The Address

By Marga Minco

 

About the Author

 

Poet Name:  Marga Minco

Born:            31 March 1920 (age 100 years), Ginneken en Bavel, Netherlands

Spouse:        Lambertus Hendrikus Voeten (m. 1945–1992)

Awards:        P. C. Hooft Award, Ferdinand Bordewijk Prize

Movies:        Het Bittere Kruid

Nationality:  Dutch

 

Theme

This story is a touching account of a girl who goes in search of her mother’s belongings after the Second World War in Holland. But even after finding what she so much wanted to touch, to see, to feel and remember, she leaves everything behind as it could not bring her dead mother back. She decides to move on and live with only memories of the former times. The address that held so much importance till she visited that place, lost its value and the girl realised that it could get her nothing but pain.

The Characters

The Daughter: She is the narrator, who returns to Holland to go to the address where her mother’s precious belongings were kept. As normalcy had returned after the Second World War in Holland, she wanted to see all possessions that were a bond between her family and herself.

Mrs S – The Narrator’s Mother: In the story, the narrator’s mother has been called as Mrs S. She was a simpleton who could not see the manipulating and fraudulent nature of Mrs Dorling, her acquaintance. She trusted Mrs Dorling and allowed her to keep all her precious belongings for the time being.

Mrs Dorling: She has been described as an old acquaintance of Mrs S. After a long gap, she appeared again during the war. She possessed a cunning personality. She is most reluctant to recognise the daughter and does not allow her to enter the house.

About the Lesson

This chapter centres around a daughter who goes in search of her mother’s belongings after the war, in Holland. She finds all the objects which evoke memories of her earlier life. However, she decides to leave them all behind and resolves to move on.

The chapter begins when Mrs. S’s daughter visits Mrs. Dorling’s house after the liberation war in Holland. She remembers the address, therefore reaches there, and meets a woman (Mrs. Dorling) whom she knows very well.

To her surprise, Mrs. Dorling who was a frequent visitor to their home before the war refuses to recognize her. The narrator introduces herself again and again but all in vain. Mrs. Dorling is wearing a green knotted cardigan which once used to be owned by Mrs. S, her mother. The narrator wants to talk to Mrs. Dorling but later turns a blind eye and shuts the door on her face.

Narrator once again confirms the address by looking at the nameplate again which suggests Mrs. Dorling in black letters on white enamel and a house number i.e. 46.

Having been detected by Mrs. Dorling, the narrator walks slowly to the station. While walking down, she recalls the moments spent with her mother and the time when things had started disappearing from her room as well as home. When enquired, her mother told the narrator about Mrs. Dorling who was an old acquaintance my mother, whom she had not seen for years. But suddenly she had turned up and renewed her contact with her mother.

Narrator’s mother also adds that every time she leaves there, she takes something home with her. According to her mother, Mrs. Dorling had taken everything starting from antique plates to the crockery used at their home. In short, she would insist to give all those things in order to save them from the war. According to her mother, she would carry a full suitcase, or a bag stuffed with household things. Her mother wanted the narrator to remember the ‘Number 46, Marconi Street’ i.e. address of Mrs. Dorling.

The narrator, once again, decides to go to Mrs. Dorling home. This time, a girl of about fifteen opens the door. Narrator enquires if her mother was at home. She denies saying that she has been to market to run an errand.

Narrator enters her house and sees an old-fashioned Hanukkah candle holder, wooden tablecloth, teapot, spoons, and many other things which once belonged to her mother. She even feels the burn mark which is still there on the tablecloth.

But soon she realises that she has to catch her train. She leaves the house and decides never to come back again and to forget the address of Mrs. Dorling’s home.

 

Word Meanings


poignant – arousing sadness
evoke – arouse
resolves – decides
chink – narrow opening
fleetingly – for a short time
cardigan – sweater with buttons
musty – stale
bay window – large window sticking out of the wall of a house
jamb – doorpost
struck – occurred to
apparently – evidently
acquaintance – known person
turned up – appeared
antique – a collectable object, old and often valuable
table silver – cutlery (knives, forks and spoons) made of silver
lugging – carrying
crick – strain
reprovingly – with disapproval
beckoned – called
stored stuff – belongings kept in a safe place
confronted – come face to face with
endured – survived
errand – work involving going out of the house
Hanukkah – used in the Jewish festival of lights
cumbersome – unmanageable
oppressed – saddened
still life – painting of an arrangement of flowers and/or fruits
fancied – desired.
pewter – tin alloy
jingling – light metallic sound
severed – cut off
shreds – tiny pieces

 

Summary

Mrs Dorling’s Indifferent Attitude Towards the Narrator


The narrator knocked at the door of a house, but the door was opened only a little. She asked the owner if she knew her. The narrator told her that she was Mrs S daughter. But the owner of the house, Mrs Dorling, denied knowing her. Mrs Dorling’s face gave absolutely no sign of recognition and she kept staring at her without speaking any word.

