The Story-line / Plot Summary
“An Angel in Disguise”, a short story, written by the popular 19th-century American author-cum-editor Timothy Shay Arthur in 1851 is literally based on the theme “love can win over anything in the world”.
An unnamed poor woman dies from excess alcohol consumption. She had been an outcast in her village due to her addiction but her death brought the villager’s sympathy so they arranged a proper funeral for her. The woman had three children. A farmer decided to adopt the eldest son John, who’s 12 years old, thinking he can help him in his field work. Mrs. Elli begrudgingly adopts Kate, who’s a few years too young to work in any factory, saying she’s much undisciplined.
The youngest child, Maggie, gets left alone because of her health. When she was much younger, she fell from a window and the fall had damaged her spine. Hence, she was permanently bed-ridden. Everyone suggests sending her to the poorhouse but no one makes an effort to do something about it.
After the funeral, everyone leaves without even a glance at Maggie but Joe Thompson lingers. Joe works as a wheelwright in the village and makes wooden wheels for wagons and carts. Though he looks to be a rough man, Joe is kind and loves children but he and his wife are unable to have kids. Maggie sees all the villagers leaving and also notices that Joe is still standing outside her hovel. She calls out for him and pleads him not to leave her alone.
Even though Joe knows that his wife, Jane Thompson, won’t be very happy to see Maggie, he carries the kid to his home. As he had guessed, his wife’s not happy to see her and asks him when he’s going to get rid of her.
In answer, he says that he had read many times in The Bible that those who help children shan’t be unrewarded. Joe also requests her to put aside her heart’s bitterness and see how cruel life is for Maggie; motherless, homeless and permanently bed-ridden. Though Mrs. Thompson doesn’t say anything to her husband, her heart softens a little towards Maggie.
Joe tells his wife that he will make errands tomorrow to send Maggie to the poorhouse and leaves for work. After dusk, when he comes home he sees from the window that Mrs. Thompson is sitting by Maggie’s bed and they are talking or rather Maggie’s answering Mrs. Thompson’s questions. He feels it’s best to not bring up the topic of Maggie himself, so he doesn’t say anything further on the subject.
He goes to see Maggie and they talk for a while. While having supper Mrs. Thompson asks her husband what he’s going to do with the child, in answer to which Joe tells that she’s to go to the poorhouse tomorrow. Mrs. Thompson doesn’t say anything but Joe knows that years of bitterness has finally started fading away. She takes food for Maggie into her small chamber and waits for her to finish it. Maggie’s innocence, sweetness, unconditional love and gratitude for them fills the void that had formed in Mrs. Thompson’s heart. She tells Joe that she wants to keep Maggie for a couple of days more but that day never comes. They remain together forever, as a family. How the little child melts her stoned heart is what the story is all about.
An Angel in Disguise: A Commentary
An Angel in Disguise, with its strong vocabulary, complex sentences, realistic setting and vivid point of views stresses on the importance of love and care in one’s life; how love drives out even the darkest and deepest bitterness out of a person. It’s written in third person from an unknown narrator’s perspective.
In order to make the point clear for the readers, the author has used various devices such as metaphors, epithet, ellipsis, polysyndeton etc. which only make the story more interesting and informative.
All the characters are really strong, be it the villagers or the kids, they have been given their own firm point of view, be it good or bad. Each character strikes a chord in your heart with either it’s downright cruelty or with its kindness and unconditional love.
There’s no mention of the place but from the description, we can conclude that it’s a rural area with a small population because all the villagers seem to know each other quite well. And it’s crystal clear that the people are downright narrow-minded.
The setting of the events or the story flow is portrayed in a general and realistic way with more than one theme. The main theme is, of course, how love conquers all; but other than this there are other small but heart touching topics involved as well; hazards of drunkenness, compassion, humanity, ill-judgement of the society, insecurity felt by kids and of course love.
The author has shown the reality of our society in a stark light; it’s evilness, cruelty, the judgmental eyes and reproachful-ness towards literally everything. The description couldn’t be more realistic.
The word ‘angel’ in the title of the story refers to the small girl child Maggie who brings love and joy for the Thompson family, thereby acting as an angel in disguise for them.
Though the story starts with a negative and gloomy scene, towards the end Maggie’s innocence, Joe’s kindness and Mrs. Thompson’s love will make you smile.