‘The Umbrella Man’ by Roald Dahl was published in the year 1980 in the short story collection More Tales of the Unexpected. Today, it’s one of the best-remembered short stories of the master of the twist in the tale – Roald Dahl. ‘The Umbrella Man’ is a story of a master trickster who for a pound robs umbrellas from pubs worth even twenty pounds. He aims to show his vulnerability and ‘so-called’ genuine concern for the person he is tricking to loan him the money. The point is, he tries to say that he has forgotten his wallet while out on a walk. He asks for a pound note for taxi fare home and in return to the person who gives him the note he bestows upon them as a gift an umbrella. The pound note is for a tumbler of neat whiskey. The umbrella is just a ruse to get the pound. In this story, this elderly alcoholic called simply the Umbrella Man tricks a thirty-four-year-old stern mother and her twelve-year-old daughter. Although there are only three characters in the story, thanks to Dahl’s unique descriptions and suspense, ‘The Umbrella Man’ is a tale worth your money.
The story is told from the point of view of a twelve-year-old girl who has just been taken to the dentist by her mother. This reminds us of all the wonderful Roald Dahl novels which are always told from the perspective of the child and had children as main protagonists of the novels. This nameless girl gives the bare minimum description of who she is, which sums up her character quite well:
- She is twelve years old.
- She is a girl.
What more could a child say in all honesty at that age during Roald Dahl’s time. The girl is perky, extroverted, and very humorous. Her narration of the story indicates a great judge of character on her part. Though in the story her mother claims that she is the better judge of character, it is quite evident that the daughter is much more precocious than the mother. The mother is young but already a mother of a soon-to-be teenager. She is strict with her daughter but also allows the girl to have a banana spilt ice cream, after the child’s dental appointment. The mother is wary of strangers and comes across as a very coldhearted personality. She is shrewd but even her shrewdness was not enough to catch on to the umbrella man’s trick. She yearns for material comforts, which she does not have, like a car with a chauffeur. She believes the nicer a strange man seems to be the more suspicious should a woman be of his intentions. She is stuck-up but ready for an adventure which is evident when she and her daughter scurry after the old umbrella man to see what he was up to. Roald Dahl, as usual, gives wonderful descriptions of his characters that remain with you long after the story is done. The person who is described the most is the Umbrella Man. He is a marvelous actor and ready to do anything to get his tumbler of neat whiskey. He is clever enough to not go to the same pub twice for a drink so that he wouldn’t be caught stealing the umbrellas. There are many humorous scenes in the story which add color to the otherwise simple ‘twist in the tale’ story of ‘The Umbrella Man’:
- The daughter mentions that the mother is suspicious even of boiled eggs, for she pokes around the inside of it which makes the daughter wonder whether the mother is looking for a mouse.
- When the daughter, in the middle of the chase, asks her mother what would they do if the elderly man spotted them, the mother states quite frankly that she didn’t care as he had lied brazenly to them and was running them off their feet.
- The daughter sarcastically asks the mother if the man was not a ‘titled gentleman’ as she earlier supposed, indicating that the girl was very cheeky and highly precocious.
- The humorous image that we see in our minds of a mother and daughter under a silk umbrella stalking a wiry old man to a pub in the pouring rain.
- The frosty nose stares of both mother and daughter to other people and each other.
- The daughter mentions that once when her mother gave her principal a frosty nosed stare, the poor principal started simpering and stammering.
- The shock of the mother and daughter when the umbrella man entered the pub. The fact that they were shocked is indicative of the social backwardness of the decade when this story was penned by Roald Dahl.
- The parting line in the story where the mother checkmates the daughter by saying that however clever the Umbrella Man was, his whole ruse would have failed if it didn’t rain on a particular day. So, she says that the man must be praying like crazy for rainy days.
- The image of the Umbrella Man drinking down his tumbler of neat whiskey with such relish when he had tried to portray to the mother and daughter that he was an old man who just wanted to go home after a long walk.
Note in the story how the mother and daughter mistakenly think that the Umbrella Man had spent more in gifting his silk umbrella to them and only taking a pound. They are misled by this thought only for a while until they see him flick an umbrella after collecting his hat and coat. The Umbrella Man comes off as a cool character, a real fraud, but someone good at heart who likes to help others indirectly by at least giving them an umbrella in exchange for their pound note. His eccentricities endear us to him and make us smile from within when he goes flitting from one pub to another for a tumbler of neat whiskey which he doesn’t even get any change in return for.
All in all, ‘The Umbrella Man’ is one of the short story classics that appear in most school textbooks. I have never gone through a single year in my ten-year teaching career without teaching this extraordinarily brilliant Roald Dahl story which is certainly, a story of the unexpected. If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books then visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you this week!
Copyright ©2020 Fiza Pathan (First appeared on insaneowl.com)