The narrator thought that perhaps she was mistaken and had rung the wrong bell. Then the narrator got a glimpse of her mother’s green knitted cardigan which Mrs Dorling was wearing. This confirmed to her that she had reached the correct address. But Mrs Dorling excused herself by saying that she could not talk to the girl that day and she should come again later. Then she shamelessly closed the door.

Someone Watching the Narrator from the Window
 

The narrator stood for some time on the steps even after the door closed. Someone was watching her from the bay window. The girl presumed that someone other than Mrs Dorling must be watching her and must have asked why the narrator came there.

 

The Narrator Remembers What her Mother had Told her
 

After this refusal, the narrator walked back to the station thinking about her mother. Her mother had given her Mrs Dorling’s address years ago. It had been in the first half of the war. The narrator’s mother told her about Mrs Dorling, an old acquaintance.

She also informed her that every time when Mrs Dorling came, she took something home with her. The reason Mrs Dorling gave for her actions was that she wanted to save all the good things, as the narrator’s mother would not be able to save everything if they had to leave suddenly. The narrator’s mother had accepted the idea. She was rather obliged towards Mrs Dorling that she was carrying such heavy luggage every time she visited, as it was really risky during the war.

 

The Narrator Remembers When She Met Mrs Dorling
 

The narrator arrived at the station without having paid much attention to things on the way. She was walking in familiar places again for the first time since the war. She didn’t want to upset herself with the sight of streets and houses full of memories from a previous time. In the train she remembered the first time when she had seen Mrs Dorling. It was the morning after the day her mother had told her about Mrs Dorling, who was wearing a brown coat and a shapeless hat. The narrator had asked from her mother if she lived far away, as she was carrying a heavy case. Her mother told her that Mrs Dorling lived at Number 46, Marconi Street.

 

Initially the Narrator was Reluctant to See the Family’s Old Belongings
 

The narrator had remembered the address but waited a long time to go there. Initially after the war was over, she was not interested in all their belongings lying with Mrs Dorling. She was afraid to see the things that had belonged to her dead mother. She did not want to see their belongings lying in Mrs Dorling’s house in boxes and cupboards and needing to be put back in their old places again. She was scared that the things might make her very nostalgic. But gradually her life became normal again and one day, she became curious to know about all the possessions.

 

The Narrator Decides to Visit Again
 

After her first visit did not yield any result, she decided to visit a second time. This time a girl of about fifteen opened the door, as her mother was not at home. The narrator asked about Mrs Dorling. She was told that Mrs Dorling was not at home. She followed the girl along the passage. She noticed an old-fashioned iron candleholder which they never used. They went into the living-room.

The narrator was horrified. She found herself in the midst of their old belongings, but they oppressed her as they were kept in strange surroundings and in a very tasteless manner. She was hurt to see her family’s belongings lying in a tasteless way with the ugly furniture and muggy smell. The tablecloth, the silver cutlery and even the still life showing the apple on the tin plate belonged to her family.

 

The Narrator’s Keen Observation of Mrs Dorling’s Daughter
 

She was keenly observing the girl, who had a broad back similar to that of Mrs Dorling. The girl was placing teacups for tea to be served. She was pouring tea from a white teapot which had a gold border on the lid and then she took out some spoons from the box. All this crockery and cutlery belonged to the narrator’s family, but perhaps the girl was not aware of this fact. She cracked a joke about eating dinner in those antique plates. The narrator also found a burn mark on the tablecloth. The narrator indirectly hinted to the girl that they missed things which are either missing from their original place or have been loaned to somebody.

 

The Narrator Remembers About Polishing the Silver Outlay
 

The narrator remembers the time when her mother was alive, and the narrator was at home either bored or ill. Her mother asked her to polish the silver cutlery. She was surprised to hear that the cutlery that they were using was made of silver and even Mrs Dorling’s daughter was surprised to hear that they were using silver cutlery for everyday eating.

 

The Narrator’s Final Resolution
 

The narrator decided that she could not stay there anymore. The address was correct, but the narrator didn’t want to remember it anymore. She felt that the objects were linked to a memory of a time which no longer existed. They had lost their value in the strange surroundings.

