Study Guide

The Albatross

by Susan Hill

The Albatross Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Duncan Pike is an eighteen-year-old man with limited intelligence and thus an outsider to himself and to the small fishing village in which he lives. His agonizing feeling of being an outcast is reinforced by his domineering mother, Hilda, who constantly reminds him, “We keep ourselves to ourselves in this town.” His mother wants him to be alone; she clings to him for several reasons. For one, she is handicapped, like her son. Because she is confined to a wheelchair, she depends on Duncan to help her through each day. She also underestimates her son: She thinks him incapable of performing the simplest task without her instructions. This is also the attitude of the villagers toward Duncan; he can only feel further isolated because of this.

For Duncan, any contact with the villagers is extremely painful. “He dared not wonder what they really thought of him, or how they talked, as he went away. . . .” He has almost come to hate himself and doubt his abilities because he has listened too long to his mother and to the other residents of the village.

An incident at the opening of the story illustrates this well. Each Wednesday, Hilda sends her son to buy fish in the market for their supper. She writes down “not cod” as “she wrote everything down for him, every message, every demand, every list.” Duncan resents this treatment; no matter where he goes, he thinks, he takes his mother with him. He has given up trying to defend or explain himself to her or anyone else. The villagers speak to him clearly, loudly, and slowly, thinking that he cannot understand them if they do not. He buys cod because that is all that is being sold, not bothering to ask for anything else or to go to another fish seller. Too mentally beaten down to explain the circumstances, Duncan endures the verbal abuse of his mother when he returns home.

Understandably, at eighteen, Duncan is beginning to want some independence, to break away from his mother and the village. His desire is particularly acute because of his isolation and his feelings of inferiority. He sits in rapture when his boss speaks of the outside world, which Duncan sees as “new, miraculous.” He...

(The entire section is 889 words.)