On the Face of It by Susan Hill – Summary

The play is about the friendship between an old man Mr. Lamb and a young boy named Deny who is withdrawn and defiant. Both of them suffer from physical impairment. The old man has a tin leg because he got one of his legs blown off in the war. The young boy, Derry, has one side of his face disfigured as he was burnt by acid. Mr. Lamb has a very positive attitude towards life and people. He shows the right way of judging men, matters and life to young Derry.

Summary

The first scene is located in Mr. Lamb’s garden. There is an occasional sound of bird song and of tree leaves rustling. Derry walks slowly and cautiously through the long grass. He enters Lamb’s garden. He comes round a screen of bushes. Mr. Lamb speaks to him when he is close at hand. Derry is startled. He is apologetic. He doesn’t know if there is anybody there. Mr. Lamb tries to make Derry comfortable. He can pick up crab apples. Derry need not go away on Mr. Lamb’s account. He doesn’t mind who comes in the garden. The gate is always open. Derry needs not climb over the wall of the garden. Derry says he didn’t come there for stealing apples. Mr. Lamb assures him that he can stay there.

Derry then says that people are afraid of him. He asks Mr. Lamb to look at him and after seeing his face he might think that he is the most frightful and ugliest thing. Derry says that when he looks in the mirror and sees his face, he is afraid of it. Mr. Lamb says that the whole of his face is not frightening.

Mr. Lamb now changes the topic. He says when it is a bit cooler, he will get the ladder and a stick and pull down crab apples. They are ripe for making a jelly. September is the right time of year for it. The apples look orange and golden. He tells Derry that he could help him. Deny doesn’t want Mr. Lamb to change the subject. He wants to talk about himself.

Mr. Lamb makes a guess. Perhaps, the boy got burned in a fire. Deny says that he got acid all down that side of his face and it burned the face all away. Derry asks Mr. Lamb if he is not interested. The old man says he is interested in anybody and anything made by God — even grass, rubbish, weeds, flowers, fruits. He observes that it is all life — developing just as they are.

Mr. Lamb says that they are similar. Mr. Lamb is old. Derry is young. Derry has got a burned face. Lamb has got a tin leg. Similarly, one green plant is called a weed and another flower. It is all life. It is growing. Lamb got his one leg blown off. Some kids call him “Lamey Lamb”. A tin leg or a burnt face are not the only things to be taken notice of or to be stared at. There are so many other things like crab apples, weeds and sunflowers. They deserve our attention and Mr. Lamb enjoys life and people as much as he can.

Derry says that people talk about the persons who are in pain and brave, never cry or complain and don’t feel sorry for themselves. People try to console the persons suffering from physicial impairment by asking them to think of all those people worse off than them. They might have been blinded, or born deaf, or have to live in a wheel chair, or be insane and dribble. But all this will not change his face. Even totally strange persons call him terrible.

Derry repeats that he doesn’t like being near people; specially when they stare at him and when he sees them being afraid of him. Mr. Lamb then tells him the story of a man who was afraid of everything in the world. So he locked himself in his room and stayed in his bed. A picture fell off the wall onto his head and killed him.

Deny says that the old man said peculiar things. Then he asks what he does all day. Mr. Lamb replies that he enjoys life as it comes. He sits in the sun and reads books. He is not fond of curtains.

Lamb motivates Derry. Derry has got two arms, two legs and eyes and ears. He has got a tongue and also a brain. He can get on the way he wants, like all the rest. And if he chooses, he can “get on better than all the rest”. Deny asks “How?” Mr. Lamb replies that Derry can live the same way as he himself does. For him everybody is welcome. The gate is always open. Derry says that there are some people he hates. Mr. Lamb says that hatred is more harmful than a bottle of acid. Everything is the same, but everthing is different. Derry gets up and prepares to go. He says he will come back. Mr. Lamb says that generally people say so but never come back.

In the second scene, we see Derry and his mother. He informs his mother about the lame old man. She tells him not to go there. Derry says that he wants to go there, sit and listen to things and look. No body else has ever said the things the old man has said. When his mother says that he is best off there. Deny says he hates it there. He no longer cares about his face. It is not important. Its what he thinks, feels, sees, hears and finds out that is important. He is going there to help the old man with crab apples and to look at things and listen. If he doesn’t go back there, he will never go anywhere in that world again.

The third or last scene is again located in Mr. Lamb’s garden. Derry reaches Mr. Lamb’s garden panting. He finds Mr. Lamb lying on the grass with the ladder. Derry tells him that he has come back. Since Mr. Lamb fails to respond. Derry kneels by him and begins to weep. He goes on crying “Lamey-Lamb! I did …. come back”.

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