She comforted herself by thinking that her present house was too small to accommodate all the old stuff. She left the house, leaving all her family’s belongings behind.

Highlights

  • The narrator decides to visit the address that was given to her by her mother, where all her family’s precious possessions were kept safely by Mrs Dorling.

  • The first time when the narrator visited the address, Mrs Dorling behaved in the most absurd manner. She refused to recognise the narrator and did not let her enter the house. So, the narrator returns empty-handed.

  • The narrator is reminded of her mother (Mrs S) who had given this address to her years ago, when in spite of war, they were living in Holland and she saw Mrs Dorling who was introduced to her as an old acquaintance of her mother.

  • The narrator noticed many precious items missing from their places. Then Mrs S told her that Mrs Dorling was helping her by taking her tablecloth, silver cutlery, antique plates, large vases, and crockery to her house to keep in safe custody, in case they had to leave the house suddenly.

  • The narrator decided to revisit the house of Mrs Dorling as she felt the urge to see all her mother’s belongings. She wanted to touch them, feel them, and remember them.

  • On her second visit to 46, Marconi Street, she could get entry into the house as Mrs Dorling’s 15-year-old daughter opened the door. Her mother was not at home.

  • The girl led her to the living room where, to the narrator’s dismay, things belonging to her mother were arranged in a bad manner.

  • Mrs Dorling’s daughter innocently told the narrator that they were using all the antique plates, crockery, and cutlery.

  • The narrator took an impulsive decision to leave everything behind as the precious objects owned by her mother had lost their value. Also, these objects associated with her mother were now in strange surroundings.

  • The narrator decided to forget her past as it brought back bitter memories. Her mother was no more there to revive the pleasant memories.

  • The narrator walked out of Mrs Dorling’s house, deciding that she would never come back to this house to see or take away her family’s possessions as she had no place to keep all of it.

 

Textual Questions

 

A. Reading With Insight

 

Question 1: ‘Have you come back?’ said the woman, ‘I thought that no one had come back.’ Does this statement give some clue about the story? If yes, what is it?
Answer: Yes, this statement gives some clue about the story. During the early part of the war Mrs Dorling had shifted the important belongings of her acquaintance Mrs S. from her house to 46, Marconi Street. These included table silver wares, antique plates, and other nice things such as the iron Hanukkah candleholder, woollen tablecloth, and green knitted cardigan with wooden buttons. Since Mrs S. had died during the war, Mrs Dorling did not expect anyone to come back and claim her costly belongings as she thought no one else knew her address.
The statement indicates the greedy and possessive nature of Mrs Dorling. She did not open the door to the daughter of her former acquaintance, nor did she show any signs of recognition. She did not let the girl in. She refused to see her then saying it was not convenient for her to do. The narrator had gone to this address with a specific purpose—to see her mother’s belongings. Even when she told Mrs Dorling that only she had come back, the woman with a broad back did not soften a bit. Thus, the clash of interests is hinted at by the aforesaid statement.

 

Question 2: The story is divided into pre-war and post-war times. What hardships do you think the girl underwent during these times?
Answer: During the pre-war times, the narrator lived in some other city far away from home and she visited her mother only for a few days. During the first half of the war the narrator’s mother was always afraid that they might have to leave the place and lose all valuable belongings. The narrator lived in the city in a small rented room. Its windows were covered with blackout paper. She could not see the beauty of nature outside her room. The threat of death loomed large.
After the liberation, everything became normal again. Bread was getting to be a lighter colour. She could sleep in her bed without any fear of death. She could glance out of the window of her room each day. One day, she was eager to see all the possessions of her mother, which she knew were stored at number 46, Marconi Street. She went to that address. She felt disappointed when Mrs Dorling neither recognised her nor let her in. She asked her to come again someday. It was evident she wanted to put her off. She was eager to see, touch and remember her mother’s possessions. So, she had to take the trouble of visiting the place again.

 

Question/n 3: Why did the narrator of the story want to forget the address?
Answer: The narrator remembered the address her mother had told her only once. It was number 46, Marconi Street. Her mother’s acquaintance Mrs Dorling lived there. She had stored the valuable belongings of the narrator’s mother there. After her mother’s death, the narrator had an urge to visit the place. She wanted to see those things, touch them, and remember. She went to the given address twice. She was successful in her second attempt to enter the living room. .
She found herself in the midst of things she wanted to see again. She felt oppressed in the strange atmosphere. Everything was arranged in a tasteless way. The ugly furniture and the muggy smell that hung there seemed quite unpleasant. These objects evoked the memory of the familiar life of former time. But they had lost their value since they had been separated from her mother and stored in strange surroundings. She no longer wanted to see, touch, or remember these belongings. She resolved to forget the address. She wanted to leave the past behind and decided to move on.

