'A Shady Plot' is a story within a story. The narrator is an author of short stories about ghosts. In this story he reveals how he gets the plot for his latest ghost story.
The narrator had been told by the editor of the magazine that frequently published his stories to write a ghost story as his ghost stories were well-liked by the readers. As he sat thinking of an idea for a plot, the narrator was confronted by the ghost. She slowly materialised in a dark corner of the room like a moving picture cartoons being put togelher. First an arm came out, then a bit of sleeve of a stiff white shirtwaist, then a leg and a plaid skirt, until at last there she was complete. The ghost was angry at being called to help. In fact. she informed the narrator that it was she who had been supplying him with plots for his ghost stories. She claimed she'd been a writer in her other life. Now she, and some other ghosts who had been writers earlier, had organized 'The Writer's Inspiration Bureau'. They put ideas into the mind of a writer without ideas and with a mind soft enough to accept impressions. Though initially they had done this willingly, but lately they had been called out too often and so they wanted to put the practice to an end. The ghost wanted the narrator to get all his friends and acquaintances to stop using the Ouija board.
Just then the narrator's wife, Lavinia, came in. Much to his dismay, she informed the narrator that she had bought an Ouija board. Nothing the narrator said dissuaded her from using it.
The next evening, when the narrator returned, their maid Gladolia met him in the hall. She informed him that his wife had organized an Ouija board party that evening. By the time he changed into his second best suit and a fresh shirt and collar, the guests had arrived. They were mostly elderly belonging to Lavinia's Book Club. They were sitting in couples, and between each couple was an Ouija board! He looked around for the ghost but couldn't see her. His wife told him to partner Laura Hinkle.
When the Ouija board began to move, the narrator at first thought that Laura Hinkle was cheating with that board. But then the board spelt out loud the word 'T-r-a-i-t-o-r'. It also told Laura Hinkle to ask the narrator what it meant. The spirit identified herself as Helen. Other couples with Ouija boards also claimed they had received communications from Helen for the narrator. The narrator's wife looked at him suspiciously. The writer left the room. Angry and suspicious, Lavinia slept in the guest room that night. The next morning she threatened she would be going back to her grandmother and that her lawyer would communicate with the narrator.
John sat in the study, upset with the turn of events. The ghost of Helen arrived again. She said she had been sent to ask when his wife was going to get rid of that Ouija board. At that moment Gladlia called to say she was quitting her job. Lavinia came in then wearing the brown hat and coat she usually travelled in carrying a suitcase which she set down on the floor.
Q.1 Based on your reading of the story, answer the following questions by ticking the correct options.
(a) The narrator earns his living by.............................
(i) writing ghost stories (ii) working as a reader for a magazine
(iii) working as a stenographer (iv) working as an accountant in a lumber company
(b) The writer was overconfident about his ability to write ghost stories because........
(i) whenever magazines wanted a ghost story, they got in touch with him
(ii) he was always able to write a ghost story whenever he had to write one.
(iii) the readers appreciated his ghost stories
(iv) he knew the ghost lady would help him write a good ghost story
(c) The sight of the ghost materialising in his room filled the narrator with.........
(d) The ghost wanted john to....................................
(i) stop his wife from using the Ouija board
(ii) stop using the Ouija board himself
(iii) stop his guests from using the Ouija board
(iv) stop people from using the Ouija board
(e) John wants the ghost to disappear before his wife enters the room and waves his arms at the ghost with something of the motion of a beginner when learning to swim. His movement shows his..........................
(f) When the narrator says his wife so pretty as when she's doing something she know he disapproves of, his tone is..................................
(g) The ghost says "It's all your fault. 'It' here refers to.................
(i) the narrator's wife's anger
(ii) the ghost's anger
(iii) the narrator's wife leaving him
(iv) the ghost materialising in sections
(h) Gladolia wishes to leave the narrator's house as......................
(i) she does not like the Ouija boards (ii) she is afraid of the ghost
(iii) she is afraid of magic and hoodoo (iv) she likes Ouija boards and hoodoo
Ans. (a) iv, (b) i, (c) iv, (d) iv, (e) iii, (f) ii, (g) iii, (h) iii
Q.2 Answer the following questions briefly.
(a) What genre of stories does Jenkins want the narrator to write? Why?
Ans. Jenkins wants the narrator to write horror stories because the ghosts he created in the story appeared to be live.
(b) Does the narrator like writing ghost stories? Support your answer with evidence from the story.
Ans. Narrator does not like writing ghost stories. He could not refuse to write them because firstly that was the only magazine printing his writing and he needed the money from them to fulfill his needs.
The following excerpts from the story support the answer :
• I was in no position to contradict Jenkins, for, as yet, his magazine had been the only one to print my stuff.
