Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653
“The Ugliest House in the World” is told from the perspective of a first-person narrator named Dr. Williams. The narrative is in the present tense, but much of the text consists of flashbacks and background material that provide context for the present-tense action.
The narrator, a young doctor in London working to pay back his student loans, describes his work environment in a geriatric ward and some of the slang vocabulary used by him and his colleagues. Although a native of London, he is of Welsh descent and, therefore, considered a Welshman by his English colleagues and teased for it at every opportunity. The teasing is done with generally good nature and accepted in kind.
The narrator does have one connection to Wales. His father, who has been laid off after thirty-five years with the same company in London, has returned to his childhood home, a small village in Wales, where he has spent his entire severance on a small cottage on a stream where he fished in his boyhood. The narrator, concerned about arson-prone Welsh nationalists who are resentful of outsiders and feeling that his father has wasted his severance, is unhappy about the move. However, he does make regular visits to check up on his father. He brings groceries when he visits and offers repeatedly to whitewash the house, having gone so far as to buy paint, but his father always refuses his offer. Although the previous owners had renovated the interior of the cottage, the grounds and fences around are in disrepair.
The father’s neighbors are Arwyn Watkins; Kate, his daughter who returned home from England alone and pregnant at the age of sixteen; and Gareth, her six-year-old child. Gareth has become close to the narrator’s father, and they often play football in his front yard. The old man has promised to take Gareth fishing in the stream behind the house. The narrator and Kate are surreptitious lovers, meeting in a falling-down stone hovel located in the field between the two properties.
The present-tense action of the story begins with the narrator informing his colleagues that he is going to Wales for the weekend to attend a funeral. A couple of days earlier, Gareth had arrived at the father’s cottage at the appointed time for the promised fishing expedition and, finding the cottage empty, amused himself by swinging on the front gate of the stone fence. His weight caused the gatepost, a solid piece of slate, to fall over, crushing the child beneath it and killing him.
At the funeral, two local men confront the narrator and his father, claiming that if the property had been maintained Gareth would not have been killed. They tell the narrator that he and his father are not welcome at the burial and to take his father back to England. The narrator and his father return to the cottage, and the son tells the father that he is taking him back to England the next morning. The old man goes down to the stream behind the cottage and tries to catch a fish with his hands.
After the burial, Kate comes down to the stream and apologizes for the scene at the funeral. She tells the narrator that the accident was not anybody’s fault—it was everybody’s fault. She, the narrator, and his father build a dam in the stream to try to catch a fish barehanded, the way the old man did as a boy. The old man falls to his knees in the water, sobbing, and Kate comforts him.
The next morning, when the narrator and his father go out to the car to leave for England, Welsh nationalist slogans have been written across the front of the house with red paint. The narrator gets some white paint from the shed and quickly paints over the walls of the cottage while his father waits in the car.