Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 933
The protagonist in “Thrown Away” is never identified other than as The Boy. A young subaltern in India, The Boy led a sheltered life with his family in Great Britain and never had to deal with unpleasantness. After his years at Sandhurst preparing for military life in the colonies, The Boy is sent first to a third-rate depot battalion and then to India.
At first, he finds India attractive. The ponies, the dancing, the flirtatious women, and the gambling all appeal to him. However, The Boy has been quite protected until now. He has developed no sense of humor. He takes life and its petty tribulations very seriously. Rudyard Kipling likens The Boy to a puppy, saying that if a puppy bites the ears of an old dog, the old dog will properly chastise it, making it wiser. However, if the puppy grows to be a dog with its full set of teeth and bites the ear of an old dog, never before having learned that there are limits to what it does, it is likely to be hurt. The Boy apparently has never been placed in the situation of having to learn his limits and is now like the grown dog with a full set of teeth who is about to bite the ear of an old dog.
The Boy falls into gambling, and his losses mount alarmingly. He takes these losses seriously and broods over them. For six months, The Boy makes one personal mistake after another, and the people closest to him know that he is making them but presume that he will learn from his mistakes and will fall into line as do most other people who come out from Great Britain.
When the cold weather ends, The Boy’s colonel talks to him with some severity, but not much differently from the way colonels typically talk to subalterns: “It was only an ordinary ’Colonel’s wigging’!” the reader is told. The Boy, however, takes the “wigging” very much to heart. Shortly after it, one more event contributes substantially to what is ultimately to happen: “The thing that kicked the beam in The Boy’s mind was a remark that a woman made when he was talking to her. There is no use in repeating it, for it was only a cruel little sentence, rapped out before thinking, that made him flush to the roots of his hair.” Again, he has something to brood about.
For three days after this unfortunate occurrence, The Boy keeps to himself. Then he takes a two-day leave, presumably to go shooting for big game at the Canal Engineer’s Rest House, about thirty miles out from his base. People laugh at his going after big game there because the only thing worth shooting in that area is partridge, hardly the big game that The Boy seems to seek.
One of the majors has grown fond of The Boy and becomes alarmed when he hears that he has gone out shooting. He alone suspects what the big game might be that The Boy seeks. He enters The Boy’s quarters and discovers that he has taken with him a revolver and a writing case, hardly the equipment for game hunting. The Major enlists the aid of the omniscient narrator, asking him if he can lie, and the two set out for the Canal Engineer’s Rest House in a wagon drawn by a pony, which is pushed so hard to get there in a hurry that it is almost dead when they arrive three hours later at their destination thirty miles away.
When they get to the Rest House, the Major calls for The Boy’s servant and calls out The Boy’s name. There is no answer. The two men notice that a hurricane lamp is burning in the window, although it is four in the afternoon and quite light. They hear only the buzzing of hordes of flies. They enter the building and find that The Boy, having written farewell letters to his loved ones, has all but shot his head off with his revolver.
The narrator reads the letters, which are filled with self-recrimination, and he and the Major decide that they must cover up the suicide in order to spare The Boy’s family grief. They decide to say that he has died of cholera, attended by them until the end. They burn his letters, then burn the bed and bedding and dispose of the ashes. They gather up The Boy’s watch, locket, and rings to send to his family. The Major thinks that The Boy’s mother will want a lock of his hair, but because of the mode of his death, they cannot find one fit to send her. The Major’s hair is about the same color as The Boy’s, so the narrator cuts a lock from the Major’s head, which sets them both to laughing, supporting the argument that in India it does not pay to take anything too seriously.
The two buy hoes and dig a grave for The Boy. They wait a day before going back to their base with the news of the death. They send letters off to The Boy’s loved ones telling them of his death. In due course, they receive a letter from The Boy’s mother saying that she is grateful and will be under an obligation to them for as long as she lives. The story ends with the line, “All things considered, she was under an obligation; but not exactly as she meant.”