Good Samaritan Summary
by John O'Hara

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Good Samaritan Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Good Samaritan” first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post of November 30, 1968. As the story begins, Mary Wood is hosting twenty people for a buffet lunch. Her party may be associated with a golf tournament that is being held that weekend.

The setting is not identified specifically, but it is an affluent community of suburban or summer homes in the present day. When the Reeds—George and Carrie—arrive, they ask where Willoughby Wood is. Mary confides to them that her husband has been missing for two days, but she tells the other guests that he has been suddenly called away to Washington. Because it is Sunday, Mary’s story is unconvincing. Only one of her guests, however, is sufficiently interested in the whereabouts of Willoughby Wood to challenge her. After all the other guests have left, Agatha Surtees, a “notorious stayer,” attempts to intrude upon the private conversation Mary has been waiting to have with the Reeds. Mary practically expels Agatha with physical force, and the latter goes huffing off to her hired limousine. Agatha’s age is given as fifty-two, Willoughby’s as fifty-nine, so the reader infers that the other characters are in their fifties as well.

Mary receives a call from Lieutenant Hackenschmidt of the sheriff’s patrol. Willoughby has been found wandering aimlessly in East Quantuck, unshaven, disheveled, and without money, watch, or identification. When picked up, he was not intoxicated—he appeared to have suffered some sort of nervous breakdown. The Reeds set out to take Mary to the substation where her husband is being held, but it is soon decided that George will drop Carrie off at their home. As George and Mary drive on alone, the reader is furnished with much exposition.

Willoughby Wood quit working about ten years earlier when he inherited his father’s money, and the Woods’ marriage has been in a precipitous decline ever since that time. Willoughby is estranged from their daughter, Marietta, because he insists that her husband and the father of her two children is a homosexual. Years before, Mary and George Reed were romantically involved to some unspecified degree, and Mary proposes that they become lovers now. George is receptive to the idea, but he tells her that he already has a mistress in Detroit. Mary also confesses, for the first time, to a sexual indiscretion with another member of their set only a week before serving as a bridesmaid in his wedding.

At the sheriff’s substation, Lieutenant Hackenschmidt is very deferential to George, whom he recognizes as the president of the hospital. Hackenschmidt believes that Willoughby has been “rolled,” although he bears no bruises or other signs of having been attacked. Another possibility, suggested though never stated, is that the missing identification and personal possessions represent Willoughby’s temporary rejection of his identity.

Willoughby is released, but on the way home he becomes boorish toward his wife almost immediately. He is obsessed with the idea that Mary had an affair while visiting Marietta in California (which, in fact, she did), and he begins to accuse her again. George, the contemporary Good Samaritan, becomes exasperated and puts Willoughby out of the car a half a mile from home. Mary declines to join her husband on the side of the road, and the story ends. The narrative is carried forward almost exclusively by means of dialogue.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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