On the Face of It
About the Author
Susan Hill is an English author of fiction and nonfiction works. Her novels include the ‘woman in black’, ‘The mist in the mirror’ and ‘I’m the king of the castle’ for which she received the Somerset Maugham award in 1971.
The story is about a teenage boy, Derry, who has a burnt face and Mr. Lamb who is a disabled old man with an artificial leg made of tin. Derry accidently enters his garden so that he can hide himself from people who hate him because of his ugly face. Mr. Lamb not only welcomes him in his garden but also encourages him to lead a normal life, leaving behind his past.
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!
Derry was a teenager, highly pessimistic (feeling low/feeling negative) and withdrawn (staying away) from the society.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 could not 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.
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.
Both Mr. Lamb and Derry had much to suffer yet Derry was the worst affected.
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 could not 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.
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 did not need a boy like him.
The Real Mr. Lamb
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 did not 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 this one can conclude that Mr. Lamb had no friends but the bees and the nature around him.
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.
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 do not know for sure.
The play “On the Face Of it” depicts beautifully yet grimly the sad world of the physically impaired. It is not the actual pain or inconvenience caused by a physical impairment that trouble a disabled man but the attitude of the people around him. Two physically impaired people, Mr. Lamb with a tin leg and Derry with a burnt face, strike a band of friendship.
Derek, a young lad of fourteen was sinking in the abyss of despair and frustration. He disliked everyone. Once he enters a garden thinking it an empty place but Finds an old man Mr. Lamb minding the apples. Derek feels embarrassed and wants to go back. Mr. Lamb assures him that he does not mind strangers and the gates of garden are open for everyone. Derek has low self-esteem and thinks people are afraid of him for his burnt face because of acid and thinks even his mother kisses him only on the good side of his face. He has bitterness for the world.
Mr. Lamb has a friendly and positive attitude. He tells Derek that he too is handicapped and loves all creatures made by God because nothing in this world is worthless, even weeds have their own value. He advises Derek to think of the beautiful objects of the world and never believe on your eyes but to believe your ears. Avoid people’s comments and love all mankind because hatred corrodes us and hurts more than acids. He considers Derek to be his friend.
Mr. Lamb tells a story to give Derek a lesson. Once there was a timid man who refused to come out in fear of fatal accident. In his own room a picture fell of the wall on his head and he died. This changes Derek’s attitude and he takes interest in Mr. Lamb’s talking and likes to listen more to Mr. Lamb and wants to help Mr. Lamb in his work.
Derek wants to go home and inform his mother that he would be late. He promises to come back. His mother stops him, but he is adamant saying if he does not go now it would be never. When he comes back, he sees lamb lying on the ground. It is ironical that when he searches a new foothold to live happily, he finds Mr. Lamb dead. In this way, the play depicts the heart rendering life of physically disabled people with their loneliness, aloofness, and alienation. But at the same time, it is almost a true account of the people who do not let a person live happily.
The play depicts beautifully yet grimly the sad world of the physically impaired.
It is not the actual pain or inconvenience caused by a physical impairment that trouble a disabled man but the attitude of the people around him.
Two physically impaired people, Mr. Lamb with a tin leg and Derry with a burnt face, strike a band of friendship.
Derry is described as a young boy shy, withdrawn and defiant.
People tell him inspiring stories to console him, no one will ever kiss him except his mother that too on the other side of his face
Mentions about a woman telling that only a mother can love such a face.
Mr. Lamb revives the almost dead feelings of Derry towards life.
He motivates him to think positively about life, changes his mind set about people and things.
How a man locked himself as he was scared-a picture fell off the wall and got killed.
Everything appears to be the same but is different- Ex. of bees. And weeds
The gate of the garden is always open.
Derry is inspired and promises to come back.
Derry’s mother stops him, but he is adamant saying if he does not go now it would be never.
When he comes back, he sees lamb lying on the ground
It is ironical that when he searches a new foothold to live happily, he finds Mr. Lamb dead.
In this way the play depicts the heart rendering life of physically disabled people with their loneliness, aloofness, and alienation.
