The Umbrella Man

by Roald Dahl

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How does the narrator's mother treat the stranger at first in "The Umbrella Man"?

In "The Umbrella Man," the mother at first treats the stranger warily and with suspicion.

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At the beginning of the story the stranger approaches the narrator's mother and asks for a "small favour." The narrator describes her mother's initial reaction to the stranger as "very cool and distant." The narrator also says that her mother looked at the stranger "suspiciously." The implication is perhaps that the mother expects the stranger to ask for money.

The stranger then proceeds to ask the mother for "some help," and the mother looks at him with what the narrator describes as a "frosty-nosed stare." The mother also replies to the stranger with a "sharpness" in her voice which implies that she does not trust him. She is wary and suspicious of his intentions. She eventually asks the stranger, "Are you asking me to give you money?" to which the stranger replies, "Oh, good gracious me, not!"

The stranger's assurance that he is not asking for money seems to make the mother a little less suspicious. She does, however, become rather impatient. She asks the stranger to "hurry up" and get to the point. The stranger then tells her that he can't walk home, as he usually does, because he is old, and his legs aren't as reliable as they once were. He offers to sell the mother his umbrella, for a very good price, so that he can take a taxi home. At this point the mother's initial reaction of wary suspicion and impatience starts to "melt a bit." She is reassured by the stranger's politeness and by the superior quality of the umbrella he is offering her.

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What does the narrator's mother see in "The Umbrella Man"?

In “The Umbrella Man,” the narrator (a twelve-year-old girl) and her mother encounter an elderly man who pretends to be feeble in order to gain their sympathy, sell the mother stolen goods, and use the mother’s money to buy himself a drink. Although the narrator witnesses most of what her mother sees, author Roald Dahl uses the mother to emphasize the con artist’s unscrupulous behavior. Through the mother’s eyes, the old man’s strong tolerance for alcohol and his clever scam are revealed.

The mother pays him the one pound for a silk umbrella (that obviously is worth more), supposedly for cab fare to get him home. Then the narrator soon spots him spryly dodging traffic while crossing the street. She and her mother follow the quick-footed old man as he navigates his way around other pedestrians and a few corners. When she loses sight of him, the narrator asks her mother where he went.

“He went in that door!” my mother said. “I saw him! Into that house! Great heavens, it’s a pub!”

They peek into the pub; to their surprise, he pushes himself through crowds, reaches the bar, and orders a drink. The bartender brings him

a smallish tumbler filled to the brim with light brown liquid.

Interestingly, the supposedly refined mother is able to identify the hard liquor from a distance. Moreover, she even can discern the exact amount, saying it must be a “treble whiskey.”


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more surprising is the “little” old man’s ability to hold his liquor; he downs the triple shot of whiskey all in one swallow. He then deftly proceeds with his scam. After grabbing his hat and coat before exiting,

in a manner so superbly cool and casual that you hardly noticed anything at all, he lifted from the coat-rack one of the many wet umbrellas hanging there, and off he went.

He steals another umbrella to fool another future sap into giving him money to purchase more alcohol at a different bar. This elegant scam has multiple victims: the umbrella owners who are bereft of a shield against rain and the sympathetic people who are fooled out of a pound. As the narrator’s mother declares,

So that’s his little game! … You see how clever he is! … He never goes to the same pub twice! … I’ll bet he prays like mad for rainy days.

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