The Chaser Summary

The Chaser” is a short story by John Collier about a young man named Alan who falls in love with a woman, Diana, who does not return his affections.

  • In order to win Diana over, Alan purchases a love potion from an old man. However, the old man warns him that eventually Diana will become jealous and possessive.
  • Alan agrees to buy the potion anyway and gives it to Diana. It seems to work, and Diana becomes devoted to Alan.
  • Alan quickly tires of Diana’s attention and starts to regret his decision. He returns to the old man to purchase a poison that will kill Diana.


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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

Published in the December 1940 issue of the New York Times, John Collier’s sardonic short story “The Chaser” details an interaction between a nervous young man enamored with a woman who does not love him and an old medicine man whose cynical commentary escapes the distracted young man.  It is a brief story that discusses the nature of romance, love, and marriage with pessimistic derision. In Collier’s quintessential style, the storytelling is tight and condensed; the story is explicitly sparse but, when closely read, comically implies a great deal. 

In "The Chaser," a young man by the name of Alan Austen has a bit of a problem. He's fallen head over heels in love with a beautiful young woman called Diana. The trouble is, however, that she's not remotely interested in him, and so poor old Alan's love remains unrequited. But all is not lost. Alan has clearly heard about a novel solution to his problem, provided by an old man in the neighborhood of Pell Street.

When Alan visits the old man, he tells him about this troubles. The old man has clearly heard this story many times before and knows just what the young man needs. He has in his possession a love potion that will turn the object of Alan's affection into a faithful, devoted companion. Once Diana has that love potion inside her—it is easily administered without detection in orange juice, soups, and cocktails—Alan's would-be love will want nothing more than to be with him.

Alan is astonished to hear this, not least because the young lady loves parties. But he's suitably intrigued by the prospect of having the woman of his dreams all to himself. It all sounds so wonderful: just what he's always wanted. Even after the old man tells Alan that this will mean that Diana will be jealous of him and will want to know everything he's been doing, what he's thinking, and why he's looking happy or sad at any given moment, the young man's enthusiasm remains undimmed.

So Alan happily agrees to hand over the paltry sum of one dollar for this life-changing love potion. However, the old man is certain that Alan will come back again. This time, it won't be to buy any love potion, but to buy what the old man euphemistically describes as "life cleaner," a poison that men can administer to their wives and girlfriends when they become a problem.

Years of experience have told the old man that the men who buy his love potion eventually get sick of being the center of their wives' and girlfriends' universes. They feel constricted and mollycoddled, unable to lead independent lives. And so, as regular as clockwork, they always return to that tiny little room where the old man plies his trade, to get their hands on his "life cleaner." The cost of the poison is a good deal higher than that of the love potion: $5,000 a shot, to be precise. But the old man knows that somehow, someday, Alan will be able to rustle up enough cash to buy a solution to his "problem" once and for all.

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