“The Hack Driver” is a short story written by Sinclair Lewis, an American novelist, playwright and short-story writer. Lewis was the first writer from the United States to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature and was well known for his witty and humorous characters. The story is about a young lawyer who is sent to serve summons to a man in New Mullion and how he is easily fooled by this man due to his gullible and trusting nature.
The Hack Driver | Summary
In the beginning of the story, the narrator talks about how, as a youngster, he was extremely eager to fulfil his ambitions of climbing the social ladder and amassing immense wealth and power. However, despite graduating with honours and getting placed at a renowned law firm, all he was made to do in his job was to serve summons like a cheap private detective. Thus, he harboured a lot of discontentment in his heart as this job failed to give him any kind of satisfaction, but since he was a beginner, he was told that he would have to endure all that. More often than not, he had to suffer very poor treatment at the hands of the people he was asked to serve the summons to, sometimes even being beaten. As a result of this, he had been contemplating leaving the job and returning to his hometown where he perceived that he would be able to become a full- fledged practitioner of law. Thus, very happy when he was sent to the town of New Mullion, to serve summons to a certain someone named ‘Oliver Lutkins’ as he was a witness for a case and was therefore needed by the court.
The narrator had a fondness for small villages with their simple lifestyles, but was very disappointed when his train reached New Mullion. The place wasn’t even remotely close to the image of a beautiful,quaint little town that he had in mind. It was dull, drab and extremely littered. He came across a hack driver, who though was somewhat shabby, had a friendly and cheerful air around him and the narrator believed that he was someone who liked people and was himself well-liked as well.
He told this man, who later introduced himself as Bill, that he was looking for Oliver Lukins and was informed by him that Lutkins was a very phony man and was difficult to catch hold of. The man offered to help the narrator search for Lukins since he knew most of his regular haunts which would make the narrator’s job much easier. The narrator was very happy with this display of goodness and took him up on his offer and together, they began their search, riding on the man’s hack.
The hack driver was very quick at establishing a bond of friendship and trust with the narrator, and managed to gain his confidence in quite little time. He told him that Lutkins was a crafty fellow and it was very difficult to get any money out of him for as soon as he caught the slightest whiff of it, he would run away. Hence, he suggested that instead of the narrator, he should enquire about Lutkin’s whereabouts so that no such suspicions are raised which would alert Lutkin.
They first went to a harness shop but were told that Lutkin’s had gone from there some while ago and could probably be found at the barber’s. Upon reaching the barber’s shop, they found out that he had not been there and that he owed money to the barber as well for which he was quite enraged. They were told by a customer that he had seen Lutkins going down the street from which they concluded that he must have gone to the other barber in town. However, they were late to reach there and ended up missing him by merely five minutes. Their pursuit then led them to the poolroom, but they did not yield any result there as well. They kept searching around the town for about an hour, without any success.
All this search made the narrator hungry and he offered to buy Bill lunch along with him. But Bill insisted that he visit his home, and order lunch from his wife, which they could peacefully enjoy while sitting on the hill. The narrator accepted his hospitality and appreciated the serenity of the village as well as the honest nature of the inhabitants. During lunch he came to know a lot about the village and the various people who lived there and also about Bill and his life. He believed that by the end of that day, he knew more of New Mullion than of the city and had developed great love for the place. He also held Bill in high regard, finding him to be a respectable and honest fellow.
After their lunch, they resumed their search and went to Oliver’s house where they met his mother who appeared to be a terrorising and talkative woman. Despite searching the cottage very thoroughly, they were not able to find any sign of Lutkins and the narrator had to return to his office without completing the task assigned to him.
On his way back, though he was a little anxious since his work was incomplete, he also envisioned setting up his law practice in New Mullion where he was sure that he would be able to live a carefree, simple life amongst humble and unpretentious men.
At his office, he had to face the anger of his chief who was furious upon discovering that he had failed to find Lutkins. He was sent back to New Mullion to complete the task, this time with an office clerk who had previously worked with Lutkins and would thus be able to identify him.
As they reached the station, the narrator spotted the hack driver and his mother and told his colleague about Bill’s good nature and how he helped him the day before. The clerk then revealed to him that the fellow was none other than Oliver Lutkins, who they were supposed to be hunting for. The narrator was very shocked upon hearing this. He had been fooled by Lutkins who took undue advantage of his unsuspecting nature and his innocent and easily impressionable heart. But more than this discovery, he was deeply hurt by the behaviour of Lutkin and his mother when he finally served the summons. They laughed at his foolishness and childlike naivety. Making fun of him, they asked him to visit their neighbours for tea who were in all likelihood, the only people in town who had missed seeing him the day before.
The Hack Driver | Analysis
This short story revolves around two central characters- Oliver Lukins, aka Bill, who is the titular character as well, and the narrator, a young and gullible lawyer. The story chronicles the events that transpired when the narrator was sent to serve summons to Lutkins who was a witness for a case in the court. Lutkins, being a cunning and manipulative man, manages to easily fool the naive lawyer and takes him around the whole town on his hack and offers him assistance in his search for ‘Lutkins’, which was none other than he himself. The over-trusting narrator easily falls into his trap and fails in his task for which he has to face the wrath of his superiors at the office. When at the end it is revealed to him that Lutkins was none other than the hack driver he had roamed around with the entire day, believing him to be kind and helpful, the narrator is deeply hurt.
The main theme that the story centres around is that of appearance v/s reality. People may appear to be very friendly and considerate on the surface, but can turn out to be extremely shrewd and selfish in reality. Therefore, one should always exercise caution before trusting anybody and should not believe everyone as easily as the narrator did. Exercising due diligence can help us save ourselves from being fooled and taken advantage of.
Another remarkable aspect of the story in which the author set the tone for the entire narrative right in the beginning by expressing the narrator’s opinion on the simplicity of the rustic life in villages, far from the pretentious city life as well as his inclination towards the former.
This is important because it gives us the reason behind his easy acceptance and faith in the hack man and the other people of New Mullion as well as his desire to settle in that village. Thus, right from the start, we have an inkling of his temperament and can therefore believe how he was so easily deceived by Lutkin. His bias for villages was probably one of the major reasons behind him getting duped.