A Face in the Dark, Ruskin Bond

“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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An Angel in Disguise, Timothy Shay Arthur

A poor woman who was hated during her life by nearly everyone in her village, dies while intoxicated and leaves two daughters and a son behind to fend for themselves. The towns people pitied these children, and the two oldest were taken in by new families, but the youngest Maggie, who was crippled, was left alone because nobody wanted to deal with her disability. A man named Joe Thompson decided to take her in for the night but planned on bringing her to the poor house the next morning, because he knew his wife would not approve of her. When Joe brought Maggie home in his arms, his wife Mrs. Thompson was enraged that he brought that “sick brat” into her house.


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Extract I

“Death touches the spring….old tumble-down hut…”

Question (i): Which woman is referred to here? How did she die?

Answer (i): The ‘woman’ referred to here is Maggie’s mother. She died of excessive alcoholism. She had fallen upon the threshold of her own door in a drunken fit and died in the presence of her three children.

Question (ii): What kind of relations did the woman have with others? Why do you think it was so?

Answer (ii): The woman had very bitter relationship with the village folks because she had been despised and scoffed. They did so because she had very bad habit of drinking.

Question (iii): What did the neighbours take to the old hut?

Answer (iii): The neighbours took the dead woman to the old hut.

Question (iv): What kind of living conditions were the woman and her children subjected to?

Answer (iv): The woman and her children did not get any food to eat, they did not have clothes to wear.

Question (v): What was the prospective future of the children after the death of their mother?

Answer (v): John a boy of twelve year age was a stout lad who could earn his living by working with any farmer and was eagerly adopted by farmer Jones. Kate aged between ten and eleven, being a bright active girl was taken by Mrs. Ellis to work in her house as a maid. Maggie the youngest of the siblings was bed-ridden due to a spinal injury and was pitied by everyone. Nobody was willing to adopt her as she was considered of no use and would be dependent on others forever. She was adopted by a childless compassionate man named Mr. Thomson.


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Extract II

“Pitying glances were cast….who wanted a bed-ridden child?”

Question (i): Who was glanced at with pity? Why?

Answer (i): Maggie was glanced at with pity because she was crippled and bed-ridden since two years due to spinal injury and she appeared pale and thin.

Question (ii): Give the meaning of:

(a) “her wan and wasted form.”

Answer (a): Maggie’s pale and thin form.

(b) “even knocked at them for entrance.”

Answer (b): Maggie’s appearance arouse intense feelings of pity and sadness in the hearts of neighbours and disturbed them with the thoughts of her well-being.

Question (iii): Which incident made the child bed-ridden?

Answer (iii): Two years before Maggie had fallen from a window and her spine got injured. She had not been able to leave her bed since, except when lifted in the arms of her mother.

Question (iv): Which shelter was suggested by one of the neighbours for the “bed-ridden” child? Why?

Answer (iv): One of the neighbours suggested that Maggie should be sent to the poorhouse as no one was willing to take trouble for raising a child who could not perform any household work due to her disability.

Question (v): What role does the child play in the life of:

(a) Joe Thompson

Answer (a): The moment Joe held Maggie in his arms, he felt affectionate towards her. He could immediately connect with her as a father figure and felt as if love had sprung back into his dull life.

(b) Jane Thompson

Answer (b): Being a childless woman, Jane had become ill-tempered, irritable and desolate, with nobody to take care of. But Maggie’s presence aroused motherly feelings in her and brought back happiness and joy in her life.


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Extract III

“It’s cruel thing to leave….into her thin white face”

Question (i): Who are having a conversation in the above extract? What is the main topic of their conversation?

Answer (i): The wheelwright man named Joe Thompson and blacksmith’s wife is having a conversation. The main topic of their conversation is about the fate of the orphaned and disable child named Maggie. The villagers instead of helping her only mouthed verbal sympathy for the disabled child and left her alone in the hovel. Joe felt that villagers showed cruelty on her by leaving her alone in the hovel.

Question (ii): Why was Maggie’s effort to raise herself painful?

Answer (ii): Two years ago Maggie had injured her spine and because of the injury she had become bed-ridden. She could leave her bed only when lifted in arms of her mother. After her mother’s death she had to raise herself to an upright position and sat on the bed without anybody’s help. The effort of raising herself from bed caused her lot of pain.

Question (iii): What thought terrified Maggie? What did she exclaim to Mr. Thompson?

Answer (iii): The thought of being left alone and helpless in the hovel terrified Maggie. Maggie exclaimed to Mr. Thompson pitifully begging him not to leave her all alone in the hovel.

Question (iv): Why do you think the man stood with a “puzzled air”? What did he do when he went into the hovel?

Answer (iv): The man stood with a “puzzled air” because he was confused and unable to decide whether to leave Maggie alone in the hovel or take he with him. If he took her with him then his wife would not accept Maggie and treat her badly.

When he went into the hovel he assured Maggie that he is not going to leave her alone. He then wrapped her body in the clean bedclothes and lifted her in his strong arms and took her home.

Question (v): What kind of man was Joe Thompson? How can you say so?

Answer (v): Joe Thompson was a kind hearted and a compassionate man.

We can say so because it was only he who chose to adopt helpless and disabled Maggie and take care of her whereas everybody in the village wanted her to be sent to a poorhouse.


 

Extract IV

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