Tuesday, 24 April 2018

On The Face of It

This short play by Susan Hill deals with the theme of transformation. The message that Susan Hill wants to make in the lesson is that handicaps can be overcome in life if you choose to make a choice. Mr Lamb plays the role of an elder, a teacher or a mentor and he helps start the process of transformation in Derry by forcing him to think about how mistaken his perception about the world is.
Some of the important issues that this play explores are how emotional trauma is more painful and difficult to heal than a physical trauma, how it is no use shutting off one's self from the world, and why we need to give the benefit of doubt to everything we overhear. The two women who were presumably talking about Derry might not have "meant" to be "cruel" and moreover, it was "Just something said between them." Mr Lamb suggests that one should appreciate life in all its forms, keep busy in life, and avoid being hateful towards others as this would  "cause more harm than any bottle of acid".
What draws Derry towards Mr Lamb in spite of himself is that Mr Lamb was like a mentor who really understood how Derry was feeling. He told him, "Things that matter. Things nobody else has ever said." In their brief encounter, Mr Lamb was able to make him see the brighter side of life. He viewed Derry as 'A boy. Thirteen or so." He doesn't think his scar defines him. Through their brief encounter, it becomes clear how Mr Lamb has overcome his handicap. Derry did not know that Mr Lamb had a tin leg"! Moreover, Mr Lamb tells Derry how he thinks even weeds are beautiful, he likes to step outdoors when it is sunny, and he likes meeting people even if he doesn't know them. He forces Derry to do some soul-searching, in order to transform himself. The process of transformation begins with a realisation that he does have a problem, and it is more of a mental than a physical one!
On the face of it is a lesson that tells us how the actual pain or inconvenience caused by the acid would have been less than the emotional pain of having the scar. The emotional trauma of having a scar makes him feel alienated. No wonder, most teenagers are conscious of their appearance and they would like to be part of the society. Everyone wants to belong to the society. Teenagers are conscious of their body image. Mr Lamb teaches him that there is more to life than the scar. He has hands, legs, and a mind.
What Derry liked about Mr Lamb was that he told him "Things that matter. Things nobody else has ever said. Things I want to think about." Derry learned how important it is to appreciate life in all its forms. It is important to have a positive attitude towards life. It is important to have something to do in life. So it is good to sit outside on a sunny day. Even weeds can be beautiful. It is good to do something like making jam out of crab apples. It is good to keep bees. For Mr Lamb bees "sing", they don't "buzz"! Mr Lamb, through their brief interaction, teaches him that one should move on in life and not be limited by one's handicap. Mr Lamb climbs a ladder to pluck crab apples, he does this even though he has a tin leg! Mr Lamb's tin leg has not prevented him from climbing ladders and plucking crab apples, he has moved on in life.
Although Mr Lamb dies at the end of the play, the ending is not sad! There is hope at the end of the play because of the transformation of Derry. When Derry makes a choice to return to Mr Lamb despite of his mother telling him not to, it is an assertion of the fact that he is a changed person. We know this change is permanent because he proves to himself and the world that now he can indeed make a choice. His return to the garden is not the only proof of his transformation, in fact, his reply to his mother at the end of scene one reads, "It's got nothing to do with my face and what I look like. I don't care about that and it isn't important. It's what I think and feel and what I want to see and find out and here." Derry has finally learnt to look beyond his scar, his mental handicap, his self-created fear of people and their perception of him based on the scar. If we were to ask ourselves who was responsible for Derry's pessimism, then the answer would be the society and Derry himself. If we could measure this in percentages, then probably the society would be 30 percent responsible for the way he felt.

A few important questions:

1. Do you think Mr Lamb is lonely?
In spite of all the bravado and strength that Mr Lamb displays throughout the play, there are times when he expresses a sense of loneliness. At the end of scene two, that is, after Derry departs, Mr Lamb says to the bees, "We all know. I'll come back. They never do, though. Not them. Never do come back." People avoid him, they don't like  Mr Lamb. They think he is eccentric. People don't want their children to even come into contact with Mr Lamb.

2. How does Mr Lamb try to overcome his feelings of loneliness?
Mr Lamb keeps himself busy. He makes jam out of Crab Apples. He keeps bees, talks to them, likes sitting in the garden observing the weeds. Mr Lamb does not sulk, he stays active.He enjoys reading books. He has removed curtains from his windows so that he can look at the world outside, and listen to the wind. For Mr Lamb, there is more to life than just getting obsessed by the fact that he has a tin leg!

3. What is the moral of the story about the man who locked himself in a room fearing that he would be kicked to death by a donkey?

The man who locked himself in a room fearing he would slip on a banana peel and die, a bus might run over him, a lightning might strike him, or he might love a girl and the girl would leave him meets his end, rather ironically when "A picture fell off the wall on to his head and killed him." The moral is that there is no point in shutting yourself off from the world of fears. You can't keep running away from your fears. You need to face them! The man with the fears was foolish to think he could escape from his fears. According to Roosevelt, "all you have to fear is fear".

3. Do you think Derry's relatives and family members are to blame for the way he feels? How does Mr Lamb help him overcome his feelings of hopelessness?

Derry tells Mr Lamb about how "They talk about" him downstairs. His parents talk about what he will "ever do". They wonder "What's going to happen to him when we've gone? How, ever, will he get on in this world?" His mother doesn't kiss him on the side of the cheek with the scar. In their argument towards the end of the second scene, his mother says, "You can't help the things you say. I forgive you. It is bound to make you feel bad things...and say them. I don't blame you."
It is clear that his parents are to blame for making him feel helpless and bad. They seem to have obsessed themselves with the scar on his face. They make him feel different. They make him feel inadequate. They make him feel handicapped. Instead of helping him to tide over his feelings of helplessness, they make him feel unwanted. Sometimes our greatest weaknesses are our close family members.
Mr Lamb helps him get to terms with his situation better than his parents by reminding him that he has got two hands and legs and ears, a tongue and a brain. He reminds him that he can get on the way he likes in the world if he chooses to. In fact, he tells him he can get on "better than the rest." He tells him how things could have been worse for him if he had been "blinded, or born deaf, or have to live in a wheelchair or be daft in your head and dribble. He helps him see the brighter side of life. He makes him see how much better he is than those on a wheelchair, those who are 'daft', and 'deaf'.

4.Draw a character sketch of Derry before the transformation and after the transformation in points.

Before the transformation:

  • He was shy and reserved.
  • He let other people make a choice for him.
  • He had a negative attitude towards the world, he was pessimistic.
  • He was conscious about his scar and what people thought about it.
  • He felt hopeless.
  • He was a-social, a self-created recluse, someone who did not want to make friends.
  • He was afraid of himself.
After the transformation
  • He became more outspoken, he could put a point before his mother.
  • He could make a choice for himself-he told his mother that he would go to Mr Lamb.
  • He was filled with a feeling of hope.
  • He had taken up a more positive attitude towards life.
  • He had shaken away his consciousness about the scar, "It's got nothing to do with my face and what I look like."
  • He felt great about himself, and his being able to take a decision empowered him
  • He sought the attention of Mr Lamb, he will probably be more outgoing.
5. Draw a character sketch of Mr Lamb (points only):
  • Middle-aged or older
  • War veteran (He had his leg blown off in an explosion.)
  • He was friendly with others, even strangers
  • He liked talking to people, he was social
  • He appreciated life in all its forms, even weeds.
  • He was optimistic and had a positive attitude towards life
  • He had a lot to do, he kept himself busy
  • He had a purpose in life, even if it was to make jam or toffee
  • He was open-minded

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