How it Happened: AHSEC Class 11 Alternative English answers

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Get here the summary, questions, answers, textbook solutions, extras, and pdf of chapter 6 “How it Happened” by Arthur Conan Doyle of the Assam Board (AHSEC / SEBA) Class 11 (first year) Alternative English (Seasons) textbook. However, the given notes/solutions should only be used for references and should be modified/changed according to needs.

two man talking, illustrating the story how it happened

Summary: The story is told from the first-person perspective of a man, the narrator, who is picked up by his chauffeur, Perkins, at the small country station on his return trip from London at half past eleven. He was eager to get behind the wheel of his brand-new car, which had just arrived that day. Perkins tried to warn him that the gears weren’t the same as the ones he’s used to, but he insisted on taking the wheel anyway. When he lost control of the car, they had just crested Claystall Hill, one of the worst hills in England. He drove the car back to his house with the wheels spinning like a high wind, ignoring Perkins’ advice to jump out of the way. He made it home, but not without crashing through the park’s entrance. The story concludes with Perkins suffering a leg injury and the narrator meeting his deceased friend, Stanley, who informs him that he also died in the accident.

Carefully setting up the plot in How It Happened, Arthur Conan Doyle uses a dramatic soliloquy to reveal the protagonist’s untimely demise. The shocking revelation in How It Happened comes at the end of the story when the protagonist’s death in the crash is revealed. As they discuss the aftermath of the crash, he learns that Stanley has already passed away, and Stanley tells him, “so are you.” This anagnorisis, or realisation of the character’s true nature (as an apparition), takes us by surprise.

It’s not just the unexpectedness of the event that makes it so impactful, but also the gradual escalation of tension that occurs before it. Repetition and triplets highlight the gravity of the situation, which is at odds with the story’s upbeat, humorous tone. This creates tension and the impression that something is wrong. The protagonist’s flippant dismissal of death only serves to heighten the tension. The revelation of his death has a profound impact in part because of the mounting tension that precedes it. The protagonist maintains a pleasant demeanour throughout the story, which makes the suddenness of his death all the more devastating. At this moment of revelation, we feel some sympathy for the protagonist and maybe even some anger at the world for being so unfair.

At first, we feel sorry for the protagonist, but as it becomes clear that he could have done something to prevent this tragedy, our feelings of pity and compassion gradually give way to anger and dissatisfaction. Maybe the main character wouldn’t have gotten into an accident if he hadn’t been so arrogant as to test drive his new car so close to midnight. He also showed defiance toward Perkins by declining the offer to drive the car. The accident occurred due to the protagonist’s arrogance, driving home the point that bourgeois superiority has dire consequences.

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I. Answer these questions in one or two words.

1. Who was Perkins?

Answer: Perkins is the chauffeur whom the narrator meets upon his return from London at the beginning of the story.

2. What is the name of the vehicle mentioned in the story? 

Answer: The vehicle is described as the narrator’s “new thirty-horsepower Robur.”

3. What did Stanley die of?

Answer: Many years prior, during the Boer War in South Africa, Stanley had died of enteric at Bloemfontein.

4. Where did the car crash?

Answer: When the narrator lost control of the car, he and his chauffeur Perkins had just crested Claystall Hill, one of the most difficult hills in England.

5. How many sharp curves did Claystall Hill have?

Answer: With three fairly sharp turns, Claystal Hill is among the worst hills in England.

II. Answer these questions in a few words.

1. What was whirring like a high wind?

Answer: Trouble with the narrator’s new car started as he and his chauffeur crested the steeper brow of Claystall Hill. He eventually became unable to control the vehicle, and its wheels began to spin erratically.

2. Why is Perkins said to have been ‘splendid’ in his behaviour?

Answer: Perkins maintained his composure and awareness, reading the narrator’s thoughts. Though he is aware of his master’s driving skills, he maintains his composure. This is why he is said to have been “splendid” in his behaviour.

3. What are the brakes of the vehicle known as? 

Answer: Vehicle brakes are referred to as the footbrake and the sidebrake.

4. Where did the narrator meet Stanley a few years prior to the incident?

Answer: The two first crossed paths during the narrator’s college years, years before the tragic accident. The narrator felt a deep and abiding love for Stanley because he knew deep down that Stanley would always have a part of his personality that was unusually sympathetic to him and because he took great pride in the idea that he had a similar effect on Stanley.

5. Why did the narrator feel no pain?

Answer: Since the narrator had already died in the car crash, he was in no pain after the incident.

