On the Face of It – Susan Hill


On the Face of It by Susan Hill is a socio-psychological story of two invalids who live with two different views. Derry is a young boy who lived a miserable life since a bottle of acid deformed his face and Mr. Lamb, a lame old man who lived a cheerful life even after he had lost one of his legs in a blast. The interesting thing is that Mr. Lamb himself was not very much of a happy man although he appeared to be (‘on the face of it’ = outwardly). It is a story about how one is able to fight a deformity happily. A story that tells about the triumph of optimism, Mr. Lamb and Derry will definitely inspire you Welcome to Mr. lamb’s Garden!

Opening – Derry

Derry was a teenager, highly pessimistic (feeling low/feeling negative) and withdrawn (staying away) from the society. He developed this attitude after one side of his face was disfigured by acid. He avoided company of others and remained lonely. He believed that no one loved him and his mother loved him because she was supposed to. One day Derry accidently met a man called Mr. Lamb. Mr. Lamb was an old man with a lame leg.

While Mr. Lamb took his impairment as a challenge and tried to overcome it, Derry believed that he was unwanted and lost. His pain was physical and mental. Being a child he was not as strong as Mr. Lamb about suffering. He couldn’t take the sneering and sympathizing world as taken by Mr. Lamb. Mr. Lamb was able to sit smart and unaffected as long as he wore trousers and sat but Derry had no way to hide his face.

Questions & Answers
  1. Why did Derry go into Mr. Lamb’s garden?
    Derry preferred a lonely life in order to hide his disfigured face from the world. Yet he had love for the world such as a garden and he wished to own one. He thought that Mr. Lamb’s garden and his house were empty and therefore went into it.
  2. Why did Derry wish to get out of Mr. Lamb’s garden immediately after getting into?
    Derry went into Lamb’s garden because he thought it was empty. However, when he saw Mr. Lamb there and that he had been being watched by Mr. Lamb, he felt ashamed and wished to get out of the garden.
  3. What kind of a man was Mr. Lamb?
    Mr. Lamb was an old man with a lame leg. Since he was lame, Mr. Lamb began to develop a positive attitude with his deformity. He worked hard to defeat this impairment and learnt to walk and climb ladders. He was happy to be alive and ignored his lameness. He made everyone his friend and had a house with no curtains and locked doors. He welcomed anyone who came to him.
  4. What sort of a boy was Derry?
    Derry was a teenager, a highly pessimistic and withdrawn from the mainstream society. He developed this attitude after one side of his face was disfigured by acid. He avoided company of others and remained lonely so that he would not be noticed by other people. He believed that no one loved him and his mother loved him because she was supposed to.

Next – Mr. Lamb

After he became lame, Mr. Lamb began to develop a positive attitude with his deformity. He worked hard to defeat this impairment and learnt to walk and climb ladders. He was happy to be alive and ignored his lameness. He made everyone his friend and had a house with no curtains and open doors. He welcomed anyone who came to him.

Questions & Answers
  1. How does Mr. Lamb explain the dual faces of a weed garden?
    Mr. Lamb believes in a positive attitude. He always found the better parts of reality. He says that it is people’s perception that goes wrong, not the realities. Some people consider some plants fit for a garden while some other people consider the same plants as weeds, to be removed from their gardens. Both have leaves and flowers and the beauty of these flowers vary from person to person.
  2. What does Mr. Lamb teach Derry from his exploring the two types of sounds of the bees?
    Mr. Lamb believes in a positive attitude. He always found the better sides of reality. He says that it is people’s perception that goes wrong, not the realities. Bees produce the very same sound: music for some and irritation for others. If one is happy, the bees sound music and if one is sad, the bees buzz. He explored this dual perception to show Derry that it was important for him to change his attitude.
  3. What makes Mr. Lamb say that Derry wasn’t completely lost?
    When Derry entered Mr. Lamb’s garden, the former appeared to be highly pessimistic and withdrawn. He sounded bitter because the world had been so cruel to him. But at one point Derry said that he loved a garden and a house like the one as Lamb’s, Mr. Lamb saw his love for the nature and beauty and this gave Mr. Lamb the hope that Derry was not completely lost in his gloomy world.
  4. Mr. Lamb says to Derry: ‘It’s all relative. Beauty and Beast’. What does he mean by that?
    Mr. Lamb believes in the relativity theory of beauty. Quoting the fairy tale, ‘The Beauty and the Beast,’ he said that everyone has beauty inside but people hardly recognize that. The beautiful ones are not always good at heart and the ugly ones can have a beautiful heart.
  5. Who should be ‘friends’ according to both Derry and Mr. Lamb?
    Both Mr. Lamb and Derry keep different views regarding friendship and company. Derry thinks that one should know all the particulars of a person before becoming friends. He also thinks that two people who met casually on the way cannot be friends because they are not going to meet again. In contrast, Mr. Lamb doesn’t agree with Derry. He doesn’t know the names of his friends yet he has a lot of friends. For him anyone is his friend, whether he met them just once or so many times.
  6. What does Mr. Lamb teach Derry from the story of the over-cautious man who had locked himself up in a room?
  7. “So you are not lost, are you? Not altogether?” What does Mr. Lamb mean?
  8. “That would do you more harm than any bottle of acid.” Explain.
    Mr. Lamb was a man who tried to look at problems with reduced importance while Derry thought his deformity was the last word of his life and existence. He said that he hated some people for their hatred and sympathy for him. Seeing the burning hatred in Derry, Mr. Lamb warned him that hatred can burn in and out of a person while acid can burn part of the body alone.
  9. “And the world is there to look at.” Explain.
    In Mr. Lamb’s opinion the world is a perfect example for people with deformity. The earth is full of good and bad things, beautiful and ugly places, inhabitable and uninhabitable places yet we love the earth as a whole, not as a part. Mr. Lamb wants to make Derry think of himself as a whole person with good and bad in him.

Two Invalids

Questions & Answers
  1. Both Mr. Lamb and Derry had much to suffer yet Derry was the worst affected. Explain.
    Mr. Lamb was an old man who had lost one of his legs in a blast while Derry was a teenager with a burnt face. While Mr. Lamb took his impairment as a challenge and tried to overcome it, Derry believed that he was unwanted and lost. His pain was physical and mental. Being a child he was not as strong as Mr. Lamb about suffering. He couldn’t take the sneering and sympathizing world as taken by Mr. Lamb. Mr. Lamb was able to sit smart and unaffected as long as he wore trousers and sat but Derry had no way to hide his face.

Next – Social Influence on Derry

Well, Derry cannot be completely blamed for his pessimistic and aggressive attitude towards the world around him.

  • Once he heard two women commenting about his monstrous appearance. They said only a mother could love a face like his.
  • On another occasion Derry heard his parents conversing that he would not survive after their death because he was deformed. The shock he received from these words was big.
  • Once again Derry heard his relatives saying that his being put in the hospital where he had been treated after the accident was good for him. In their opinion a deformed boy like Derry could accommodate himself with other deformed boys and girls.

Derry had his ears always open for such comments and used to respond to them in his silent way. He concluded that the world altogether didn’t need a boy like him.

Questions & Answers

  1. What did Derry feel after listening to the two ladies at the bus stop?

Next – The Real Mr. Lamb

  1. Do you think Mr. Lamb really had a lot of friends? Explain?
    Mr. Lamb claimed to have a lot of friends but in fact he appears to have few. Mr. Lamb is a peculiar person with no complaints about his deformity but his heavy, philosophical talks may bore people who run into him. Even though Mr. Lamb had claimed he had hundreds of friends, he didn’t know of those names and no one showed up while Derry was with him for such a long time. Moreover, Mr. Lamb himself is found telling his bees that human beings do not keep their promise of returning to his garden. From all these one can conclude that Mr. Lamb had no friends but the bees and the nature around him.
  2. When do you start suspecting Mr. Lamb’s optimistic character?

Next – Derry and his Mother

After meeting Mr. Lamb, Derry realized how foolish he had been to believe his parents. For him Lamb was a man who opened the doors of his closed world. At the end Derry goes back to his house where his mother cross questioned him. She had instructed him not to go to Mr. Lamb’s garden. Derry tried to convince his mother that Mr. Lamb was an extremely good man but she was not ready to listen. Ignoring his mother’s thoughtless restrictions, Derry left his home and ran to Mr. Lamb’s garden.

Questions & Answers
  1. Why did Derry’s mother warn him to keep away from Mr. Lamb?
    Derry’s mother was very particular about not letting her son mix with other people. She was much stricter about not allowing the boy to go to Mr. Lamb as she had heard that the old man was not good.
  2. How does Derry claim that his deformity is graver than Mr. Lamb’s lameness?
    Derry had a burnt face and Mr. Lamb had lost one of his legs. In Derry’s opinion he bore more damage and pain than Mr. Lamb because his burnt face cannot be hidden from others while Mr. lamb could sit somewhere as a normal man. For Derry, the deformed face was his identity. People got away from him because of the face and he believed that no one runs away from a lame man.
  3. Why does Derry say that he would never go out to the world if he didn’t go to Mr. Lamb?
    Derry’s parents were greatly responsible for making an introvert out of him. They believed that the world was not the place for their son due to his burnt face. They advised him to keep away from people. They convinced him that his life would be impossible after their death. Thus Derry’s parents shut him in a narrow world of his own, inspiring him to hate and avoid everyone. But after meeting Mr. Lamb Derry realized how foolish he had been to believe his parents. For him Lamb was a man who opened the doors of his closed world in an hour’s time the same of which were shut on him by his parents and therefore believed that his company with Lamb would make him a perfect person.

Next – Back Again!

On reaching, Derry found a motionless Mr. Lamb fallen from the ladder. He had fallen while pulling the crab apples down from the tree. Was Mr. Lamb dead, we don’t know for sure.

  1. Why does Derry go back to Mr. Lamb in the end?
    Mr. Lamb was a wizard who could transform Derry into a positive character. Derry realized the importance of a man like Lamb and hoped that he would change completely in his company. Moreover, he knew, he could revert to his old attitude if he lived with his pessimistic mother and father.

Next – Exam Pack Questions

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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