- Related books:
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- The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl
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To be honest, I’ve never really known what to make of this story. It’s very short, only a few pages, yet it’s incredibly vivid and suspenseful. Are the snakes only in the boy’s imagination? What is “the wish” that the title refers to? Has he really disappeared into the snake pit? Is it all just a metaphor? I don’t know.
Spoiler warning! The story opens with a small boy picking a scab off his knee. As he sits on the stairs, he becomes aware of the large red, black, and yellow carpet that stretches to the front door. He decides that the red patches are red hot lumps of coal that will burn him up completely, and the black parts are poisonous snakes that will bite him and kill him. If he can make it all the way across without getting burnt or bitten, he will get a puppy for his birthday tomorrow.
The boy begins his quest. The first part is easy going, but he reaches some difficult parts and has to take long strides. He wobbles but stretches out his arms to steady himself. He reaches a turning point and goes left, because although it seems more difficult, there’s less black. (He’s very afraid of the snakes.) He reaches the halfway point and knows he can’t turn back or jump off. He begins to feel panic rising in his chest. He takes another step to the only close yellow piece, and his foot is only a centimeter from a black patch. A snake stirs and raises its head to watch him. “I’m not touching you! You mustn’t bite me!” he thinks. Another snake rises as well, and the child is frozen with terror for several minutes. The next step is a very long one, too long to jump. The child manages to get one foot across and transfers his weight. He tries to then bring up his back foot but can’t. He was doing the splits and he was stuck. He looked down at the oily bodies of the snakes writhing beneath him. He began to wobble, but this time waving his arms only made it worse. He was starting to go over. “The next thing he saw was this bare hand of his going right into the middle of a great glistening mass of black and he gave one piercing cry as it touched. Out in the sunshine, far away behind the house, the mother was looking for her son.”
- “The Art of Vengeance” by Joyce Carol Oates (The New York Review of Books)
- “The Wish” – Classroom Activities
- Includes a number of questions and exercises pertaining to the story