The Way Up to Heaven by Roald Dahl

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Synopsis

Roald Dahl’s short story “The Way Up to Heaven” first appeared in The New Yorker (February 27, 1954) and was included in his collection Kiss Kiss (1960). It concerns Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Foster, an affluent elderly couple who live in a six-story house on East Sixty-Second Street in New York City. During their more than thirty-year marriage, Mrs. Foster has been a devoted wife, serving her husband’s needs and subjugating herself to his overbearing will without resistance. He had, as Dahl writes, “disciplined her too well for that.” The Fosters live in their gloomy house with their servants; few visitors come to call. Their only child, a daughter, lives in Paris with her husband and their three children, the grandchildren Mrs. Foster loves deeply, even though she has never seen them.

The most significant character traits of Mr. and Mrs. Foster—and their relationship—are established immediately through exposition. Mrs. Foster has a pathological fear of being late on any occasion; Mr. Foster torments her cruelly by making her wait for him, quite unnecessarily, past the hour when they must leave to arrive safely on time. She has suffered his delaying tactics for years on special occasions and has only recently begun to suspect that he deliberately causes her great suffering.

The plot gets underway as the Fosters prepare to leave home for six weeks. She is flying to Paris to finally meet her beautiful grandchildren; Mr. Foster will move to his club while she is gone. He has dismissed all the servants in the interim to save money. He will come home occasionally to check for mail. Mrs. Foster is overcome with increasing anxiety as she counts down the minutes until 9:15 a.m. when they must leave in order for her to arrive at the airport. She fears that if she misses her plane, her husband will change his mind and not let her go at all. She wishes she could simply live in Paris and be with her grandchildren always.

Mr. Foster finally appears at 9:22, but makes her wait again while he goes to wash his hands and otherwise delays getting in the car. Mr. Foster tells her that he will not bother to write to her while she is gone. On the drive to the airport, their chauffeur must slow down because the fog has rolled in. Mrs. Foster is beside herself with fear and worry that she will miss her plane. Mr. Foster tells her continually that her flight surely will be cancelled because of the weather. As her agony intensifies, the muscle in her eye begins to twitch nervously, as it always does when she is most distressed. Mrs. Foster is shocked when she realizes her husband is watching this nervous tic, well aware of the effect he is having upon her.

Arriving at the airport, Mrs. Foster learns her flight has been temporarily delayed. Mr. Foster leaves her there. Mrs. Foster waits all day for her flight to leave, but it is finally cancelled until eleven o’clock the following morning. She hates to leave the security of being at the airport, and she does not...

(The entire section is 1,476 words.)