A Face in the Dark, Ruskin Bond

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“A Face in the Dark” by Ruskin Bond narrates an incident that revolves around Mr. Oliver, an Anglo-Indian teacher who taught in an English school in Shimla. It describes strange and frightening encounter of Mr. Oliver who spots a faceless boy in the eerie forest in the dark of the night. Panicked, he drops his torch and in the dark starts running and bumps into the night watchman who too is faceless.

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Extract I

“From before Kipling’s time, the school had been run……..the school for several years.”

Question (i): Who was Mr Oliver? What was his usual leisure activity?

Answer (i): Mr Oliver was an Anglo-Indian teacher, who was teaching in a school, located on the outskirts of the hill-station of Simla. He was a bachelor and would usually stroll into the Simla Bazaar town located three miles from the school, and would return after dark by taking a shortcut through the pine forest.

Question (ii): What was called ‘Eton of the East’? Why?

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Answer (ii): The all-boys school in Simla, in which Mr Oliver was a teacher has been called ‘Eton of the East.’

Life Magazine, in a feature on India, had once called Mr Oliver’s school ‘Eton of the East’ because the school had been run on an English public school lines and the boys, most of them were from wealthy Indian families and were supposed to wear blazers, caps and ties. Eton is also a school in England meant for royalty and elite class. Hence, the comparison.

Question (iii): What kind of weather was there on the night when Oliver was returning to his school? How does it add to the setting of the story?

Answer (iii): That night strong wind was blowing through the pine forest which created sad, eerie sounds. Supernatural atmosphere is created by the elements like eerie sounds of the pine trees, batteries of the torch running down, flickering light, silent sobbing, and lantern swinging in the middle of the path. All these things prepare us for some mysterious or uncanny happenings.

Question (iv): What did Oliver encounter while coming back to school one night? What did he do after that?

Answer (iv): While walking back to school one night, in flickering light of his torch, he saw a boy who was crying silently with his head hung down, sitting on a rock.

After seeing the boy, Oliver immediately thought that he was a miscreant from his school as boys were not allowed to leave the premises after dark. He got angry and questioned the boy as to what he was doing so late and approached closer to the boy in order to recognise the miscreant.

Question (v): What kind of man was Oliver as described earlier by the author? How did he prove himself opposite of this description?

Answer (v): In the beginning of the story the author describes Oliver to be a courageous man who did not believe in existence of supernatural things. He was the only person who could dare to take shortcut route through the pine forest late in the night even in a stormy weather.

Later towards the end of the story when Oliver saw the boy with a featureless face, he was horrified and seemed to be in the grip of unknown fear. The torch he was holding fell from his trembling hand and he ran blindly through the tress calling for help. This incident shows that when Oliver was in real danger, he got overwhelmed with unknown fear, could not think rationally and reacted like a coward. His behaviour was quite opposite of what was portrayed earlier about him being a daring personality.

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Extract II

“What are you doing out here……felt distinctly uneasy.”

Question (i): Where did Mr Oliver find the boy? What did he notice about the boy?

Answer (i): Mr. Oliver was walking through the pine forest late in a stormy night when he happened to spot a boy sitting on a rock.

He noticed that the boy was crying with his head hung down and his face held in his hands.

Question (ii): Why do you think the boy was called a miscreant? In what condition was he found by Oliver?

Answer (ii): Boys were not supposed to be out of school premises after dark. The boy had broken the rule and was spotted in the forest late in the night. This is the reason the boy was called a miscreant by the author.

Oliver found the boy sitting on a rock and crying silently with his head hung down and his face held in his hands.

Question (iii): How did Mr Oliver express his concern for the boy? How did the boy react to it?

Answer (iii): Since the boy had broken the rule by staying out after dark, Mr Oliver got angry. But when he noticed that the boy was continuously crying he got concerned and asked him what he was doing there and why he was crying.

The boy did not respond and continued to cry silently. Oliver again enquired what was troubling him and asked him to look up.

Question (iv): How can you explain the boy’s ‘strange, soundless weeping’?

Answer (iv): The boy’s ‘strange, soundless weeping’ could be explained on the basis that Oliver had been hearing stories about supernatural events happening in the region. Being a bachelor and lonely person, the stories of ghosts and spirits might have left deep impressions in his subconscious mind. The boy sitting on a rock, as perceived by him in the flickering light of the torch, augmented with eerie atmosphere created by the weather and the forest; triggered a sequence of images in his mind which made him feel uneasy.

Question (v): What strange revelation took place when the boy finally looked up at Oliver?

Answer (v): When the boy finally looked up at Oliver, it was revealed that the boy had no features on his face. Oliver was terrified to see that the face was without eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was just a round smooth head with a school cap on it.

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Extract III

“The torch fell from his trembling hand……Why are you running?”

Question (i): Whose ‘trembling hand’ is referred to in the above extract? Why was it trembling?

Answer (i): Oliver’s ‘trembling hand’ is referred to here. Oliver was expecting to see a familiar face but was horrified to see a face that was featureless, without eyes, ears, nose or mouth. His hands started trembling as he was gripped by some unknown fear.

Question (ii): Explain the sentence:

“He turned and scrambled down the path, running blindly through the trees.”

Answer (ii): Oliver was horrified and gripped by unknown fear when he saw the faceless boy. The torch had fallen from his trembling hand and he was unable to see the path in the dark. Without the torch, for all practical purposes, he was blind. He got panicked and, in attempt to save his life, scrambled down the path running blindly through the trees in direction of the school building.

Question (iii): What did Oliver answer the watchman’s questions in the extract above?

Answer (iii): Oliver told the watchman that he had encountered something horrible in the forest. He said he had seen a boy weeping in the forest who had no face, eyes, ears, nose or mouth.

Question (iv): The story ends with a thrilling climax. Do you agree? Why?

Answer (iv): Panicked by the horrified scene, Oliver dropped his torch and blindly ran away from the faceless boy. He called for help and was pleased to see it coming his way as a night watchman swinging a lantern in middle of the path. He stumbled up to the watchman and told him about the strange encounter with a faceless boy. The story ends with a thrilling climax when the watchman raised the lamp and showed Oliver that he too was faceless, with no features or even eyebrows. The climax is reached when the wind blew out the lamp and it becomes dark again.

No clue is given by the narrator about the reaction of Oliver when he encounters another faceless person. The narrator ends the story abruptly leaving the readers to suspect that something bad might have happened to Oliver.

Question (v): Comment on the appropriateness of the title.

Answer (v): The story is set in the darkness of the night. It describes strange and frightening encounter of Mr. Oliver who spots a faceless boy in the eerie forest in the dark of the night. Panicked, he drops his torch and in the dark starts running and bumps into the night watchman who too is faceless. Mr. Oliver experiences supernatural incidents which indicate that he might me holding deep rooted fear of spirits and ghosts in the darkness of his subconscious mind.

The title ‘A Face in the Dark’ seems appropriate because darkness of the night materialises Oliver’s deep-rooted fear of the supernatural which he had been hiding in the darkness of his subconscious mind.

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