But at the same time, it is almost a true account of the people who do not let a person live happily
Textual Questions and Answers
Question 1. Who is Mr. Lamb? How does Derry get into his garden?
Answer: Mr. Lamb is an old man who lives in a big house and has a big garden. He is lame with a tin-leg. He had lost his leg in the war. Derry enters Mr. Lamb’s garden by climbing the wall He does not come there to steal the apples like other children but out of sheer curiosity.
Question 2. Do you think all this will change Derry’s attitude towards Mr. Lamb?
Answer: Derry had a negative attitude to life and people due to his burnt face. He suffered from an inferiority complex and avoided meeting people. But after his long conversation with Mr. Lamb, he was able to overcome his inferiority complex and changed his attitude.
Reading with Insight
Question 1. What is it that draws Derry to Mr. Lamb in spite of himself?
Answer: Mr. Lamb was not scared of Derry’s burnt face. He wanted to be in his company and talk to him. Mr. Lamb was also handicapped and alone. He spoke in a friendly manner to Derry and inspired him to think positively. Thus, Derry got drawn to Mr. Lamb.
Question 2. The actual pain or inconvenience caused by a physical impairment is often much less than the sense of alienation felt by the person with disabilities. What is the kind of behaviour that the person expects from others?
Answer: The sense of alienation caused by physical impairment is no doubt more painful than the inconvenience caused by physical impairment. This is clearly proved in the play ‘On the Face of It’. Derry seems to be a living example of this fact. He got his face burnt due to spilling of acid leaving scars and infirmity. The attitude of the people towards him gave him more pain than his physical pain. He was deeply hurt and disgusted when he realised that his family was anxious about his future. He felt pain when he overheard two women talking about his ugly face. The insensitive remarks of the women in which they suggest him to be in the company of people like him, developed a sense of alienation in him. He closed himself in a shell and developed a very negative attitude to society and finally to life.
Question 3. Will Derry get back to his old seclusion or will Mr. Lamb’s brief association effect a change in the kind of life he will lead in future?
Answer: Derry had received a lot of positivity from Mr. Lamb, who encouraged him to live his life on this own terms. He had motivated him so much that he had come out of his inferiority complex. So, he would not get back to his seclusion.
Short Questions and Answers
Question 1. How does Mr. Lamb keep himself busy when it is a bit cool?
Answer: When the weather was cool, Mr. Lamb would take a ladder and a stick and pull down the crab apples. He would make jelly with the ripened oranges and golden apples to keep him occupied.
Question 2. As told by Mr. Lamb, why did a man lock himself up in his room and what happened to him?
Answer: The man locked himself up in his room because he was afraid that a bus might run him over or a man might breathe deadly germs onto him, or a donkey might kick him to death or lightning might strike him down or he might slip on a banana skin and fall and people would laugh at him. But despite locking himself in the room, he died as a picture fell off the wall on his head.
Question 3. If you were to give a different ending to the story ‘On the Face of It’ how would you end it?
Answer: I would have given a happy ending to the story. I would not like Mr. Lamb to die at the end. Instead Derry would be received by Mr. Lamb and they both would become good friends.
Question 4. How does Derry interpret the fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’? What does he feel about himself?
Answer: Derry says Beauty loved the Beast and so she kissed him, and he changed into a handsome prince. But this would not happen to him because no one was going to kiss him. Even his mother kissed him on the other side of the face.
Question 5. Why did Mr. Lamb help Derry?
Answer: Mr. Lamb himself was handicapped. He knew the difficulties faced by people like him. But he was very optimistic and wanted to motivate and inspire others. He wanted Derry to look at the things from a different perspective. It was. His nature of generosity, love and altruism that compelled him to help Derry.
Question 6. In what sense is the friendship between Mr. Lamb and Derry fruitful?
Answer: For Derry, his friendship with Mr. Lamb proved very fruitful. Mr. Lamb changed Derry’s attitude to life and gave him courage to face the challenges of life bravely. His way of living a life to its utmost productivity proved to be an inspiration for Derry who finally came out of his inferiority complex and started living a normal life.
Question 7. Why does Derry’s mother not want him to go back to visit Mr. Lamb?
