(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Charles Newman is an elderly man, a former white-collar worker who was proud of his position but is now unemployed and desperate for work. As he enters the office of the company where he is hoping to be hired, he feels intimidated by his knowledge of his age and his humiliating status as a supplicant who has known better days. His nervousness and forced joviality are met with kindness by the receptionist, and his job application is reviewed favorably by Mr. Shanahan, the personnel officer, who offers him temporary employment wrapping parcels in the firm’s shipping room. Mr. Newman chokes back his feelings of hurt pride and accepts.

His new boss is Mr. Hurley, who grimly advises Newman of the great responsibility involved in making sure that packages get to their destinations intact. Hurley cites the horror story of an unfortunate shipment to Fargo, North Dakota, and Mr. Newman can only nod his head in sad acquiescence to the miseries that great companies endure.

Mr. Newman is put to work immediately, struggling to capture with twine a half-dozen sets of poker chips, a box of rag dolls, five thousand small American flags, and a boy’s sled going to Waupaca, Wisconsin. Being born again in the work force is not without its minor traumas for Mr. Newman, who cuts his nose on a piece of wrapping paper and bruises a shin on an ice skate. He perseveres through the morning, however, and gets to punch a time clock for the first time when the noon whistle blows.

Not having brought his lunch, as have his coworkers, Mr. Newman wanders on the sidewalk until he finds a ten-cent hamburger to go with a five-cent cup of coffee. He returns to work feeling good about himself but has to explain to the company-proud Mr. Hurley why he did not eat in the employees’ lunchroom. The exchange ends with what Mr. Hurley thinks is a...

(The entire section is 755 words.)