What is the theme of "The Way Up To Heaven"?
“The Way Up To Heaven” is a perfect-crime story. The main theme is the commission of a perfect murder.
A supplementary theme involves Mrs Foster's “pathological fear” of being late and her husband’s passive aggression in deliberately making her anxious about being late. Mrs Foster does not understand whether her husband is tormenting her deliberately.
Mrs Foster was and always had been a good and loving wife. For over thirty years, she had served him loyally and well. There was no doubt about this. Even she, a very modest woman, was aware of it, and although she had for years refused to let herself believe that Mr Foster would ever consciously torment her, there had been times recently when she had caught herself beginning to wonder.
So a another theme might be called “The worm turns.”
Perfect crime stories are a familiar genre. Edgar Allan Poe wrote several. Such stories can either end in success or failure. Most often the protagonist plans a perfect murder but gets caught because of overlooking one detail. Less often the murderer plans a perfect murder and gets away with it. That is the case in Poe’s famous story “The Cask of Amontillado.” In Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” the murderer does get caught.
Roald Dahl’s “The Way Up To Heaven” strongly resembles his “Lamb to the Slaughter,” in which Mary Maloney kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then destroys the murder weapon by cooking it and serving it to the policemen who are investigating the crime. In both stories the perpetrators are sweet, domestic, docile women who kill their husbands in a momentary flare-up of passion.
In “The Way Up To Heaven,” Mrs Foster finally discovers positive evidence that her husband has been deliberately tormenting her all these years, and she takes her revenge by letting him get stuck between floors on the elevator for six weeks while their house is vacant and completely unattended. Both women get away with their crimes because no one would suspect such devoted and submissive wives to murder their husbands and also because there is no way of proving murderous intent.
So the main theme of “The Way Up To Heaven” is the successful commission of a perfect crime, and supplementary themes are passive aggression, “the worm turns,” and "the biter bit."
In a story including "the biter bit," the aggressor is appropriately punished by being caught, so to speak, in his own trap. Mr Foster would not have gotten stuck in the elevator if he had not been pretending that he had to delay their departure in order to go back upstairs to look for a gift he wanted his wife to take to their daughter in Paris.
At this point, Mrs Foster suddenly spotted a corner of something white wedged down in the crack of the seat on the side where her husband had been sitting. She reached over and pulled out a small paper-wrapped box, and at the same time she couldn’t help noticing that it was wedged down firm and deep, as though with the help of a pushing hand.
Mr Foster’s trick costs him his life. His wife finally realizes the subtle sadist has been deliberately torturing her with his passive aggression for years, and thus she has the motive for letting him perish in the stalled elevator. His going back up on the elevator provides both the motive and the means for his own execution. This bit of irony is what makes the story appealing.