger’s shop to open in the afternoon.
As Belacqua nears the school where his lesson is to take place, he thinks back on the lunch that he has consumed and is immensely satisfied with it. Even though the cheese seemed like it would be mild, it ended up being quite strong. Reminiscing on the painful experience of chewing hard, toasted bread, he then begins musing about condemned murderers who might be executed in the near future. He picks up the lobster from the fishmonger, is confused by the man’s description of it as “lepping fresh,” and proceeds on to his Italian lesson. Immediately, he asks Signorina Ottolenghi, his teacher, about the canti of the moon. As they talk, the French teacher, Mile. Glain, knocks on the door and wants to know what is in the package outside the door, since the cat was attacking the package and almost tore it “to flitters.” When Belacqua and Signorina Ottolenghi begin their lesson again, Signorina Ottolenghi expresses exasperation that they never seem to make any progress.
After his lesson, Belacqua walks to his aunt’s house for dinner. Seeing a dejected couple in a doorway, he thinks of the Bible and then of the condemned murderer McCabe and his last meal. When he arrives at his aunt’s, he finds her in the garden. She embraces him, and they go into the basement kitchen, where she unwraps the package containing the lobster. He is stunned to discover that the lobster is alive, and his aunt laughs at him for that. When he asks what she intends to do with a live lobster, she says, “Boil the beast, what else?” He is horrified, thinking that it has survived so many perils only to be boiled alive. He reassures himself by thinking that it is a quick death, after all; the narrator, though, answers that “It is not.”
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Samuel Beckett, Published by Gale, 2002.