One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts by Shirley Jackson

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One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts Summary

“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.

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

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 1,186 words.)