Answer: Derry’s mother claims to have heard many things about Mr. Lamb. She has been told and warned by the people. She thinks he is not a good person. She asks Derry not to go back there. Derry asks her not to believe all she hears. But Derry is determined to go there.
Question 8. How does Mr. Lamb react when Derry enters his garden?
Answer: Mr. Lamb introduces himself and tries to make a very casual conversation, cautions Derry about the fallen fruit so that he does not trip on it and tries to comfort him putting his doubts at rest.
Question 9. What kind of garden does Mr. Lamb have? Why does he like it?
Answer: Mr. Lamb has an orchard full of fruit trees. He likes it because gardening keeps him busy and children also come there to play. He longs for human company as he suffers from loneliness.
Question 10. How do people react to Derry’s face?
Answer: Derry was a fourteen-year-old boy who had a scarred face. People were afraid of him and stared at him because he had an ugly burnt face. They pretended to be sympathetic but actually the attitude of the people, reflected the callousness of the society towards the physically impaired.
Question 11. How do people console Derry when they look at his face?
Answer: When people looked at Derry’s face, some people were sympathetic, and some were not. People told him inspiring stories to console him but not one ever kissed him except his mother. Lamb clarified to Derry that people with the same deformity were also different. It is incorrect to judge people by what they look like.
Question 12. Why does Derry tell Mr. Lamb that he is afraid of seeing himself in the mirror?
Answer: Half of the face of Derry was burnt due to spilling of acid. This left an ugly scar on his face. He was afraid of seeing his ugly face in the mirror as it reminded him of his ugliness and made him feel scared and depressed.
Question 13. According to Derry, what did people think and say about him?
Answer: The half of Derry’s face was burnt and disfigured due to spilling of acid. People’ either ignored him or had pitied him. Some even made fun of him and called him ugly and the devil. They were scared of him.
Question 14. What did Derry’s mother think of Mr. Lamb?
Answer: Derry’s mother did not have a good opinion about Mr. Lamb as she had heard many things about him. She did not want Derry to go and meet him. She believed Mr. Lamb to be a dangerous person who lived alone in a big home.
Question 15. What qualities of Mr. Lamb attracted Derry to him?
Answer: Mr. Lambs positive attitude attracted Derry to him. He always looked at life in a positive and realistic way. He was motivating and inspiring. His zeal to live life fully in all circumstances, brought Derry closer to him.
Question 16. Why does Mr. Lamb leave his gate open?
Answer: Mr. Lamb was always on the lookout for the company of good friends. That is why he kept his gate open. He wanted people to come and meet him any time. This is symbolic of his openness to accept the world.
Question 17. Which peculiar things does Derry notice about Mr. Lamb?
Answer: Mr. Lamb appeared to be a peculiar person to Derry because he was not able to understand many of the things which Mr. Lamb said. Mr. Lamb told Derry to keep his ears shut and ignore what the people said. His positive approach to life, in spite of his handicap, was a peculiar thing for Derry.
Question 18. “It ate my face up. It ate me up,” says Derry to Mr. Lamb. What is this a reference to and how does the play bear out the later part of the statement?
Answer: Derry’s face is scarred and disfigured due to spilling of acid. He is pitied by others. In fact, the acid ate up his face. It also disfigured his personality. This led him to self-pity. He was not able to face the people and their unkind and insensitive remarks.
Question 19. ‘The world’s got a whole face, and the world’s there to be looked at.’ How does this statement reflect Mr. Lamb’s state of mind and how does this help in changing Derry’s outlook to life?
Answer: This statement reflects Mr. Lamb’s optimism and positive attitude to life. He believes that one must face life with positivity and accept everything courageously. The world is a beautiful place and we must enjoy its beauty by interacting with people. This positive attitude of Mr. Lamb changed Derry’s state of mind and he was able to overcome his inferiority complex and low self-esteem.
Question 20. Despite all that the old man says, he is yet a lonely old man. How is this brought out in the course of the play? How does Mr. Lamb overcome this?
