A Face in the Dark is an interesting suspense story by Ruskin Bond where the author brilliantly exploits the elements of fear and darkness to capture the reader’s imagination. Dealing with the themes of fear, darkness and the supernatural, A Face in the Dark has a quick-paced plot which draws the reader in before leaving an unforgettable impression by keeping the climax right till the very end of the story.
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A Face In The Dark | Summary
A Face in the Dark follows a rather troubling event experienced by Mr Oliver, an Anglo-Indian teacher from a well reputed school in Shimla. This school had been named ‘The Eton of the East’ by the Life magazine and had groomed generations of boys from wealthy Indian families.
Mr Oliver, the protagonist of the story is said to have had the habit of strolling in the Shimla bazaar, about three miles from the school during the evening before returning via a shortcut through a pine forest. The tall pines would often make an awfully sad whistling sound when strong winds passed through them. In the story, the nature of this sound seems to have a disturbing effect on the passers-by who avoid traveling through the forest and stick to the main road. Because Mr Oliver was not a “nervous or an imaginative man“,we find him taking the road less travelled. He’s carried a torch whose batteries are running out and whose light move fitfully across the narrow forest. Definitely not a good sign for Mr Oliver.
The flicker of the light from his torch falls on the figure of a boy wearing a school cap. Initially, Mr Oliver wants to identify the miscreant as the students were forbidden from venturing out after dark as per the school rules. However, he quickly realizes that something is not quite right in this case:
“The boy appeared to be crying. His head hung down and held his face in his hands and his body shook violently. It was a strange soundless weeping. Mr Oliver felt distinctly uneasy.”
He then repeatedly asks the boy what the matter is as his anger slowly gives way to concern. The boy refuses to respond even while his body continues to be “racked with silent sobbing”. Finally, when Mr Oliver asks the boy to look up, the boy looks up and what follows are the most powerful lines of the story. What he sees is a deeply disturbing sight :
“The light from Mr Oliver’s torch fell on the boy’s face – if you could call it a face. It had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It was just a round smooth head – with a school cap on top of it!”
Mr Oliver gets the shock of his life. The torch falls from his hands and he runs blindly through the trees, calling for help. Finally, he stumbles upon the watchman who asks him what the matter is. He replies in a broken tone that he came across a boy without a face:
“No face, Sahib?”
“No eyes, nose,mouth -nothing!”
“Do you mean it was like this, Sahib?
The watchman says this as he lifts the lamp to his face.
“The watchman had no eyes, no ears, no features at all – not even an eyebrow!”
At this very moment, the wind blows out the lamp. Thank God you were not Mr Oliver.
A Face In The Dark | Analysis
With its fast-paced plot, an impressive setting and the deployment of various literary techniques, A Face in the Dark makes a quick read that packs a punch in just a couple of pages.
The setting of the story is quickly established by mentioning a couple of things about the school where Mr Oliver used to teach. The solitary, secluded location of the school at some distance from the Shimla Bazaar and the presence of dark pine trees that make spooky noises is an example of the technique of foreshadowing, creating a perfect fearful ambiance for this supernatural story. The
The suspense of the story is greatly heightened when we see Mr Oliver encounter the boy who has been sobbing in a dark corner in the middle of the forest, all by himself. His faceless face has baffling and scary effect both on Mr Oliver and the reader.
The use of flickering torch in the dark forest and the lamp of the watchman creates a is a great example of the use of chiaroscuro technique (use of sharp contrasts of light and darkness) which dramatically heightens the tension and increases suspense.
The climax of the story, placed right till the ends has the power to completely arrest the reader’s attention and imprint an unforgettable image on his/her mind, one whose strength is derived not only through the element of horror but also from its sheer strangeness.
A Face In The Dark : About the author
One of the most beloved Indian writers in English, Ruskin Bond has deeply influenced a generation of readers through his simple style and his ability to touch the readers through words. His short stories bear a distinct balance of emotion, intelligence and wisdom which instantly charms the reader.
Some of the famous works of Ruskin Bond are The Room on the Roof, A Flight of Pigeons and Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra.