The story line/ Plot Summary
The story “A Face in the Dark” by Ruskin Bond is set in Simla, a town in Himachal Pradesh, India where an Anglo-Indian teacher Mr. Oliver teaches in a reputed English public school which is regarded as the “Eton of the East”. He is a bachelor and goes to the market some three miles away in the evening and returns back to school at night on a daily basis. He takes the short cut way through the pine forest.
On the day of the story when he is returning late at night, the strong wind is making an eerie sound through the pine trees and the batteries of his torch is running down. Suddenly, he comes across a boy who is crying silently with his head hung down, sitting on a rock. Following a number of questions from the teacher, when the boy finally looks up, Mr. Oliver sees that the boy has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth on his face. “It was just a round smooth head – with a school cap on top of it!”
Panicked by the horrific scene, Mr. Oliver runs down the path calling for help. He finally stops when he sees the watchman swinging a lantern on his way. Oliver tells the watchman what he has seen. But soon after, he finds out in the light of the lantern that the watchman too has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Then the wind blows the lamp out.
A Face in the Dark: A Commentary on the Story
Ruskin Bond’s short story “A Face in the Dark”, originally published in 2004, is very short and simple in terms of the plot and the language used. But the author has made a simple plot and ordinary setting look extraordinary by giving it a supernatural touch. The supernatural atmosphere is created by the elements like eerie sounds of the pine trees, batteries of the torch running down, flickering light, silent sobbing, lantern swinging in the middle of the path etc. All these things prepare us for some mysterious or uncanny happenings.
The story, though begins with the narration of ordinary daily occurrences, it turns out to be very intriguing and a thought-provoking one. The story reaches its climax when Oliver discovers that the boy and the watchman both have no eyes, ears, nose or mouth on their face. Now, what intrigues us most is what message the author actually wants to deliver. Is it just another horror story, or does it have some deeper meaning referring to the psychological sphere of human beings? This riddle is actually a characteristic feature of the post-modern literature.
The story can be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be that he had the collective fascination with the darkness in his sub-conscious mind. And as a consequence of a momentary excitement, he was almost at a loss to particularize the individuality of persons.
Another plausible interpretation is that over the years Mr. Oliver got tired nurturing the students and the individuality of each and every student has overlapped with each other. And he is now haunted by the sameness in every individual.
Again, it may refer to the psychological disturbance of Mr. Oliver created by his loneliness. He is a bachelor and spends a lot of time alone. So this interpretation has some merit too.
But going by the title of the story “A Face in the Dark”, it may also mean that a face in the dark is always blurred. On a metaphorical level, it signifies that we find every single person just the same when we don’t really have a closer look at them.