The Umbrella Man

by Roald Dahl

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How are the characters in "The Umbrella Man" developed?

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The reader gets to know the characters in "The Umbrella Man" through the narrator's use of humor. The narrator is the daughter of the woman who gives money to the old man on the street. The daughter provides witty and precocious commentary about how the man successfully steals enough to pay for his whiskey.

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To a great extent, the characters of "The Umbrella Man" are introduced with a touch of humor, setting the tone for the short story.

The daughter, who is the narrator of the short story, proves to be precocious and witty. When she and her mother exit the café and realize it's raining, the daughter suggests that they just go back in and have another banana split. She provides humorous commentary of her mother's personality, noting that she is afraid of only two things: strange men and boiled eggs. Her mother picks apart the latter as if she expects "to find a mouse or something" inside. Although her mother's "frosty-nosed stare" has a profound effect on other people, sometimes causing them to "simper like an idiot," the daughter has a tenacious personality herself, though mixed with a dose of humor.

The mother's personality is revealed through her interactions with others. Though she indulges her daughter with a treat following a dental appointment, she is a focused woman intent on getting home afterward. Trying to formulate a plan to escape the natural elements, she is a bit caught off-guard by the old man who approaches them. She is suspicious of him from the beginning, which her daughter describes as typical behavior. She is "sharp" in her responses to the old man, demonstrating a sense of superiority over him. She openly confronts him about the possibility that he is taking advantage of her, questioning whether he is asking her to simply hand him money. The quick back-and-forth dialogue reveals that she is wary of his intentions and is also a bold force to be reckoned with.

The old man's personality is revealed by his overly gracious responses to the woman's questions. He accentuates his age, intentionally trying to seem older and less physically able than he really is. By doing so, he gains the mother's trust and acquires the money he needs. It is the daughter who notices that he is "scuttling along like a rabbit" and not paying for a cab as he'd conveyed. The old man's actions after he receives the mother's money demonstrate that he is conniving and resourceful, creatively designing ways to fund his "treble" of whiskey.

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