The Hint of an Explanation Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a long train journey from Scotland to England, the unnamed narrator listens to another traveler, a man named David, tell about an incident in his childhood that gave him a hint of an explanation about God’s mysterious ways. The narrator (who resembles Graham Greene during his agnostic days at Oxford University) says that he has a certain intuition, which he does not trust, founded as it is on childish experiences and needs, that God exists, and that he is surprised occasionally into belief by the extraordinary coincidences that people encounter in life, like leopard traps in the jungle. He is, however, intellectually revolted by the notion of a God “who can abandon his creatures to the enormities of Free Will.” The skeptical narrator is a perfect audience for David’s ironic story of religious faith, for the story itself is structured like a providential trap.

David’s tale has some of the features of a fairy tale: An innocent boy heroically overpowers a threatening monster and is rewarded for his bravery with a happy life. A terrifying character named Blacker, a baker by trade, bribed the ten-year-old David with an electric train set if he would bring him the communion host. To enhance his control over the boy, Blacker showed him a razor that he kept to bleed people. Obsessed with his atheism, Blacker wanted to examine the host to prove once and for all that Christ’s body and blood are not present in the communion wafer. He told the boy, “I want to see what your God tastes like.” David recalls that when Blacker asserted that he wanted to get one of those consecrated hosts in his mouth, for the first time...

(The entire section is 668 words.)