On The Face Of It Summary and Analysis

On The Face Of It Short Summary

The play On The Face of It was written by the author Susan Hills. The writer was born in the year 1942 and she was raised in North Yorkshire, England. She developed an early taste in theatre and literature and published many short stories over her long career in writing and publishing. This short impactful play features an old man and a young boy by the name of Derek or Derry. Their friendship is instantaneous and they both indulge in a light banter which develops into a meaningful conversation.

Derry is one of the main protagonists of the play and the plot revolves around the trials and challenges he must face in order to overcome his fear of society and the presence of men. This highly sensitive boy has become a recluse due to his partially scarred face which cannot be fixed by any medical treatment. The acid has melted his skin and disfigured his face giving him a terrible and “ugly” appearance. He often wanders alone and seldom leaves the refuge of his house. Derry believes that it is better to hide away rather than being mocked and laughed at by other strangers. He is afraid of the thoughts and behaviour of the people towards his appearance and his insecurities cast a looming shadow over the prospect of his future. One afternoon he sneaks over a wall and enters Mr Lamb’s garden. To prevent him from stumbling across the fallen crab apples strewn over the long grass, Mr Lamb speaks to him and asks him to be careful over his step. Thus, a tale of odd friendship blooms and the old man and the young boy share their life stories with each other. The young innocent boy of fourteen learns many lessons on life from the experienced old man who amuses him and entertains him with his witty answers and tales. Their friendship marks the beginning of something positive and powerful in Derry’s attitude as he finds a new enthusiasm to live life by the end of the conversation. He returns home to tell his mother about his encounter with the old man since the parents worry about his whereabouts. After having a brief argument with his mother he again rushes out to meet his new friend with exhilaration, however, after reaching the garden he sees Mr Lamb unconscious on the ground. Apparently the old man slipped and fell from his ladder while picking crab apples from the tree. The demise of the old man crushes the spirit of the young boy and he cries out for him with tears welling up in his eyes. This is where the play ends and the fate of the boy is left to be mused upon.

On The Face Of It Analysis

The play for the most part includes a simple exchange of words between two individuals with a vast difference in age and experience. While Mr Lamb is unaffected by the strange behaviours of people, Derry the young boy is unreasonably fearful of human companionship. They talk and learn a lot about each other which helps the boy gain confidence to live. He gets answers to the deeper questions in life. Mr Lamb tries to persuade him into spending more time outdoors and with people in an effort to make friendships. He says that isolation and loneliness born out of hatred are as dangerous as the acid which ate away at Derry’s skin. Mr Lamb had also gone through a difficult time in life when he lost his leg in a bomb explosion. He tells Derry about the therapeutic healing of nature and how spending time observing the growth of life can bring out a positive change in a person’s life. One becomes more hopeful and happy seeing other kinds of life thriving. He urges Derry to shift his focus and attention on his disability and onto better thoughts such as all the things he wants to see in the world. The old man reminds the boy of his own capabilities which include the ability to walk, talk, hear and see the wonders of the world.

At the end of the play, the true fate of Mr Lamb is unconfirmed. He could have survived the fall or met with his death picking out crab apples by himself. Either way, it is irrelevant to the actual plot of the narration which revolves around the thoughts and emotions of Derry the young boy. Even though the old man taunts him with an attitude of indifference, the boy takes up the challenge of living life to the fullest and promises him that he would return. The last line, “I came back, Lamey Lamb…” creates a powerful impact upon readers and audience alike. It tells us of how the old man’s final endeavours have resonated with Derry.

On The Face Of It Explanation: Literary Devices

The author uses imageries and symbols borrowed from nature since the very setting of the play is in a garden. Majority of the scenes are enacted in this setup and the character of the old man explains complex concepts to the young boy by drawing his attention to various objects in his garden. The symbol of the weed is crucial to the plot as it points out the irrational perception through which people differentiate between a blooming flower and a growing weed. According to the old man, both the natural occurrences are equally beautiful and captivating to watch. This is how he draws parallels between all human beings and makes Derry understand that all people are intrinsically same and there’s nothing to fear from the other. The line, “It’s all life…growing. Same as you and me” confirms this analogy made by Mr Lamb.

The play is divided into three scenes with the first scene including the major half of the play. It is written in simple diction and lucid language which helps the emotions to resurface in an uninhibited style. Susan Hill aptly conjures a theme of insecurity arising out of pain and perceived ugliness through the voice of the main character.

On The Face Of It Character Sketch

The old man lives all by himself in the house attached to the garden without any curtains because he has nothing to hide from the world. He is an open and simple man who welcomes everyone who comes by his gate. He keeps the garden gate open all the time so that visitors can come in without any hindrances. Derry on the other hand is an anti-social boy who hates being in the company of other people. One side of his face is completely disfigured by spilt acid and he can never recover from it. This infliction makes him uncomfortable in front of others and it reminds him of the ugliness of his features. He hates to see the expression of disgust and fear in other people’s eyes as it hurts him. He shrinks away from the presence of others and only associates himself with his family. Even with his family he does not feel completely at ease because they talk about him and his future whenever he is not around and try to show sympathy towards his predicament.

The family of Derry have been given little importance and characterization in the play but they add to the larger picture of “society” as depicted by the writer. It is quite clear through Derry’s rendition of his family that they are unable to help him in the right way. The overtly cautious and concerned parents are worried about his future without any consideration of his present. They are unaware of Derry’s mental strain and try to admonish him for his anti-social behaviour by giving examples of people suffering worse fates than him. This makes him cringe away in hurt as the young boy does not understand the relevance of his situation with the pain of others.


The play On The Face of It contemplates upon the difficulties faced by disabled persons and forces us to think and reflect upon our own behaviour towards such people. It makes us realize that the gift of life is for all to enjoy and that we should support and encourage the survivors of accidents and injuries to look past their disability and embrace the vibrant possibilities of life. The author Susan Hill successfully creates a play which helps us acknowledge the benefits of open communication and better human connection in all aspects of life.