A Face in the Dark (Ruskin Bond)




The setting of the story is on a dark and windy night. The protagonist of the story, Mr. Oliver is found walking through the forest to return to his school. Mr. Oliver, who was an Anglo-Indian, was teaching for several years in a  school on the outskirts of Simla. Most of the students belonged to wealthy Indian families. Once the school was even termed in the Life magazine as ‘Eton of the East’. The Bazaar of Simla was almost three miles away from the school. Mr. Oliver, who was a bachelor used to pass his leisure hours in the town in the evening and return after it was dark. He used to take a short cut which was through a pine  forest.

On windy evenings, a peculiar melancholic sound came from the pine forest that prevented the people from entering into it. Since Mr. Oliver was not at all a nervous sort of a man, and he always carried abig torch with him, he entered into the forest.

As Mr.

Oliver was walking down the narrow path, his eyes suddenly caught a form of a boy sitting on a rock, all alone. Oliver was much surprised to see the boy at that time of night since boys were not allowed tone out after it was dark. As he approached near the boy, he enquired what he was doing. He was surprised to see the boy sobbing with his head buried in his hands. The eerie, soundless sobbing of the boy made Oliver feel uneasy. Mr. Oliver questioned the boy but received no reply. He kept on urging the boy to look up and speak. When the boy ultimately looked up Mr. Oliver was stunned. Mr. Oliver’s torch light fell on the boy’s face, if it could be called a face at all. It was nothing but a featureless round without any eyes, ears, nose or mouth.

But Mr.

Oliver was not a nervous sort of a man. He did not faint; only his hands trembled and the torch fell. He ran blindly through the path among the pine trees calling for help. He kept on running unless he stumbled upon the watchman who was holding  a lantern in his hand. The watchman was surprised to find Mr. Oliver running in that manner. On hearing everything from Mr. Oliver, the watchman lifted up his lantern to show if the face he had seen was like his own face. The face of the watchman was also featureless. A round shape with no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. At that very moment the wind blew and the lantern blew out.



The title of Ruskin Bond’s short story A Face In The Dark is very suggestive in itself. This strange mystery wrapped short story tells about Mr. Oliver, an Anglo-Indian bachelor, teaching in a school at Simla. The day on which the story was set, Mr. Oliver was returning ba k to his school from the Bazaar of Simla which was three miles away. It was already night and on his way through the pine forest he saw a boy sitting all alone on a rock and crying with his face buried in his hands.

Oliver repeatedly questioned the boy and at last when he looked up, to his utter horror he found that what he thought to be a face can not be called at all a face in its true sense. The torch light fell on a smooth and round form without any feature – no eyes, no nose, no ear and no mouth.


Filled with horror Mr. Oliver ran through the narrow path  among the pine forest calling for help unless he stumbled upon the watchman who was holding a lantern in his hand. The watchman on hearing about the faceless boy lifted the lantern up to his face and asked Mr. Oliver if the face of the boy was like his. And the watchman like the boy had a face without eyes, ear, nose or mouth.


Hence, we see in both the instances – the boy, as well as the watchman seemed to have a face while seen in the darkness of the night. But the moment light fell on their faces it was revealed that both were without a face. According to Ruskin Bond there are various things we see in the dark that may seem irrational and mysterious to us but in the clear light of day those very mystery and magic have some explanationfor their occurrence.


Hence, we can say the title of the story, A Face In The Dark can be said to be very apt, as it makes the readers wonder about the mysteries of human existence and also hints upon the possibility of the existence of another world outside our material world.



Supernatural elements : It was once remarked by Ruskin Bond that though he has no belief in the existence of ghosts, it sees them all the time in a bar, in the woods, in a crowd outside a cinema hall.It is quite obvious that supernaturalism will hold a very important position in his stories. He is quite adept in using scary techniques in his short stories related to supernatural themes, sowing the seeds of fear and suspense in the minds of his readers.


According to Bond, such types of eerie tales increase the chances of the existence of life outside our material lives. This can also be said to be the aroma of a person who still lives behind after the body has perished.


It will not be very incorrect if we say through these supernatural stories Bond attempts to find an outlet for one’s loneliness. It is because of this loneliness and fear that compels man to imagine the presence of phantoms and other supernatural elements.


The short story A Face In The Dark too is full of supernaturalism. Mr. Oliver, the protagonist of the story is described in the beginning as a very rational man who did not give way to nervousness and imagination. It was most probably because of this that he used to walk through the pine forest every night while returning to school from the Bazaar of Simla. And this he had been doing for several years.


Now that particular night was dark and stormy. Mr. Oliver was bachelor and lonely man. . Oliver imagined to be a boy without any facial feature. Again in case of the watchman also, imagination played a pivotal role to unnerve Mr. Oliver. Mr. Oliver, who was already scared and nervous seeing the faceless boy, had lost his power of rationalism.

Hence, when he saw the lantern’s light falling on the face of the watchman, hallucination reached  it’s peak and showed him something eerie – a face without any facial feature again like the boy.


The ending of the story is ambiguous. It makes the readers ponder whether the boy and the watchman whom Oliver encountered were ghosts or it was a prank played upon him by a mischievous student or it was a mere hallucination caused by his loneliness.







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