Get notes, line-by-line explanation, summary, questions and answers, critical analysis, word meanings, extras, and pdf of the story “The Elevator” by William Sleator, which is part of ICSE Class 10 English (Treasure Chest: A Collection of ICSE Poems and Short Stories). However, the notes should only be treated as references, and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.
The story is about Martin, a 12-year-old boy who is afraid of the old, rickety elevator in his apartment building. From the first day he and his father move into the building, Martin feels uneasy in the elevator, which is very small. The lighting is poor, the walls are dirty, and the door slams loudly every time it closes. The elevator shudders each time it starts up, as if exhausted.
Martin tries taking the stairs one day after school, but they are dark with no windows, and he becomes short of breath by the 17th floor where he lives. His father scolds him for not taking the elevator and implies Martin is weak and cowardly. After that, Martin forces himself to take the elevator despite his fear.
One morning, a fat lady in an old green coat gets on the elevator with Martin. She completely fills the small space and her coat brushes up against Martin as he’s pushed into the corner. She stares intensely at Martin the whole ride down. When he returns home and takes the elevator, the woman gets into the elevator again on the third floor and stares at him the entire ride up to the 17th floor where he lives.
Martin asks his father that night if he’s noticed the strange woman, but his father dismisses his concerns. The next morning, the woman is again waiting for Martin in the elevator and smiles creepily as the door shuts between them. Martin is so afraid that he tries taking the stairs but falls and breaks his leg.
He is taken to the hospital by his father. When they get back, Martin has to stay off his broken leg and feels relieved to avoid the elevator and woman. However, his father stops on the 9th floor to visit someone, forcing Martin back alone in the elevator when the same woman steps inside the elevator again.
The elevator starts moving up but she pushes the stop button midway, trapping him inside, and says “Hello Martin”. The story ends without mentioning what happens next.
About the author
William Sleator (1945-2011) was an American author who masterfully blended science fiction with explorations of complex family relationships. This is evident in his short story ‘The Elevator’, where a frightening plotline underscores the dysfunctional dynamic between a father and son.
Sleator deftly contrasts the characters of Martin, a sensitive 12-year-old boy, and his insensitive father. Martin likely suffers from claustrophobia, as his greatest fear is being trapped in the old, cramped elevator of their apartment building. His father berates him for this phobia, demanding he ‘grow up and act like a man’. Sleator vividly depicts the heightened pressure on young boys to suppress their emotions and fears.
Through Martin’s escalating terror of the mysterious, smiling woman who seems to be stalking him in the elevator, Sleator offers insight into the frightened inner world of childhood. The story’s horror fiction elements come to the fore as it concludes with Martin, immobilised with a broken leg, trapped in the elevator at the mercy of this ominous woman. Sleator chillingly explores irrational childhood fears within a tense, suspenseful plot.
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
(i) The story ‘The Elevator’ is written by
(a) Joseph Conrad (b) William Sleator (c) Katherine Mansfield (d) Stephen Leacock
Answer: (b) William Sleator
(ii) The elevator could carry
(a) two (b) three (c) four (d) only one
Answer: (b) three persons.
(iii) Martin’s father worked
(a) in a factory (b) in an office (c) at home (d) in his fields
Answer: (c) at home
(iv) Martin was (a) a brave boy (b) a skinny boy (c) a fat boy (d) a fearless
Answer: (b) a skinny boy
(v) Martin lived on the
(a) third (b) fourth (c) seventeenth (d) eighteenth
Answer: (c) seventeenth .floor.
(vi) Martin first met the fat lady on the ………………. .floor.
(a) ninth (b) thirteenth (c) tenth (d) fourteenth
Answer: (d) fourteenth
(vii) The fat lady looked at Martin
(a) affectionately (b) scornfully (c) threateningly (d) closely
Answer: (d) closely
(viii) The old lady was wearing a ….. coat
(a) red (b) brown (c) green (d) black
Answer: (c) green
(ix) What was Martin’s father doing when he was told about the fat lady?
(a) watching television (b) speaking to someone on mobile (c) reading a book (d) taking to a friend to meet Mrs Ullman
Answer: (a) watching television
(x) On which floor was Martin’s father going to meet
(a) 4th (b) 9th (c) 14th (d) 3rd
Answer: (b) 9th
Of course he was always uncomfortable in elevators, afraid that they would fall, but this one was especially unpleasant. Perhaps this was because of the poor lighting and the dirty walls.
(i) Describe the apartment to which Martin and his father had shifted recently.
Answer: It was an old building with an old elevator, a very small elevator that could hold three people. Of course, he was always uncomfortable in elevators, he was afraid that they would fall, but there was something special unpleasant about it. Perhaps it was its sinister atmosphere due to the light from the only fluorescent a ceiling strip, dull and dull against dirty walls. Perhaps the problem was the door, which was never left open all the way.
(ii) What made the boy uncomfortable in the elevator?
