On the Face of It: AHSEC Class 12 English Supplementary notes

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Get here the summary, questions, answers, textbook solutions, extras, and pdf of the chapter On the Face of it by Susan Hill of Assam Board (AHSEC / SEBA) Class 12 English supplementary reader (Vistas) textbook. However, the given notes/solutions should only be used for references and should be modified/changed according to needs.

on the face of it

Summary: This play by Susan Hill is about two characters, an old man and a young boy, who both have physical deformities that cause them to be mocked and neglected. Both want to love and be loved. The young boy’s life is transformed by the old man’s wisdom and eccentric viewpoints. The play also addresses how we form our own impressions and prejudices about others, particularly the physically challenged, and forget to treat them as if they are among us.

Mr Lamb’s garden is the setting for the first scene of the play ‘On the Face of It.’ Derek or Derry, a fourteen-year-old boy with a scarred face, and Mr Lamb, an elderly lame man, meet here after Derry enters the latter’s garden. Derry dislikes meeting and talking to people because of his disfigurement, and he suffers from an acute inferiority complex, but Mr Lamb wins him over with his kindness and generosity. When Derry makes a move to leave, Lamb assures him that he has nothing to fear and that he is not afraid of Derry’s scarred face. He demonstrates to Derry, using weeds and flowering plants, that people, disabled or not, are all the same.

Derry insists that his face is so ugly that even his mother kisses him on the other cheek, that his face will remain the same until he dies, and that he is unlike Lamb, who can at least cover his lame foot. He also mocks those who tell him to think of those who are brave in pain and those who are worse off than him, claiming that thinking of these people made no difference to his face. Lamb then goes on to say how he enjoys company and keeps his door open for anyone who wants to drop in, in contrast to Derry, who has isolated himself from the outside world. He thus explained that Derry’s way of life was a decision he had to make for himself, and it was up to him whether to be tortured by the comments of others or to ignore them.

Derry’s mind is opened by Lamb’s encouraging words, and he begins to feel more optimistic about life. He imagines Lamb climbing a ladder on his lame foot, falling down and breaking his neck with no one to help him, and he wonders if he could be there to assist him. Lamb agrees but asserts that even if his mother granted permission, Derry would refuse to return. But, unbeknownst to Lamb, unlike the others who never returned, he has transformed Derry into a positive person with a sense of self-worth and a desire to live, and despite his mother’s opposition, Derry returns, only to discover that Lamb has indeed fallen and died.

Textual questions and answers

1. Who is Mr Lamb? How does Derry get into his garden?

Answer: Mr Lamb is an elderly man with a prosthetic leg. During the war, one of his legs was blown off by a bomb. He lived alone in a large house with a big garden. Derry snuck into the garden by climbing over the wall. He simply wanted to enter, assuming no one was present.

2. Do you think all this will change Derry’s attitude towards Mr Lamb?

Answer: Derry’s attitude toward Mr Lamb changes after he speaks about positivism. The old man has shown him the brighter side of life and taught him not to run away or hide from reality. He assures Derry that if he chooses and puts his mind to it, he will fare better in life than the rest. Despite his mother’s strong objections, Derry returns to the old man’s words.

3. What is it that draws Derry towards Mr Lamb in spite of himself?

Answer: Mr Lamb’s positivism and acceptance of his handicap as part of normal life draw Derry towards him. Derry is a young boy of fourteen who suffered acid burns on his face and has become an object of pity for others. People shun his company and make uncharitable remarks. He is lonely and withdrawn. A chance meeting with Mr Lamb changes his attitude towards life. Derry is drawn to Lamb because of his optimism and acceptance of his handicap as a normal part of life. Derry is a fourteen-year-old boy who suffered acid burns on his face and has become an object of pity for others. People avoid his company and make disparaging remarks about him. He is lonely and withdrawn.

A chance encounter with Mr Lamb alters his outlook on life. He is an old man with a tin leg who enjoys all of God’s creations, including the weeds in his garden. He tells Derry about all the wonderful things in this world, such as light and darkness and the sound of the wind. For the first time, the young boy admits that he enjoys hearing the rain on the roof. Mr Lamb emphasises the power of the mind, telling Derry that if he had the determination, he could excel in life and leave others far behind.

Despite his mother’s objections, he goes to Mr Lamb saying that he wants to hear the old man talk about things that matter; about things no one else has ever said; about things he wants to think about. Mr Lamb is unconcerned about Derry’s appearance and teaches him that outward appearance is unimportant. Derry learns from him the priceless lesson of rising above self-pity and facing life’s challenges.