 

Question 4: ‘The Address’ is a story of human predicament that follows war. Comment.
Answer: The war creates many difficult and unpleasant situations for human beings. Sometimes it becomes difficult to know what to do. The human predicament that follows war is amply illustrated through the experience of the narrator. The war had caused many physical difficulties as well as emotional sufferings to her. She had lost her dear mother. She went to 46, Marconi Street to see her mother’s valuable possessions. How greedy and callous human beings can become is exemplified by the behaviour of Mrs Dorling. She had stored all the valuable belongings of the narrator’s mother, but she refused to recognise the narrator. She did not even let her in. The presence of her mother’s possessions in strange atmosphere pained her. Now these valuables had lost all their importance for her as they had been separated from her mother. She could get no solace or comfort from them.

 

Short Answer Type Questions

 

Q1. Why did the narrator go to Number 46, Marconi Street?
Ans. This was the address of the woman who had carried their valuables to her home for safety during war time. So, the narrator went there to claim the belongings of her mother.

 

Q2. Why was Mrs. Dorling cautious while opening the door?
Ans. Mrs. Dorling had committed the crime of misappropriating the narrator’s household things a few years ago. She hoped that the war would uproot the entire family and they would never return. But she also feared one day someone from the family could turn up and claim the things that she kept at her home. Hence, she was cautious in opening the door.

 

Q3. Do you think the woman didn’t recognize the narrator, or she was merely pretending? Give reasons for your answer.
Ans. Obviously, the woman was pretending that she didn’t recognise the narrator. As soon as she realised that she had been found out she said, “Have you come back? I thought that no one had come back.”

 

Q4. Why did Mrs. Dorling refuse to recognise the narrator?

Ans. Mrs. Dorling never thought that the narrator would return after years to get her mother’s stuff back. She was a greedy woman. She had been using all the stuff and didn’t want to return it. When she recognized her, she hid herself behind the door and didn’t even want to talk to the narrator. She lied that she didn’t recognize her. Narrator’s mother trusted Mrs. Dorling as her friend but she displayed an inconsiderate and selfish behaviour which hurt the narrator.

 

Q5. How was the narrator convinced that she had made no mistake and had reached the right address?
Ans. When the woman who opened the door gave no sign of recognition, the narrator thought she was perhaps mistaken and had rung the wrong bell. When she saw the woman wearing her mother’s green knitted cardigan, she was convinced that she had made no mistake and reached the right address.

 

Q6. How did the woman try to avoid the narrator?
Ans. First, the woman refused to recognise the narrator. When she realised that she had been found out, she regretted that she couldn’t do anything for the narrator. Then she asked the narrator to come another time. She gave the impression that there was someone in the house whom she didn’t want to be disturbed.

 

Q7. Why did the author first hesitate to claim her belongings from Mrs. Dorling?
Ans. When the war was over and the narrator began to feel a little secure, she felt like missing her family belongings. On a second thought, she began to suspect that the presence of her family articles would remind her of her dear ones who were no more with her, so she hesitated to claim those articles from Mrs. Dorling’s house. Besides, she lived in a poor room that looked the oddest place to accommodate her expensive possessions.

 

Q8. Who was Mrs. Dorling? What did the narrator’s mother tell her about the woman?
Ans. Mrs. Dorling was an old acquaintance of the narrator’s mother whom she had not seen for years. She had recently renewed their contact. Since then she has been visiting their house regularly. Every time she left their house, she took something home with her.

 

Q9. Why did the narrator finally decide to forget the address?
Ans. After the war, the author went to collect the things which belonged to her family. Mrs. Dorling who had taken away everything did not allow the author to enter in her house. Later, she tried to take another chance. This time her daughter received her. The narrator entered and saw many things lying here and there. Her past memories stood before her eyes. But soon she realised that the objects which are associated with the past had lost their value as being cut off from them. The easiest way was to forget. So, she decided to forget the address.

 

Long Answer Type Questions

 

Q1. Describe the narrator’s first visit to Mrs. Dorling’s house in Marconi Street.
Ans. The narrator was sure that her mother’s belongings must still be preserved by Mrs. Dorling. One day she felt an urge to see and touch those objects. So, she went to Mrs. Dorling’s house in Marconi Street. She rang the bell. A woman opened the door and looked at her searchingly. The narrator came closer and introduced herself that she was Mrs. S’s daughter. The woman kept staring at her in silence. There was no sign of recognition on her face. The narrator thought perhaps she had come to the wrong house. But she saw the woman was wearing her mother’s green knitted cardigan. She knew at once that she had made no mistake. She asked the woman whether she knew her mother. The woman could not deny this. She said, “Have you come back”? The woman regretted that she could not do anything for her. She asked the narrator to come some other time and cautiously closed the door. The narrator realized that her visit was in vain. She stood on the step for a while and then left the place.

