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Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

“One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson begins with Mr. John Philip Johnson happily starting his day. He is described as “radiat[ing] a feeling of well-being,” and his good mood seems to be contagious, as many of the people he smiles at and interacts with end up smiling as well. As he is out for a walk, Mr. Johnson alights upon a woman who is trying to manage the movers packing her furniture into a truck and her small boy. Mr. Johnson volunteers to help the woman by conversing with her son on the steps and feeding him peanuts.

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After helping this woman, Mr. Johnson treads uptown in a patient fashion, and he notices all the people in a rush hurrying by him. One of these people, Mildred Kent, runs into him, and he sweeps her into a conversation, much to her chagrin. She is concerned about losing a dime for every moment she speaks to him. Mr. Johnson offers to pay for Mildred’s loss of pay if she waits a moment. Mildred watches as Mr. Johnson runs into a man, Arthur Adams, in a hurry, much the way Mildred ran into Mr. Johnson just moments before. Mr. Johnson introduces the strangers to one another and gives them money to spend a day doing something fun and leisurely together. The two people are bewildered but take the opportunity. It seems like they will even fall in love, as foreshadowed by Mr. Johnson’s smiling to himself:

As he stepped up the street, conscious of the sun on his head and his good shoes, he heard from somewhere behind him the young man saying, “Look, you know you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” and the girl saying, “But unless you don’t want to . . . .” Mr. Johnson smiled to himself and thought he better hurry along.

After that, Mr. Johnson has a delicious lunch with veal and pastries, and then he gives money to a beggar so that he can have the same lunch. He does a few other charitable acts on his way home, including giving up three or four cabs. His last charitable act is to steer the taxi driver away from a bad bet on a horse and give him money for a good bet on another day.

Once Mr. Johnson arrives at home, the story takes a surprising turn. In chatting with his wife about the day, he learns that his wife has done just as many bad deeds as he has done good ones. She has caused someone to be unfairly fired and falsely accused a woman of shoplifting. The couple decides to swap roles, good-deed roles for bad-deed roles; it seems that they take turns spreading cheer and trouble in the world:

“Fine,” said Mr. Johnson. “But you do look tired. Want to change over tomorrow?” “I would like to,” she said. “I could do with a change.” “Right,” said Mr. Johnson.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 692

John Philip Johnson comes down the steps from his house on a bright morning. His shoes have just been resoled, and his feet feel good. He smiles at everyone and greets the other customers at the newsstand where he stops to buy his newspaper. He has filled his pockets with candy and peanuts and, before he sets out for his walk uptown, he goes into a flower shop and buys a carnation for his buttonhole, but he immediately gives it to a child in a carriage.

Mr. Johnson seldom follows the same route twice. On this fine day, he walks several blocks uptown, then cuts across a side street. Halfway along it, a van is parked. A woman and her child are moving out of their apartment. The woman looks bedraggled, and Mr. Johnson offers to watch her child while she attends to the moving. He and the child get along well, sharing the peanuts in Mr. Johnson’s pocket. Mr. Johnson learns that the two are moving to Greenwich, Vermont, and he gives them the name of a friend who lives there, telling the woman that the man will help her in any way he can when she arrives in Greenwich. She is grateful.

Continuing his walk, he meets a young woman, Mildred Kent. He talks with her and, when he realizes that he is making her late for work, insists on compensating her for her lost time. As she waits, he walks out onto the sidewalk and engages in conversation with a young man, Arthur Adams. He then introduces the two and gives them enough money to cover their day’s wages. He encourages them to spend the day together doing something they want to do, such as going to Coney Island. He gives them money to cover their expenses.

Leaving them, he continues his walk. He gives a peanut to a man who is begging for money, wrapping the peanut in a dollar bill. He gives another peanut to a bus driver who is leaning out the window of his bus. The driver asks him whether he wants a transfer.

When he sees a young couple searching the classified advertisements looking for an apartment for rent, he tells them of the one that the woman and her child have just vacated. Then he lunches in a pleasant restaurant, eating two desserts, drinking three cups of coffee, and tipping the waiter generously. When he leaves the restaurant, he gives a beggar enough to buy himself a veal cutlet for lunch and to pay the tip.

He goes to the park, doing more good deeds and feeding what is left of his peanuts to the pigeons. When he starts for home, he misses his opportunity to engage the first two or three taxis that stop because he allows people who look as though they need a cab more than he does to take them. Finally, a cab that is not really looking for a fare picks him up, and the driver takes his picking up someone when he did not plan to do so as an omen that he should not bet ten dollars on a horse race. Mr. Johnson gives the man advice about the races and gives him ten more dollars so that he can bet on a sure thing later in the week.

When he finally gets home, Mr. Johnson announces his arrival and asks his wife about her day. She tells him that it was “here and there.” She accused a woman in a department store of shoplifting and called the store detective. Then she got on a bus and asked the driver for a transfer, but he helped someone else first, so she took his number and reported him. She speculates that he will likely lose his job.

Mr. Johnson listens to her account and responds, “Fine. But you do look tired. Want to change over tomorrow?” She says she would like to do so, that she could do with a change. He asks what they are having for dinner. She responds that they are having veal cutlet, and he tells her, “Had it for lunch.”

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