Symbolism is a literary device an author uses to express complex ideas concisely by substituting simple objects to represent the complex ideas. In ‘‘One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,’’ the peanuts are an important symbol for generosity and goodness. Mr. Johnson fills his pockets with candy and peanuts before going out on the town, but it is the peanuts the author makes a point of mentioning repeatedly as he shares them with a little boy, a stray dog, a bus driver, a beggar, and a seagull. Peanuts even appear in the title of the story, underscoring the fact that this is not just any old ordinary day but rather Mr. Johnson’s type of ordinary day— one filled with goodness. Peanuts are a healthy snack, providing a way to share food with others, a harmless ritual that brings people closer together.
Money symbolizes the struggle between good and evil in ‘‘One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts.’’ Mr. Johnson spends much of his day handing out cash to people. He pays Mildred and Arthur to go out with each other so that they will have fun and forget about their jobs for a while. He gives a beggar money to purchase a fine meal. This struggle is especially clear in the scene with the cab driver. The cabbie has just been given ten dollars to bet on a certain horse. Mr. Johnson is certain that this is a bad deal and offers him a new tip plus more money to use for betting. Money sways people, and Mr. Johnson is on the side of good.
Personification involves the attribution of human characteristics to animals, ideas, or inanimate objects, and also the embodiment of abstract ideas as people. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, an example of the latter, are personifications of good and evil. They take turns at being good or evil, going about the city as if they were normal citizens while harboring a secret agenda. They pick people at random to help and to hurt, seeming never to see the same people more than once. Whether or not there is something magical about the Johnsons is never explained, although something mystical is suggested by Mr. Johnson’s odd musings about fire signs in his conversation with the cab driver over racehorses. In fact, they could be regarded as normal human beings who happen to share a strange hobby. Nevertheless, since they are a pair, good and evil remain in balance.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Shirley Jackson, Published by Gale Group, 2010