Examination Day by Henry Slesar

Examination Day - Henry SeslarIn Examination Day by Henry Slesar we have the theme of fear, suppression, control, freedom and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Slesar may be exploring the theme of fear. Dickie’s mother is anxious. She knows how important the Government test is and knows that Dickie must do it. Mr Jordan also knows how important the test is. This might explain as to why he is abrupt with Dickie when Dickie asks him some questions. It is as though Mr Jordan’s mind is preoccupied by the test. What is interesting about Dickie’s questions is the fact that they highlight how inquisitive Dickie is. He wants to learn about things though ironically this appears to be something that the Government do not allow. If anything Dickie and his family appear to live in a suppressive environment. There would be no other explanation for a twelve year old having to take truth serum and answer a Government test. The actions of the Government would and should be considered to be irregular.

There is also a sense that the Government are controlling their citizens and the freedom they allow their citizens to have. Which may be important as Slesar could be highlighting what can happen when a Government is not held to account and is allowed to dictate to its citizens. The fact that Dickie is killed simply because his IQ is too high or above what is acceptable by the Government also seems to be bizarre. However it is most likely that the Government are working off a formula. That being people who are clever will be inquisitive and question things. Which in turn will result in challenges to the Government and how they operate. If anything the only way for the Government to maintain the status quo is to remove or kill those who have an IQ that is higher than what is acceptable to the Government.  Though some critics might suggest that Dickie is just unfortunate it might be important to remember that what is happening is that a Government is imposing its will on its citizens. There is no sense that a citizen has the freedom to develop as they might like to.

It is also interesting that Mrs Jordan though afraid does not spare Dickie from the test. It is as though she has been programmed to accept the way that things are. Similarly with the other parents who Dickie sees when he is brought to take the test by his father. They too appear to accept the status quo. Never questioning the legitimacy of the Government’s actions. Nobody in the story forewarns Dickie of the consequences of the test. He is an innocent child who has been willing sent to his death by both his mother and father. Something they both appear to accept. Which suggests that the rule of Government may be more important than family. Individuals appear to serve the Government rather than the other way around. Whereas people would usually come before institutes. This is not the case in the story which may explain why truth serum is used before the start of the test. If the consequences of the test where known to the child taking the test. The Government knows that they would deliberately try and fail the test by giving the wrong answers.

The end of the story is also interesting due to the tone of the Government official who is on the phone to Mr Jordan. His manner is matter of fact with no emotion. Though the message he is relaying is of a serious nature (Dickie has been killed). It is only Mr Jordan’s reaction and Mrs Jordan’s cry out that gives the end of the story any emotion. It is as though both their fears have been realised. Though they never told Dickie how serious or dangerous the test was as parents Slesar does still afford them the opportunity to be emotional about Dickie’s death. However as readers we are left wondering as to why Mr and Mrs Jordan didn’t intervene and stop Dickie from taking the test. Some critics might suggest that because of the form of Government in place they were afraid. Though others might suggest that as parents they had not only a responsibility to Dickie but that they are also to blame for Dickie’s death. If anything it is possible that both Mr and Mrs Jordan have put themselves first ahead of Dickie. Which would highlight just how significant the Government’s interference in family life actually is. Which may be the point that Slesar is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that both family and Government need to be separated. If they are not the Government will control not only the family but each individual in the family as well. Something that is clear to the reader when it comes to Dickie’s parents.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Examination Day by Henry Slesar." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 2 Feb. 2018. Web.


  • There is a — novel? short story? — that I heard of years ago, and have been trying (unsuccessfully so far) to locate. It has roughly the same theme as “Examination Day”: a society so hostile to excellence of any kind that beautiful people have to wear masks, strong men have to carry weights around with them constantly to disable them, and no expression of intelligence is allowed. (The rationale for this is that distinction of any kind is humiliating to mediocre people, and must therefore be prohibited). The only other fact I know about this story is that its protagonist is named Ambrose. If anyone can identify this work, please leave a note here letting me know. Thanks in advance.

  • Well, that was quick. The short story I was looking for is called “Harrison Bergeron”, by Kurt Vonnegut (“Harrison”, not “Ambrose”). Vonnegut’s novel “The Sirens of Titan” has a similar theme.

    As Emily Litella would’ve said on “Saturday Night Live”: “Never mind”.

  • Do you think that another reason Dickie’s parents didn’t intervene and stop him from taking the test because
    1. Their house might be microphoned so if they said the wrong thing or too much they would be punished, or
    2. If they did try to intervene and stop, they would be punished/executed along with Dickie for disobeying the government.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      You could be right.

    • I would agree with number 2 possibly. In a world where the government is willing to kill a 12-year-old boy, I’m sure they’d be shameless enough to kill the parents/married couples too.

  • What is the main message of ‘examination day’, in relation to context to do with Henry Slesar?

  • What are some of the ideas the author is asking us to consider in this story

  • What makes Dickie intelligent?

  • What is the author warning us about this short story?

  • The funny thing is that they want the parents to pay for a burial for something that THEY killed and acts like it’s no big deal.

  • Hi, thank you for the article. I saw the Twilight Zone episode, which adapted this story. It was decent. The story is sad, but I do not think the parents had much of a choice. If they did not willing give up their son, he would probably have been sent away anyway and they would have probably been sent to jail or worse executed. I think they did love their son, they were just afraid, and the last moment of the story though brief clearly described that. I do agree with your points, but I think there is much more to the story than several may think.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that insight Brandon. I would agree with you. There is a lot more to the story than I or other people think.

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