Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl

by Roald Dahl
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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651

Although some readers might consider Dahl's characters stereotypical, such universal personalities as exhibited by Claud, Rummins, and Bert appear hilarious in their specific individual meanderings.

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Claud's thinking skills are revealed as less than perfect through his involvement in a sequence of get-rich-quick schemes. Unable to recognize the difference between faulty and accurate information, Claud is easily led astray. As he and the rest of the Rummins family begin to believe Boggis in "Parson's Pleasure," Claud becomes increasingly fascinated with the valuable tidbits of information the parson offers. As the narrator tells us, "Any information of this nature was valuable, in his opinion. One never knew when it might come in handy." Although Claud is not Dahl's main focus in this story, he is pivotal in highlighting the distinctions between the other characters and in providing the necessary irony. At the first hint of the story's greatest irony—when Claud convincingly suggests that Rummins quickly chop off the legs of the furniture before he loses a quick buck—the narrator describes how "Claud's flat bovine face glimmered with a mawkish pride." The depth of his pride, however, is not as great as that of Boggis, who will soon regret it.

In courting Clarice Hoddy, Claud must prove not only his love and ability to support her, but also hold a job that meets her father's standard of respectability. In "Mr. Hoddy," Claud appears unable to get ahead through get-rich schemes undertaken because of his desires not to undertake a boring job. As Hoddy begins questioning his potential son-in-law, Claud becomes increasingly excited and unfolds a ridiculous scheme because he has promised Clarice not to mention the truth: that he plans to win a sufficient amount of money by racing dogs. The pressures that Hoddy puts on Claud because of Hoddy's respectable class force Claud to realize that:

This man and all those like him were his enemies. It was the Mr. Hoddys were the trouble. They were all the same. He knew them all, with their clean ugly hands, their grey skin, their acrid mouths, their tendency to develop little round bulging bellies just below the waist-coat; and always the unctious curl of the nose, the weak chin, the suspicious eyes that were dark and moved too quick. The Mr. Hoddys.

Although his thoughts appear to focus on the physical description of Hoddy, Hoddy's daughter shares many of the same traits, which Claud can overlook in her. Hoddy's middle-class need for respectability is what Claud truly resists. The young man's nervousness forces him to imagine and share uncomely details about starting up a maggot factory that ironically distances him even more from his goal of getting Hoddy to accept Claud as a suitor for Clarice.

While "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" first introduces us to Rummins, it is the story bearing his name that most clearly explores his character. The slow unraveling of the horrifying truth of the town drunk's disappearance some time ago is fully uncovered in "Rummins" when the men tear down the hayrick as a means of pest control. Ironically, all the initial participants, who overlooked the initial disappearance, will discover the horrible truth of why the rats are gathering in the hayrick.

One can hardly consider Rummins without remembering the grown son who always appears by his side. Repeatedly Bert's eyes are described as vacuous, not only because one eye is sightless. Because of his son's limited intelligence, Rummins' directives might be overlooked, but his fatherly demands cross the line into the grotesque when we discover that he encourages son Bert to continue shoveling through the wheat, knowing full well that the corpse of the town drunk is beneath it. Bert's willingness to listen to his father and his repulsed response, compared to Rummins' quick getaway, becomes macabre in the suggestion that the father will use the son to do things that he cannot bear to do himself.

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