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.
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.
4. Why do you think Martin forced himself to take the elevator after being asked about it by his father?
Answer: He likely wanted to avoid further criticism from his father about being weak/cowardly.
5. What was Martin’s biggest fear about riding the elevator?
Answer: Martin’s biggest fear was being trapped alone inside the elevator for hours.
6. On what floor did the fat lady enter the elevator?
Answer: The fat lady entered on the 14th floor.
7. Describe the fat lady. Why do you think she made Martin uncomfortable?
Answer: The fat lady is depicted as wearing an oversized, scratchy green coat that balloons around her large frame. She has a very large neck and fleshy cheeks, but no chin. Her eyes are tiny and piercing. Her breathing his loud and heavy. All of these physical traits give her an imposing, lurking presence that makes her inherently disturbing to Martin. Furthermore, the way she stares fixedly at Martin makes him uncomfortable. Her appearance and behaviour seem almost sinister.
8. What is Martin like, and what is his relationship with his father like?
Answer: Martin seems anxious and fearful while his father is impatient, unsympathetic, and critical of Martin’s fears. Their relationship appears distant.
9. How did Martin fracture his leg?
Answer: He fell in the dark stairwell after trying to avoid the elevator and the woman.
10. Do you believe Martin’s father left him on the elevator alone on purpose? Why or why not?
Answer: His father seems frustrated and impatient with Martin’s fears rather than concerned. This could suggest he knowingly left Martin there alone to confront the situation. However, one could also argue that while insensitive, Martin’s father didn’t realize the full extent of Martin’s phobia and anxiety about the elevator. So he may have casually exited without recognizing the trauma it would cause Martin.
11. Why do you think the author chose to end the story the way he did?
Answer: Likely to create an unsettling, ambiguous ending leaving the reader concerned for Martin.
12. Why does Martin feel uneasy about the elevator from the first day he moves into the apartment building?
Answer: He feels it is very small, has poor lighting, dirty walls, and slams loudly when closing. It shudders each time it starts up as if exhausted.
13. Why does Martin’s father get angry at him for taking the stairs instead of the elevator one day?
Answer: When Martin arrives home short of breath after taking the stairs, his father scolds him for not taking the elevator. His father’s face seems to imply Martin is not only weak and skinny, but also a coward for avoiding the elevator. This suggests Martin’s father thinks he should act braver and wants him to get over his fear of the elevator.
14. How does Martin end up breaking his leg after his encounter with the woman on the third day?
Answer: After seeing the woman smiling creepily at him in the elevator again, Martin is so unnerved that he decides to take the stairs instead. However, since the stairwell is dark with no windows, Martin ends up falling and breaking his leg. This shows how desperate Martin is to avoid the elevator and the woman inside it.
15. Why does Martin feel relieved about staying home with a broken leg?
Answer: He thinks he can avoid encountering the strange woman while staying off his broken leg at home.
16. How does the woman trap Martin alone inside the elevator at the end of the story?
Answer: She waits inside the elevator on the 10th floor after his father gets off on the 9th floor. She moves in quickly before Martin can get out.
17. How would you describe the relationship between Martin and his father? Provide examples from the text.
Answer: Based on the father’s impatience, criticism, and lack of affection towards Martin, their relationship seems quite cold and unaffectionate. Martin’s father calls him weak, timid, and a coward for being afraid of the elevator, rather than comforting him. He also brushes off Martin’s concerns about the woman, showing a lack of care and sympathy. Overall, the father prioritises Martin toughening up over supporting him emotionally.
18. What evidence in the story suggests Martin is anxious or fearful by nature?
Answer: Examples are his fear of elevators and small spaces, being short of breath taking the stairs, and being afraid to be trapped in the elevator.
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
4. How does Martin’s father react when he suggests a strange woman is stalking him in the elevator?
A. He comforts Martin B. He warns the building security C. He inspects the elevator himself D. He dismisses Martin’s concerns
Answer: D. He dismisses Martin’s concerns
5. What does the fat lady do when she rides the elevator with Martin?
A. She hums loudly B. She applies makeup C. She reads a book D. She stares at Martin
Answer: D. She stares at Martin
6. Why does Martin feel relieved about staying home with a broken leg?
A. He gets to miss school B. He can avoid the elevator C. His father is nicer to him D. He doesn’t have to walk stairs
Answer: B. He can avoid the elevator
7. Where is the woman waiting for Martin the second time he sees her?
A. 14th floor B. 3rd floor C. 10th floor D. Basement
Answer: B. 3rd floor
8. How does Martin end up breaking his leg?
A. The woman pushes him B. He trips carrying his schoolbooks C. He falls down the stairwell D. The elevator malfunctions
Answer: C. He falls down the stairwell
9. What is the relationship like between Martin and his father?
A. Close and affectionate B. Distanced and unaffectionate C. Friendly with mutual understanding D. Martin is afraid of his father
Answer: B. Distanced and unaffectionate
10. How might the strange woman be interpreted symbolically?
A. As Martin’s inner courage B. As the danger of elevators C. As a motherly guide D. As the embodiment of Martin’s fears
Answer: D. As the embodiment of Martin’s fears
11. Why does Martin’s father get angry at him for taking the stairs?
A. He worries it is unsafe B. He thinks Martin is acting cowardly C. It takes Martin too long D. It is against building rules
Answer: B. He thinks Martin is acting cowardly
12. What is suggested about Martin’s personality?
A. He is brave and adventurous B. He is anxious and timid C. He is reckless and selfish D. He is angry and violent
Answer: B. He is anxious and timid
13. What floor does the fat lady get off the elevator on the second time?
A. 3rd floor B. 14th floor C. 17th floor D. 18th floor
Answer: D. 18th floor
14. Why does Martin avoid looking the fat lady in the eyes when they ride the elevator?
A. He is playing a game B. He knows she is crazy C. He is being polite D. He feels too scared
Answer: D. He feels too scared
15. Why does Martin’s father stop on the 9th floor before Martin gets off on their way back?
A. To help a neighbor B. To confront the woman C. To call the repairman D. To visit Mrs. Ullman
Answer: D. To visit Mrs. Ullman
16. What does the fat lady say to Martin at the end when she traps him in the elevator?
A. “Going down?” B. “Are you okay?” C. “Hello, Martin.” D. “Be brave.”
Answer: C. “Hello, Martin.”
17. Why does Martin’s father call him weak and timid?
A. Because Martin cries a lot B. Because Martin performs poorly in sports C. Because Martin is afraid of the elevator D. Because Martin often gets injured
Answer: C. Because Martin is afraid of the elevator
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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