As a young child, the unnamed boy is active and curious. He loves to play in the woods, and he is especially drawn to the mushrooms that grow there. His senses are very much alive, and he discerns the way things and people smell. Although he is teased by his brother and sister, he does not seem to be unhappy. When he is sent to the home for the mentally retarded, he misses the sights and sounds of life with his family on the farm. The boy’s difficulty is that he has intellectual disabilities that make it very hard for him to learn. At home, he cannot master how to use the tools in the woodshed and sometimes hurts himself trying. His language skills are also poor. He cannot connect words to things and feels that words belong to other people, not to him. At his first and only week in school, he cannot learn how to read and does not know how to make friends.
At the institution, he is not the most severely disabled of the residents. Although not able to communicate with words, he is able to wash and feed himself. He also still exhibits curiosity, observing the activities in the wood shop and being amused, and sometimes frightened, at the antics of the other boys. He responds well when a new teacher at the home treats him with dignity and keeps him busy with chores. When left to his own devices, he shows he has an active imagination, creating meaningful patterns as he stares at wallpaper, and later, when he is an adult, at the shadows of leaves against the wall.
As an adult, he suffers from institutional neglect. Left alone, without any meaningful activities, he gets fat, and his mind appears to stagnate.
The New Teacher
The new teacher is a young, quiet man who is employed by the institution to teach in the wood shop. He remains patient and calm and knows how to maintain discipline without being harsh. He treats the boys well.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Lars Gustafsson, Published by Gale Group, 2010