Answer: Mr. Lamb is an old man with a tin-leg. He is alone and lives in a big house with a big lawn. Though, he is very optimistic and accepts everything very positively, his loneliness is evident from the fact that he leaves his gate and windows open so that people can come in whenever they want. He overcomes. this loneliness by getting himself involved in making toffees, jelly, etc. with the crab apples that grow in his garden. He loves to talk and spend time with the children who come to his lawn.
Question 21. ‘Because if I don’t go back there, I’ll never go back anywhere in the world’ says Derry to his mother. How do these words reflect Derry’s state of mind? How does he come to feel this way?
Answer: These words show that Derry’s state of mind has changed. Motivated and inspired by Mr. Lamb, Derry has become confident and bold enough to accept and face the world in spite of his deformity. He is no more a pessimist and has started taking life as a challenge.
Long Questions and Answers
Question 1. How does Mr. Lamb’s brief association with Derry affect the latter?
How did Mr. Lamb’s meeting with Derry become a turning point in his life?
Answer: Derry was a fourteen-year-old boy who had his one side of face burnt due to the spilling of acid. He was dejected. People pitied him. He was pained due to the horror, disgust, and the pity show for him by the alienated people. As a result, he had become bitter. He had withdrawn himself from people and had developed a pessimistic attitude to life.
When he met Mr. Lamb and spent some time in his company, his entire perspective changed. Mr. Lamb was a person, full of life. He told Derry to embrace life fully and not to be bothered about what people said about him. He advised him to keep his ears shut to what was unpleasant to hear but not to shut himself in. He inspired Derry by keeping himself busy in spite of his tin-leg and by being open and cheerful.
Mr. Lamb’s advice proved to be a great motivation for Derry, and he came out from his shell of isolation. Thus, it proved to be a turning point in his life.
Question 2. What is the bond that united the two—the old man, Mr. Lamb, and Derry, the small boy?
Answer: Derry is a small boy who has a burnt face due spilling of acid. He is very withdrawn and defiant. He runs away from the world as he hates others staring at him. He thinks people are afraid of his deformity. Similarly, Mr. Lamb, too is a handicapped person. He lost one leg in a bomb explosion during the war years ago. He lives alone.
The two of them have deformity and are rejected by the people. Both have a vacuum in their hearts for not having company. Mr. Lamb is a man full of positive energy. When Derry meets him, he finds himself drawn to him. Mr. Lamb seems to be the only one who gives him a new line of thought about his physical disfigurement.
Thus, they both shared a bond that unites the two of them.
Question 3. What benefits did Derry reap from his association with Mr. Lamb?
Answer: Derry was a fourteen-year-old boy whose face was partly burnt due to spilling of acid. As a result, he became conscious of his ugly face. He found that people either ridiculed him or pitied him. He developed a negative attitude to life. He became frustrated. But when he met Mr. Lamb, he got inspiration from him to live life as it came. Derry was encouraged by Mr. Lamb to look at the world and to take interest in things around him. He found truth, sense, and inspiration in Mr. Lamb’s words. He learnt from Mr. Lamb to handle his handicap and loneliness.
In fact, it was Mr. Lamb who brought Derry back to life. Derry learnt the way to live life fully by dealing with his deformity in an appropriate manner.
Question 4. What was Derry’s deformity? How had it made him withdrawn and defiant?
Answer: Derry was a fourteen-year-old boy. He had half of his face burnt due to spilling of acid. This made him look so ugly that everyone either pitied him or ridiculed him. This made him bitter. He detested the world and suffered from an inferiority complex, lack of self-respect and rejection.
Derry’s deformity made him so frustrated that he evaded people. He came to Mr. Lamb’s garden because he thought it to be empty. When he saw Mr. Lamb, he wanted to go away. He was extremely sensitive and even had a grudge against his mother for kissing him only on the other side of his burnt face.
Thus, due to his handicap, Derry became defiant and withdrawn. He was frustrated at his rejection by the people and became so withdrawn that he did not want to meet and talk to anyone.
Question 5. Justify the title ‘On the Face of It’.