III. Answer these questions briefly.

1. Why did the narrator feel that he was like a man in a dream?

Answer: The narrator was launched into the air as the car careened out of control and slammed into the gate’s pillar. Before he knew it, he was airborne, and the entire event had passed by in the blink of an eye. When he finally comes to his senses, he notices a man standing close by. He recognises Stanley, a close friend from his time in college. Though he is surprised to see Stanley, he rationalises that since he was dreaming, Stanley’s appearance was not out of the ordinary.

2. Give a brief description of the vehicle, as mentioned in the story.

Answer: The narrator says his big motor, with its bright headlights and shiny brass trim, was waiting for him outside the station platform. He refers to the vehicle as his brand-new, same-day-delivered 30-horsepower Robur. The German automaker Robur produced the 3-litre, 28-horsepower model shown here between 1912 and 1919. The narrative voice gives the car a feminine quality by referring to it as “she” throughout the story. 

3. What is the narrator’s view of foolishness?

Answer: The narrator’s inflated sense of self-importance is on full display when he feminises his car, which can be seen as a symbol of his wealth. This exemplifies the mindset of Doyle’s upper class, which, in many instances, is completely oblivious to the consequences of its actions for those around it. The narrator’s carefree demeanour is further demonstrated by his admission that people regularly engage in foolish behaviour without necessarily suffering the consequences.

4. What did the narrator and Perkins do when they realised that the open gate lay in front of them?

Answer: Perkins and the narrator saw the open gate, and the narrator swung the steering wheel around with all his might. The next thing they knew, both Perkins and the narrator had thrown their bodies across, and they were speeding along at fifty miles per hour. A moment later, they heard the crunch as his right front wheel had made full contact with the right-hand pillar of his own gate. As a result, the car slammed into the open gate’s supporting pillar, sending the narrator flying.

5. Why was the narrator amazed when the actual status of Stanley dawned upon him?

Answer: The narrator found Stanley’s hand on his shoulder to be unbelievably comforting. In spite of what was being described as pain, the narrator felt buoyant and joyful. When Stanley asked if he was in any pain, the narrator said no. It is Stanley’s claim that there is “no pain in death” that prompts the narrator to think back to Stanley’s death in the Boer War. This represents the speaker’s moment of anagnorisis, when, instead of being in his usual state of oblivion and carelessness, he realises what has happened and how it has happened. He tells Stanley that he has been dead for a long time, and Stanley confirms that he, too, has passed away.

IV. Answer these questions in detail.

1. Comment on the significance of the ending of the story. 

Answer: In his short story “How It Happened,” Arthur Conan Doyle expertly builds up the plot and delivers the shocking reveal of the protagonist’s death in a compelling and eloquent soliloquy. The shocking reveal comes at the story’s conclusion, when the reader learns that the protagonist died in the crash. When he asks Stanley if he’s okay, Stanley tells him, “so are you,” confirming that they’re both dead. To discover the character’s true identity via anagnorisis is a shocking revelation. Nonetheless, the story’s tension has been building up to this point, so it’s not just the unexpectedness of the event that makes it so impactful. All of these feelings contribute to the incident’s potency: sympathy for the protagonist and a general feeling of unfairness. Our initial feelings of compassion and pity for the protagonist quickly give way to frustration and anger when we realise he could have done something to prevent this. The protagonist’s responsibility for the accident, due to his ego, conveys a strong message about the perils of bourgeoisie supremacy.

2. Describe the drive undertaken by the narrator from the station to his home.

Answer: When the narrator returned from London, he was met by his chauffeur and his new thirty-horsepower Robur, which had just been delivered that day. He insisted on driving the car himself, even though Perkins warned him that the gears weren’t the same and offered to drive, but he didn’t listen. As they approached Claystall Hill, one of England’s worst hills, a mile and a half long and one in six in places, with three fairly sharp curves. The park gate, according to the narrator, is located at the very bottom of it on the main London Road. When the trouble started, they were just over the brow of this hill, where the grade is steepest. By this time, the car was moving quickly, so he slammed on both brakes, which gave way one after the other. He thought they were finished as they rounded the corner, one wheel three feet high on the bank, but she righted herself and darted onwards after a brief stumble. The park’s entrance was directly in front of them. It was about twenty yards to the left up the main road where they were running. The steering gear had been jarred when we ran on the bank, but the wheel was difficult to turn. He spun his wheel with all the strength in his wrists. Both Perkins and he threw their bodies across, and then, at fifty miles per hour, his right wheel collided squarely with the right-hand pillar of his own gate. He could finally hear the car crash.

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