4. In which section of the play does Mr Lamb display signs of loneliness and disappointment? What are the ways in which Mr Lamb tries to overcome these feelings?

Answer: Mr Lamb lives by himself in a large house. He lost one of his legs during the war and is thus mocked by some kids who refer to him as Lamey-Lamb. He does not mind and keeps the gates to his garden open for anyone to come and go as they please. When he talks about spending his time watching, listening, and thinking, his loneliness is clearly seen. Despite the fact that he accepts everyone as a friend, he cannot name any when Derry asks.

To keep him company, he has his bees. Derry could tell the old man was lonely, but no one seemed to care whether he was alive or dead. Mr Lamb admits that no one ever comes back to his garden after they leave when Derry goes home with a promise to return.

Mr Lamb tries to combat his feelings of loneliness by keeping the gates to his garden open for anyone to enter. He enjoys conversing with others. He considers everyone a friend, and there is nothing that he isn’t interested in. Children visit his garden for apples and pears, as well as the honey sweets he prepares for them. He also reads books while sitting in the sun.

5. The actual pain or inconvenience caused by a physical impairment is often much less than the sense of alienation felt by the person with disabilities. What is the kind of behaviour that the person expects from others?

Answer:  Physical impairment can cause discomfort, pain, as well as inconveniences for a person. Such limitations, however, can be easily overcome or mitigated because of modern technological advancements. However, the damage that social alienation can do to one’s pride and self-esteem is unbearable. A disabled person is isolated not only by society but also by his or her family. The little boy, as we see in the story, is on the verge of being shunned by society. He is lonely and reclusive. It is almost as if he had committed a crime. The family is overly protective, denying him a normal, healthy existence. He is made to feel distinct and inferior to others. Though they can deal with the physical challenges, they must constantly fight alienation and prove their equality to all. Pity is the last thing they expect from others. They want to be treated as equals, and on several occasions, people with physical disabilities have proven to be far superior to able-bodied people. Mr Lamb’s lack of pity causes Derry to come out of his shell. He treats the boy like any other human being and considers him a friend. That is what the little boy has always desired.

6. Will Derry get back to his old seclusion or will Mr Lamb’s brief association affect a change in the kind of life he will lead in the future?

Answer: Derry was a shy, scared, and apprehensive young boy who had experienced nothing but rejection in society before meeting Mr Lamb. He had acid burns on his face, which caused him to be shunned by most people. He was acutely aware that he had an ugly face as a result of this attitude of pity and rejection.

Then he had a chance meeting with Mr Lamb, who introduced him to a completely different way of life. The old man with a tin leg was fascinated by God’s creations. He appreciated and admired the beauty of the weeds in the garden. He advised Derry to disregard negative comments, claiming that, aside from a minor scar on his face, he was as capable as any other boy his age. So, if he chose and focused his efforts, he could accomplish anything in life.

Derry’s attitude shifts almost immediately when he ignores his mother’s warning and returns to the old man. He tells his mother that he is no longer concerned about his appearance because it is no longer significant. He has learned to accept and enjoy himself. Mr Lamb has said things that no one else has said before. So we can see that Derry’s personality has been shaped by his brief encounter and interaction with Mr Lamb. Derry will not return to his previous state of seclusion.

Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions

1. We have a tendency to see ourselves through the eyes of others. Discuss using the story as a springboard.

Answer: We get two opposing viewpoints on the above statement based on the two characters in the story. We frequently observe that we rely on the opinions of others to determine who or what we are. If others think we’re attractive, we think we are, and vice versa. That is why even insensitive people’s cruel remarks can easily affect us. Derry was in the same boat. Because others were afraid of him, he began to be afraid of his image. He was the same person with or without the scar. The acid mark on his face, however, made all the difference. People’s shallowness is revealed in their rejection of a young boy with a scar on his face. Mr Lamb, on the other hand, did not let the ridicule or rejection of society bother him. In both his words and actions, he exuded positivism. He was content in his garden and with the people around him. He did not allow anyone to pity him and thus did not indulge in self-pity. He did not allow inferiority to creep into him, instead assessing his own capability and might. In this story, we can see how Derry formed an opinion about himself based on what others said about him. Mr Lamb, on the other hand, taught him to recognise his inner self and compete with the outside world.

2. Beauty is subjective. What is Mr Lamb’s explanation for this?

Answer: Mr Lamb beautifully illustrates the truth of this statement by using weeds as an example. He instructs Derry to look at the far end of the garden and report back to him. Derry claims to see garbage made up of grass and weeds. Mr Lamb, on the other hand, has something very different to say. He appreciates the flowers and fruits of his garden, as well as the trees and herbs. But he appreciates the beauty of weeds and grows them in his garden. He sees no reason why we should find beauty in a flower but nothing in a weed. It all depends on our point of view and mindset. Similarly, an acid burn on Derry’s face alters people’s perceptions of him while the beauty of his soul remains unaltered, as identified by Mr Lamb but ignored by others.