Answer: Martin was uncomfortable in elevators as he was afraid that they would fall down. The elevator in the new apartment building was especially unpleasant because of the poor lighting and dirty walls.
(iii) What kind of boy was Martin ?
Answer: Martin was a skinny twelve-year-old boy who was nervous by nature.
(iv) What are we told about the door of the elevator ?
Answer: The door of the elevator was never left open all the way long enough, and slammed shut with that ominous, clanging finality.
(v) How does the description of the elevator contribute to the suspense in the story?
Answer: The description of the old building, the small cramped elevator with poor lighting and dirty walls, and the ominous clanging sound of the elevator door sets an atmosphere of suspense and fear, making the reader expect something strange or frightening to happen.
‘You’re not only skinny and weak and bad at sports,’ his face seemed to say, ‘but you are also a coward’. After that, Martin always took the elevator. He would have to get used to it, he told himself, just as he got used to being bullied at school.
(i) Earlier, why did father get upset with Martin?
Answer: Earlier, Martin’s father got upset with him because instead of taking the elevator, Martin took the stairs and reached home out of breath after climbing up to the 17th floor where they lived.
(ii) What kind of boy was Martin ?
Answer: Martin was a skinny, weak boy who was bad at sports and timid by nature, as described by his father’s expression.
(iii) What did Martin have to come to terms with ?
Answer: Martin had to come to terms with using the elevator despite his fears, just as he had got used to being bullied at school by his classmates.
(iv) Why did Martin take the elevator although he was scared of it?
Answer: Although Martin was scared of the elevator, he started taking it after his father rebuked him for being a coward and told him he would have to get used to it.
(v) Was Martin a coward ? Give two reasons for your answer.
Answer: Yes, Martin was depicted as a coward by his father’s expression. He was skinny, weak, bad at sports, and most importantly, afraid of using the elevator which his father considered an irrational fear that he needed to overcome.
She was wearing an old green coat that ballooned around her. As she waddled into the elevator, Martin was sure he felt it sink under her weight. She was so big that her coat brushed against him, and he had to squeeze himself into a corner.
(i) What kind of lady was ‘she’?
Answer: The lady was fat and wore an old green coat that ballooned or swelled out around her large body.
(ii) What is Martin’s tone while describing the lady’s stature ?
Answer: Martin’s tone in describing the lady’s large stature is one of fear and being overwhelmed by her size, as he felt the elevator sink under her weight when she waddled in.
(iii) What was Martin’s state of mind when he confronted the lady?
Answer: When the fat lady entered the cramped elevator, Martin felt very uncomfortable and squeezed himself into a corner to avoid brushing against her coat, indicating he was in a nervous, fearful state of mind.
(iv) On which floor did the lady step into the elevator ? On which floor did she actually live?
Answer: The lady got into the elevator on the fourteenth floor. The story does not specify on which floor she lived. It only states that she entered when the elevator stopped at the 14th floor in the morning.
(v) How did the lady look at the boy in the elevator ?
Answer: The extract mentions that the fat lady just kept staring at Martin constantly and did not stop looking at him for even a minute in the elevator.
She did nothing. She only watched him breathing loudly, until the elevator reached the first floor at last. Martin wanted to run past her to get out, but there was no room. He could only wait as she turned and moved slowly into the lobby. Then he ran. He didn’t care what she thought. She ran nearly all the way to school.
(i) What was the lady’s behaviour while in the elevator with the boy ?
Answer: The lady did nothing in the elevator except watch Martin breathing loudly and staring at him constantly until they reached the ground floor.
(ii) Why couldn’t Martin run past the lady?
Answer: Martin could not run past the lady to get out of the elevator first because there was no room or space due to the lady’s large size taking up most of the cramped elevator.
(iii) What was the boy’s impression of the lady in the elevator?
Answer: The lady’s constant staring at Martin in the confined elevator gave him the impression that she was strange or crazy in her behavior.
(iv) Where did the lady live ?
Answer: The story does not explicitly state where the lady lived.
(v) What time of the day was it then? How do you know?
Answer: It was morning time, as mentioned in the line “She was waiting for him at 7:30 in the morning.”
She nodded, and stepped in. The door slammed. He watched her pudgy hand move towards the buttons. She pressed not fourteen, but eighteen, the top floor.
(i) To which question of the boy did the lady nod?
Answer: The lady nodded in response to Martin’s question if she was going up in the elevator.
(ii) What did the woman look like?
Answer: The lady is described as pudgy or fat, indicating her large physique.
(iii) What is surprising in the lady’s pressing the button eighteen?
Answer: It is surprising that the lady pressed the button for the 18th floor or top floor, when earlier that morning she had gotten on at the 14th floor, raising questions about where she actually lived.
(iv) Which floor do you think did the lady live on?
Answer: Based on her pressing different floor buttons at different times of the day, it is unclear which floor the lady actually lived on in the building.
(v) What makes the boy feel nervous in the elevator ?
Answer: The constant presence and strange behavior of the large fat lady staring at him in the cramped elevator makes Martin feel very nervous and uncomfortable.