 

Q2. Describe the narrator’s second visit to Mrs. Dorling’s house.
Ans. The narrator’s first visit to Mrs. Dorling’s house was in vain. She decided to try a second time. This time a girl of about fifteen opened the door to her. Her mother was not at home. The narrator said that she would wait for her. Following the girl along the passage, the narrator saw their old-fashioned iron candleholder hanging next to a mirror. The girl made her sit in the living room and went inside. The narrator was horrified to find herself in a room she knew and did not know. She found herself in the midst of familiar things which she longed to see again but which oppressed her in the strange atmosphere. She dared not look around her. The woollen tablecloth, the cups, the white teapot, the spoons, the pewter plate, everything was full of memories of her former life. Suddenly the objects linked with her former life lost their value. In strange surroundings, they too appeared strange to her. She no longer had desire to possess them. She got up, walked to the door, and came out of the house.

 

Q3. What did the narrator learn about Mrs. Dorling from her mother?
Ans. The war was going on. The narrator was home for a few days. She immediately noticed that something or other about the rooms had changed. Various things were missing. She looked at her mother questioningly. Then her mother told her about Mrs. Dorling. The narrator had never heard of that woman. Obviously, she was an old acquaintance of her mother, whom she had not seen for years. Since then she had been coming to their house regularly. Every time she left the place, she took something home with her. She took all the table silver, then the antique plates and several other precious things. She herself explained that she wanted to save all their nice things because they would lose everything in case, they had to leave the house. The narrator’s mother never doubted her intention. She rather felt obliged to Mrs. Dorling for talking all the trouble while carrying their things.

 

Q4. Why had the narrator remembered Mrs. Dorling’s address? Why did she want now to forget the address?
Ans. Mrs. Dorling was an old acquaintance of the narrator’s mother. She had carried their valuables to her house for safety during the war time. She said that she wanted to save all their nice things because they would lose everything if they had to flee from the place. The narrator’s mother told her Mrs. Dorling’s address. The narrator had remembered the address.

When the war was over and things became almost normal, one day the narrator had an intense longing to see and touch the objects which were linked with the memories of her former life. She knew that all the things must still be preserved by Mrs. Dorling. So, she went to Number 46 in Marconi Street. She was horrified to find in a room she knew and did not know. She found herself in the midst of familiar things which she longed to see again. Suddenly the objects lost their value. In strange surroundings, they too appeared strange to her. She realised that she no longer wanted to possess them. Now the address lost all its significance for her and she wanted to forget it.

 

Q5. Comment on the contrasting elements in the characters of Mrs. S and Mrs. Dorling?
Ans. The mother of the author, Mrs. S was a lady of simplicity. She didn’t seem to have seen the harsh and cruel side of this two-faced world. She could easily befriend people, and rather more easily, trust them. That’s why she trusted Mrs. Dorling, who was just an acquaintance of her, and allowed her to keep all her precious belongings for the time being. Moreover, she was so kind-hearted that she was sympathetic enough for Mrs. Dorling, who had to carry all her heavy articles all alone.

In contrast, Mrs. Dorling was an absolute thief, a unique combination of cunningness and betrayal. She cheated Mrs. S and seized her very precious belongings very wittingly. She can be called a perfectionist in this ‘occupation’ of hers.

 

Q6. Who is Mrs. Dorling? Do you justify her behaviour in the story?
Ans. Mrs. Dorling is an acquaintance of Mrs. S, the narrator’s mother. In the story Mrs. Dorling exploits Mrs. S’s fears and insecurity during the war. She insists Mrs. S and took away all her valuable things after giving assurance that she would keep them safe until the war was over. In fact, Mrs. Dorling had no intentions of returning the valuables as she was sure that Mrs. S and her family would not survive the war. So, when the narrator, Mrs. S’s daughter, went to Mrs. Dorling’s house to claim those articles to which her mother’s precious memories were associated, she even pretended not to recognize her. Instead of returning those articles to the narrator, she shamelessly used them which actually belonged to the narrator’s mother and also behaved rudely to the narrator. So, in the context of the above Mrs. Dorling’s behaviour cannot be justified.

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