3. Why didn’t Derry enjoy being around other people?

Answer: Derry avoided social situations because of the cruel and insensitive comments made about his appearance. As a result of the acid burn on his face, he became a target for pity and rejection. People described his appearance as ‘terrible,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘poor boy,’ and so on. Their disparaging remarks had such an impact on him that he was terrified of his own reflection in the mirror.

4. What exactly does Mr Lamb mean when he says, ‘The world’s got a whole face, and the world’s there to be looked at’.

Answer: Mr Lamb tells Derry, in his own inspiring way, that if the rest of the world is afraid to look at him because of his “half-face,” he should not bother. Instead, he should begin to observe the world. Nobody can stop him from looking at the world. Why should he isolate himself from the world? The world belongs to him just as much as it does to the rest of humanity. He simply needs to change his perspective and face the world head-on.

5. What is the reason behind Mr Lamb preferring his windows without curtains?

Answer: Lamb does not want to be isolated. He welcomes all into his home and heart, and he sees beauty in all of God’s creations. His physical limitations do not dampen his spirit; he can even climb a ladder to pluck apples. He enjoys the contrast of light and darkness, as well as the sound of the wind. He doesn’t want to close the door or close the window. It is a symbol of his acceptance of the way things are.

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24. Why does Derry end up going back to Mr Lamb?

Answer: In the end, Derry went back to Mr Lamb because he wanted to help him with his crab apples, look at things, listen to the bees sing, and hear Mr Lamb talk. He thought he would never leave this world again if he didn’t go back to him.

25. What does Mr Lamb do that makes Derry think it’s “strange”?

Answer: Derry doesn’t understand the things Mr Lamb asks and says, so he thinks they are strange.

26. Why does Derry think everyone is scared of him?

Answer: Derry is a boy with acid burns on one side of his face. He thinks that because his face is burned and ugly, everyone is afraid of him. When he looks in the mirror, he is scared of what he sees. People’s comments about his face lead him to think that people are scared of him. One day, a woman on the street told him that he was horrible and that only a mother could love a face like his. This made him realise that people really are afraid of him.

27. What is it about Mr Lamb that draws Derry to him?

Answer: Derry is slowly drawn to Mr Lamb because of the way he sees things. Derry learns that running away from people doesn’t change things by the way he looks at life. He also shows Derry that it doesn’t matter what he looks like, but what he sees, hears, feels, and thinks does. He also shows Derry that even though his face is burned, he is just as good as everyone else because he has two arms, two legs, eyes, ears, a tongue, and a brain. The things Mr Lamb says make him believe in himself again. Even though Derry doesn’t like Mr Lamb, he is still drawn to him.

28. What do you think Mr Lamb is like? How does he see things?

Answer: Mr Lamb is a lively person who goes with the flow of life. He is old and has a metal leg. But he has never thought of it as a curse. He has gotten used to it. It doesn’t stop him from living his life. Even though he lives alone, nature keeps him company, so he is not really alone. He sees beauty not only in the flowers in his garden but also in the weeds. He thinks that the buzzing of bees sounds like sweet music. He lets everyone use this garden. Even the windows in his house don’t have curtains.

He has a positive outlook on life and sees beauty in everything. For him, everyone is a friend. He thinks that the universe’s beauty is in how different it is. Without it, there wouldn’t be much to look at in the world.

29. How does Mr Lamb try to change Derry’s outlook on life?

Answer: Mr Lamb tries to change Derry’s outlook on life by pointing out that a “flower” and a “weed” are almost the same things. All life is about getting bigger. Second, because of the scar on his face, he can’t lock himself in a room for the rest of his life. He even tells him a story about a man who locked himself in a room to avoid getting hurt, but a picture fell on his head and killed him. Third, by making Derry think he could do it. He tells him that he has two legs, two arms, ears, eyes, a tongue, and a brain, just like everyone else, and that if he wants, he can get better than everyone else. He also tells Derry that in this world, everything is different. If there were no differences, there would be nothing to look at in the world.

Mr Lamb doesn’t feel sorry for Derry. He doesn’t care at all about his burned face. He makes Derry realise that he is the one who is making himself unhappy. So, Mr Lamb can change the way Derry thinks about life. At the end of the story, Derry realises that the scar on his face can’t stop him from doing or getting things. Mr Lamb is able to change Derry’s way of thinking about life.

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