A Face in the Dark by Ruskin Bond
In A Face in the Dark by Ruskin Bond we have theme theme of fear, perception, control and connection. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Bond may be exploring the theme of fear. Though Mr Oliver is not afraid to walk through the pine forest his encounter with the young boy leaves him very afraid as the boy looks like nothing that Mr Oliver has seen before. This may be important as Bond appears to be playing with perception. The light from Mr Oliver’s torch has played a trick on him and has hidden the boy’s features. It is also interesting that prior to running away Mr Oliver tries to make a connection with the boy. It is as though he is concerned about the boy’s well-being even though the boy may not be one of his students. This may be important as it suggests that Mr Oliver not only has the ability to empathize with another human being but he also has the ability to want to help the boy. He knows that the boy is out of place in the pine forest and should not be there.
If anything Mr Oliver cares for the boy. That is till he feels afraid of him and runs away. It is as though Mr Oliver does not know what he is looking at when he sees the boy’s blank face. Driven by fear Mr Oliver’s altruistic act remains incomplete. This might be important as Bond may suggesting that in life people will come across others who they might not think look like themselves and rather than be afraid of these people an individual should do everything in their power to help them. In all probability Mr Oliver ran away because he was shocked by the sight of the boy. Leaving the reader to suspect that Mr Oliver may never have experienced something like what he experienced before. However if Mr Oliver had taken his torch away from the boy’s face than he would have realised that all he was seeing was a young boy who was upset and who may have needed help. It might also be important to remember that Mr Oliver can’t be blamed for his action of running away. Once fear overpowers an individual there is very little for the person to do but run away. No matter how resilient that person might think they are.
Though some critics might suggest that Mr Oliver has acted cowardly he still nonetheless tells the watchman what he has saw. It is not as though his ego has been damaged. He has nothing to hide and it is only on the watchman’s reassurance that Mr Oliver realises that he made a mistake. Though interestingly enough Mr Oliver does not go back to help the boy. Possibly because he is still overcome by shock. It might also be a case that Mr Oliver is a suspicious man and the sight of the boy may have led him to believe that he was seeing something from another world. Though being a teacher the reader would expect Mr Oliver to be rational. However Mr Oliver cannot be slighted for his actions. He showed genuine concern with the boy till he got frightened. It is also possible that Bond is highlighting the fact that Mr Oliver though he may have control over his students may not necessarily always be in control himself. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that Mr Oliver runs away from the boy.
In reality Bond may be suggesting that not everything a person sees can be taken at face value. The reader never learns as to why the boy might be crying or what may have upset him. Which in many ways leaves the reader in the dark. Something that is ironic considering that the story is set in the dark. Though the reader never learns of Mr Oliver’s reaction to the watchman’s trick one would expect Mr Oliver to return to the forest and to help the boy. However this is not the course of action that is taken. Mr Oliver stays by the watchman’s side. Most likely in the belief that he will protect Mr Oliver. So overwhelmed is Mr Oliver that he cannot move. It is as though his body is paralysed. Even though he knows what has happened Mr Oliver is still finding it difficult to calm down. His mind still picturing the boy’s face. Which may be the point that Bond is attempting to make. He could be suggesting fear can paralysis some people. Leaving them unable to move or to think straight. Though Mr Oliver knows there is a rational reason for what has happened he still nonetheless remains very afraid. When the reality is there is no need to be.