The Way Up to Heaven by Roald Dahl

In The Way Up to Heaven by Roald Dahl we have the theme of control, connection, escape, fear, freedom and change. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Dahl may be exploring the theme of control. Mrs Foster seems to be under the complete control of her husband. She is heavily reliant on him to be ready on time. Yet there is a sense that Mr Foster is deliberately taking his time when it comes to being ready to go to the airport. This may be important as Dahl may be suggesting that many women at the time the story was published (1954) where under the control of their husbands. If anything life and society was male dominated with very few if any women having a voice of their own. Though there is nothing to stop Mrs Foster from traveling to the airport (for the first time) on her own. She feels obliged to wait for Mr Foster. It is as though she lives in fear of what Mr Foster might say or do should she not wait for him. Even though there is no reason for him to go to the airport.

It may also be a case that Dahl is exploring the theme of connection. Mrs Foster longs to go and see her daughter and grandchildren in Paris. It is something that she is looking forward to. To be able to connect with both her daughter and grandchildren. It is also interesting that Mr and Mrs Foster have a distant type of relationship which may leave some readers to suggest that Mrs Foster is fully aware of the fact that she is being controlled by her husband. In reality their relationship may be more to do with the fact that they are older and do not wish to be lonely. Than anything to do with love. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that Mr and Mrs Foster are close. In fact the trip to Paris is not only a time for Mrs Foster to connect with her daughter and grandchildren but it is also a time for her to escape from the control of Mr Foster. The fact that Mrs Foster leaves for the airport (the second time) without Mr Foster may also be significant as for the first time in the story Mrs Foster is taking control of her life. Something that is liberating or freeing for Mrs Foster.

How liberated Mrs Foster may actually be is noticeable by the fact that she has a spring in her step when she is with her daughter and grandchildren in Paris. She is not overly concerned about Mr Foster nor is she in any rush to return to New York. It is as though Mrs Foster is living her life care-free without any concerns or worries to burden her. Something which is the complete opposite of how Mrs Foster feels when she begins her journey to the airport for the first time. It might also be important that when Mrs Foster returns from Paris she still feels free. If anything there is a change within Mrs Foster. She does not fear what Mr Foster might say to her for leaving him behind when she went to the airport. Which may suggest that Mrs Foster has found her voice and will be able to stand up to Mr Foster should it be necessary. Something that is different to how Mrs Foster had previously felt.

The end of the story is also interesting as it becomes clear to the reader that Mrs Foster is aware that Mr Foster is dead and rather than being upset. Mrs Foster calmly telephones the elevator company. This may be significant as Dahl may be suggesting that Mrs Foster has not only permanently changed but she is also remains completely in control of her life. Just as she did when she went to the airport for the second time. There is no anxiety or panic within Mrs Foster. The reader suspecting that Mrs Foster will live her life as she sees fit without the negative influence of Mr Foster. Which may be the point that Dahl is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that men, particularly men who like to control others, can have a negative effect on a person. Something which is very much the case when it comes to Mr and Mrs Foster. Mr Foster throughout the story and till he died appears to have taken pleasure in causing panic in Mrs Foster’s life. At no stage has Mr Foster thought of or put Mrs Foster ahead of himself. He has wished to control Mrs Foster and has preyed on her vulnerabilities for his own satisfaction. Something which may leave many readers having little sympathy for Mr Foster.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Way Up to Heaven by Roald Dahl." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 14 May. 2018. Web.


  • Just one question: are you a native speaker of English or what? If so, please, mind punctuation. If not, try doing a different thing. Nice post.

  • E contra, Dahl is commenting on the toxic nature of women. Mr Foster was a calm gentleman, showing his kindness with the gift he wished to pass on. His wife berated him for it, showing that Mr Foster was more interested in the thought rather the material value that his wife was more concerned with. Not surprising, considering the possession of a large home and servants she was to gain all to herself with his death. The fact that Mr Foster had no issue with his wife going away for six weeks was reinforcement that he was not a controlling man in any sense. In contrast, his lack of resistance to it shows he had some sense of relief in the fact she was going.

    This not only demonstrates his patience, but also loyalty to a woman he would rather be without, showing that Dahl understood the sacrifices men make in chaining themselves to a woman that provide them with nothing in return. The title of the story itself indicates Dahl’s intention to show that the elevator indeed was a metaphorical representation of Mr Forster breaking free from clutches of a nefarious creature, that is a woman. It was with his death that Mr Forster finally went up to heaven, escaping from the earthly hell of being married.

    • It’s ironic since you use the example of Mr Foster simply wanting to pass on the gift to justify him being kind when it is greatly implied that he hid it inside the car to delay Mrs Foster and keep her from going to Paris. Throughout the story, Dahl repeatedly calls out Mr Foster for being unnecessarily cruel and taking advantage of his wife’s vulnerability.

  • I think both lectures on each subjugation, for their own and/or social reasons, are fit to the title; both find the way to their own heaven, both are breaking an odd relationship that only sustain by picking on the other one and their obsessions

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