Monday, November 3, 2008

The Boy with Five Fingers

This is the short story we read in class on November 3/4.
What would be a theme found in this story?

The Boy with Five Fingers by James Gunn

I love Miss Harrison. The other boys laugh at me and say that Miss Davis is prettier or Miss Spencer is nicer. But I don’t care. I love Miss Harrison.
Miss Harrison’s my teacher. When I grow up we’re going to get married. When I tell her that she gets that kind of crinkling around her eye like she does when she’s pleased about something, and she says that’s fine like she meant it, and I guess she does.
The first time I thought about it was the day Miss Harrison told us about the scientists and the Old Race and the Basic Right. Miss Harrison said we should try to keep track of what the scientists are doing because they are the wisest and maybe if we know more about them we will be wise, too, and might even be scientists ourselves some day. But I think what she really wanted to talk about was the Basic Right. Somehow, everyday, she talks about the Basic Right, and it must be important because she talks about it so much.
So Miss Harrison said that many, many years ago, before any of us were born, the scientists had uncovered ruins and nobody knew what they were and everybody wondered and thought about them because they were really big.
Somebody said that we had built them long ago and left them and forgotten about them but nobody believed that because we live in little houses far apart and we never had built anything as big as the ruins and never had wanted to build anything like that.
Then somebody else said that the ruins had been built by a race that lived on Earth before we did and had died or something because maybe conditions got different or maybe they went to live on another planet. And everybody said that it might be good to know more about the Old Race, but nobody knew what they looked like, or did, or anything except that they built these huge places and then went away.
Nobody knew any more than that for years and years, Miss Harrison said, until just a year or so ago when the scientists dug up a place that wasn’t all in ruins and found statues and pictures and books and everything. So everybody was all excited and worked on them awfully hard until they could tell what the Old Race was like and just about what was in the books.
Miss Harrison kind of stopped here and looked at us like she does when she’s going to tell us something important and we should all get real quiet and listen carefully so we wouldn’t miss anything.
Then she said that they had just released the news and the Old Race wasn’t really different after all but sort of like ancestors of ours only far away. She said that in lots of ways they were like us only strange and did strange things, and she said we should be sorry for them and glad, too, because maybe if they hadn’t been strange we wouldn’t be here. Then she told us how strange they were, and I was glad I didn’t live then and that I was living now and I was in Miss Harrison’s class and listening to her tell us about the Old Race.
Most all of them lived together in these big places, she said, like ants in an ant heap. Everybody gasped at that because we all liked lots of room. But the strangest thing of all, Miss Harrison said, was something else. She stopped again and we all got real quiet. They were all, she said slowly, exactly alike.
Nobody said anything for a moment and then Willie began to laugh the way he does, sort of half-hissing, and pretty soon we were all laughing and Miss Harrison, too. They all had two eyes, she said, and one nose, and one mouth, and two ears, and two arms, and two legs. After every one of those things Willie began hissing again and we all had to laugh. And, Miss Harrison said, they were all stuck in exactly the same place. Their arms and legs all had bones in them that had joints, in the middle and at each end.
Though they were all exactly alike, Miss Harrison said, they thought they could see differences and because of this they did all sorts of strange things until they did the strangest thing of all and ruined all their big places and their children weren’t all alike any more. So it went on like that until nobody was alike and here we are. So they were kind of ancestors, like Miss Harrison said.
Miss Harrison moved upward slowly, the way she does when she wants to make sure everybody will pay attention. We all held our breath. In this room, she said, right now, we have a member of the Old Race.
Everybody let out his breath all at once. We all looked at her but she laughed and said no, she wasn’t it. Johnny, she said, stand up, and I stood up. There, said Miss Harrison, is what the Old Race looked like. Everybody stared at me and I felt kind of cold and lonely all at once. Of course, she said, I don’t mean that Johnny is really one of the Old Race, but he looks just like they used to and he even has five fingers on each hand.
All at once I felt ashamed. I put my hands behind me where nobody could see.
Willie started hissing again, but he wasn’t laughing now and his thin forked tongue was flickering at me. Everybody moved as far away from me as they could get and started making nasty sounds. If I had been younger I might have started to cry, but I just stood there and wished I had a mouth and tongue like Willie’s, or a cart like Louise’s instead of legs, or arms like Joan’s or fingers like Mike’s.
But Miss Harrison stood up straight and frowned, like she does when she’s real mad about something, and she said she was very surprised and it would seem like everything she’d said had been wasted. Pretty soon everybody quieted down and listened so she wouldn’t be mad and she said it looked like what she’d said about the Basic Right hadn’t done one bit of good.
Everybody has a right to be different, that was the Basic Right, she said, the foundation of everything and we wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for that. And the law says that no one shall discriminate against anyone else because they are different, and that applied to being the same, too. And Miss Harrison said a lot more things I don’t remember because I was sort of excited and warm inside. And finally she said she hoped we’d learned a lesson because the Old Race hadn’t, and look where they were.
It was right after that I decided I loved Miss Harrison. The other boys say she should have a neck, like Miss Davis, but I don’t see why. They say she should have two eyes like me or three like Miss Spencer, but I like her just the way she is and everything she does, like the way she wraps her arm around the chalk when she draws on the board. But I’ve already said it. I love Miss Harrison.
When I grow up we’re going to get married. I’ve thought of lots of reasons why we should but there’s one that’s better than any of them.
Miss Harrison and me – I guess we’re more different than anybody.