“I’m not afraid”. “You’re afraid”, said his father. “When are you going to grow up and act like a man? Are you going to be timid all your life?”
(i) Why does the boy retort “I’m not afraid” ?
Answer: The boy retorts “I’m not afraid” when his father accuses him of being afraid of the fat old lady he saw in the elevator.
(ii) What was the boy’s father trying to emphasise ?
Answer: The father was emphasizing and advising his son to grow up, be brave like a man, and not remain timid or fearful throughout his life.
(iii) How did Martin react to his father’s rebuke ?
Answer: When rebuked by his father for being afraid, the extract mentions that Martin managed not to cry until he went to his room, implying he broke down in tears due to his father’s harsh words.
(iv) What does the extract tell about the relationship between the son and the father?
Answer: The extract shows there is lack of understanding and a strained relationship between the father and son, with the father being critical of Martin’s timid nature and wanting him to be braver.
(v) Later, what happens when the boy tries to avoid the lady ?
Answer: Later, when Martin tries to avoid the lady again by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, he falls down the flight of stairs and breaks his leg.
His father was silent on the way to hospital, disappointed and angry with him for being a coward and a fool. Martin had broken his leg, and needed to walk on crutches.
(i) Why was the boy taken to hospital?
Answer: Martin was taken to the hospital because he had broken his leg after falling down the stairs while trying to avoid the fat lady in the elevator.
(ii) What did the father feel about the boy’s health?
Answer: Martin’s father felt disappointed and angry with him for being a coward and acting foolishly out of his irrational fears.
(iii) What disability had the boy suffered and how ?
Answer: Martin had suffered a broken leg from his fall down the stairs and now needed to walk with the support of crutches.
(iv) How could this disability give some relief to Martin ?
Answer: Having a broken leg that required him to use crutches gave some relief to Martin, as it meant he would not need to get into the elevator for some time and avoid facing the fat lady.
(v) What advice was given to Martin by his doctor?
Answer: The doctor had advised Martin to use his fractured leg as little as possible for recovery.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Father held out his hand and pressed nine. “What are you doing? You’re not coming out, are you?” he asked him, trying not to sound panicky. “I promised Terry Ullman that I would visit her,” his father said, looking at his watch and leaving the house. “Let me go with you. I want to visit her too,” Martin pleaded, moving forward on crutches. But the door was already closing. “Afraid to be in the elevator alone ?” said his father. “Grow up, Martin”. The door slammed shut.
(i) Why did the father not want Martin to visit the neighbour along with him ?
Answer: The father did not want Martin to visit the neighbor Mrs. Ullman along with him, so that Martin would be forced to take the elevator alone to overcome his fears.
(ii) What was the father’s advice to Martin?
Answer: The father’s advice to Martin was to “grow up” and stop being afraid to take the elevator alone, implying he wanted his son to become braver.
(iii) On which floor did the neighbour live? What was her name?
Answer: The neighbor the father was going to visit was named Mrs. Ullman who lived on the 9th floor.
(iv) Where did the elevator stop and why?
Answer: The elevator stopped at the 10th floor, where the same fat lady Martin was afraid of was waiting to enter.
(v) What surprise awaited Martin in the elevator? How did the lady treat him there?
Answer: To Martin’s surprise, the fat lady was waiting for him at the 10th floor of the building. When they were alone in the elevator, she greeted Martin by name and laughed, before pressing the stop button, trapping them inside in a threatening way.
Additional/Extra questions and answers
1. How old is Martin?
Answer: He is around 12 years old.
2. List the reasons Martin gives for being nervous about his buildings elevator?
Answer: Reasons include its small size, poor lighting, dirty walls, loud/slamming door, shuddering movements, and it seeming exhausted.
3. Why were the stairs just as bad as the elevator?
Answer: The stairs were dark with no windows, caused Martin to be out of breath, and made creepy echoing sounds.
19. What might the strange woman symbolise in the context of Martin’s fears?
Answer: The mysterious woman seems to symbolise some sinister, supernatural force that is specifically haunting and terrorising Martin. Her bizarre ability to appear on different floors waiting for him, as well as her creepy staring and smiling, suggest she may represent an embodiment of Martin’s childhood fears made concrete. She is like the physical manifestation of all the strange anxieties and phobias tormenting him.
1. What floor does Martin live on?
A. 14th floor B. 17th floor C. 18th floor D. 9th floor
Answer: B. 17th floor
2. Why does Martin dislike riding the elevator?
A. It moves too fast B. It is too brightly lit C. It feels rickety and confined D. It is not cleaned regularly
Answer: C. It feels rickety and confined
3. What happens when Martin tries using the stairs instead of the elevator?
A. He has to stop to catch his breath B. He gets lost C. He slips and falls D. The lights go out
Answer: A. He has to stop to catch his breath
18. What time of day does the woman first appear in the elevator?
A. Late at night B. Early morning C. After school D. Mid-afternoon
Answer: B. Early morning
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