Answer: The title of the story ‘On the Face of It’ seems to be very appropriate. The idiom ‘On the Face of It’ means from appearance alone or apparently. In the play, Derry is frustrated and has lost self-esteem due to people’s attitude to him. Everyone thought that his burnt face was terrible, and he was handicapped. Similar was Mr. Lamb’s case. He had lost one leg in a bomb explosion. Apparently both Mr. Lamb and Derry had deformities. But Mr. Lamb enabled Derry to have faith in himself and look at the bright side of things and to learn to live with his deformity.
Their physical handicap was an apparent thing for them as well as for the world. But the most significant thing is the strength of one’s soul. Mr. Lamb was a mentally strong person who handled his own handicap and loneliness very effectively. He became instrumental in Derry change his views about himself and his deformity and start taking things positively. The play deals with the acceptance of the fact that things are not always as they appear, i.e. physical handicap has nothing to do with the mental strength and positive attitude to life.
Question 6. How do Mr. Lamb and Derry differ in their thoughts, traits, and attitude to life?
Both Derry and Mr. Lamb suffer from handicaps, yet their attitude to life is totally different. Discuss.
Answer: Mr. Lamb and Derry both are handicapped. Mr. Lamb has lost his leg in a bomb explosion and Derry has a deformed face due to spilling of acid. They differ in their thoughts, traits, and attitude to life. Derry is not able to cope with his disfigured face and people’s uncharitable remarks. As a result, he keeps himself withdrawn and isolated from the world and has a very negative attitude to life. Derry keeps to himself and is extremely sensitive. He cannot stand people staring at him. On the other hand, Mr. Lamb is not much affected by his handicap. He enjoys reading books, tending plants and flowers. He has a positive attitude to life and accepts everything as it comes. He is open-minded and welcomes people. He is not affected when children call him ‘Lamey Lamb’.
Thus, both Derry and Mr. Lamb are in contrast to each other. Finally, Mr. Lamb was able to inspire Derry and change his attitude to life.
Question 7. What kind of atmosphere is created by Mr. Lamb to look welcoming and invite people to him?
Answer: Mr. Lamb has a very positive attitude to life. He keeps the door of his home open to welcome people into his house. He always speaks in a positive manner. Many children come to his garden to steal apples. He never rebukes them but wants to talk and spend time with them to overlook the mischiefs of others. He never gets annoyed or disturbed over the comments of children who call him ‘Lamey Lamb’. He accepts life as it comes to him. He never puts curtains on his windows and makes toffees and jelly for others. As a lonely man, Mr. Lamb wants to have company. He never discloses his loneliness to anybody and always speaks encouraging words. It is due to the welcoming attitude of Mr. Lamb that Derry promised to return to his garden.
Question 8. Both Derry and Lamb are physically impaired and lonely. It is the responsibility of society to understand and support people with infirmities so that they do not suffer from a sense of alienation. As a responsible citizen, write in 120-150 words what you would do to bring about a change in the lives of such people.
Answer: Both Derry and Lamb are physically impaired and lonely. It is only due to the insensitive attitude of the society that they feel alienated and lonely. Derry, a boy of fourteen years, always gets either pitied or have uncharitable remarks made against by others and Mr. Lamb seeks to get some company. In fact, as educated members of society, we need to come forward to make these people realise that they are also wanted and are significant for us. We have to change our attitude to such people and realise that just one deformity cannot affect the other talents and capabilities of a person. Actually, these people are very sensitive and feel dejected. We have to give them love and comfort and show our faith in them by providing them with equal opportunities and responsibilities.
Question 9. ‘Inclusive education’ is a step to bring the people with deformities into the mainstream so as to build up their confidence and morale. Write a paragraph on ‘The Importance of Inclusive Education’.
The Importance of Inclusive Education
Inclusive education is a step to bring the people with deformities into the mainstream. It is a step to imbibe confidence in those with deformities. In fact, one handicap cannot destroy the other qualities of a person. It is time we understood that persons with deformities are not outcasts. They are one of us and we need to accept them.
Inclusive education enhances the self-esteem of such people and provides an environment where they can grow into a complete human being and feel confident and independent. This is possible only when these people are accepted, and not pitied. Inclusive education is an effective way of giving shape to this idea.