• Jenkins always seemed to have an uncanny knowledge as to when the landlord or the grocer was petering me
(c) What makes Helen, the ghost, and her other co-ghosts organize The Writer's Inspiration Bureau?
Ans. Helen and other ghosts lived their lives with an unfulfilled desire to write. When they were alive they did not get the opportunity so when they became ghosts; they organized the 'Writer's Inspiration Bureau'.
(d) Why had Helen, the ghost been helping the narrator write ghost stories? Why was she going on strike? What condition did she place for providing continued help?
Ans. Helen always had a desire to write when she was alive but after her death had organized the 'Writer's Inspiration Bureau'. She was able to satisfy her desire to write by inspiring the narrator to write. This was the reason she had been helping narrator to write ghost stories. She was going on strike because people began using Ouija boards very often and called on ghosts to answer their questions. The ghosts could not get any free time and they did not want to be controlled by Ouija boards. She placed the condition that if the narrator would stop his friends and acquaintances from using the Ouija board then she would continue to help him in his writing.
(e) How does the ghost undermine the narrator's faith in his ability to write ghost stories?
Ans. The ghost undermined the narrator's faith in his ability to write ghost stories by telling him that the plots written by him were given to him by the ghosts and had not been his genuine creation.
(f) Why does John want the ghost to disappear before his wife appears on the scene? What impression of his wife's character do you form from his words?
Ans. John wants the ghost to disappear before his wife appears on the scene because he thought his wife would be suspicious and also may faint out of fear and shock at seeing a ghost in her house. His words give the impression that his wife had a suspicious nature and she was a timid woman.
(g) Why does the narrator hesitate to be a partner to Laura Hinkle during the Ouija Board Party?
Ans. Narrator hesitates to be a partner to Laura Hinkle during the Ouija Board Party because firstly, he had been assigned by the ghost to discourage the use of Ouija Board as a condition to help him. Secondly, Laura Hinkle was a flirtatious woman and narrator did not wish to give his wife any reason to object or doubt.
(h) What message does the ghost convey to the group that had assembled in the narrator's house? What is their reaction to the message?
Ans. The ghost conveys the message to the group that had assembled in the narrator's house that narrator was a traitor and had cheated on Helen. Everyone was given the impression that the narrator was cheating on his wife because he had an affair with Helen.
(i) Do you agree with the narrator calling the assembly of women "manipulators?" Give reasons.
Ans. I agree with the narrator calling the assembly of women "manipulators" because they were all there to use the Ouija Board for their selfish reasons. They were ready to control it and force the spirits to answer questions to satisfy themselves.
(j) Why is John's wife angry? What does she decide to do?
Ans. John's wife was angry as she felt humiliated in front of all her friends. All Ouija boards had blamed John to have cheated on Helen. Her mistrust and suspicion made her angry. She decided to give him a divorce and return to her grandmother's house.
(k) Why does John wish he were dead?
Ans. John wishes he was dead as he could not bear his wife leaving him on suspicion of having flirted with someone and been unfaithful to his wife. He loved his wife very dearly. He felt his life was finished and was very upset.
(l) When confronted by Lavinia about his flirtations over the Ouija Board, John insists that 'the affair was quite above-board, I assure you, my love'. Bring out the pun in John's statement.
Ans. John insists that 'the affair was quite above board, I assure you, my love'. If we look for the pun in John's statement it could also mean that the affair was not just limited to the Ouija board or it had nothing to do with Ouija board though the affair was a reality.
(m) John's apprehensions about his wife's reaction to her encounter with the ghost are unfounded. Justify.
Ans. John had two fears. He thought his wife would firmly begin to believe in his affair with Helen; secondly he feared that she would faint at the sight of a ghost in her house. When she actually confronted the ghost in the story nothing of such nature happened. In fact, on the contrary she regained her trust in him. So, we can say that John's apprehensions about his wife's reaction to her encounter with the ghost are unfounded.
Short Answer Type Questions
Q.1 Why was the narrator late as he came home that Saturday? Why did Gladolia warn John?
Ans. Friday had been a half holiday, and of course when John went to office on Saturday the work was piled up pretty high. Gladolia told him that as he was late, Lavinia was likely to be angry as she had invited people over for a party. She had called John's office and conveyed a message for him to return early. Gladolia advised John not to argue with his wife.
Q.2 What party had Lavinia organized? What feelings did this evoke in John?
Ans. Lavlnia had called her friends for an Ouiga board party. John was anxious and looked around with trepidation as he expected the ghost of Helen to materialise. He was worried how his wife would react.
Q.3 Whom did John have to partner? Why?
Ans. Lavinla told John to partner Laura Hlnkle as her partner Mrs William Augustus Wainright had called up at the last moment to say that she couldn't possibly come. As a result Laura Hinkle had no partner.
Q.4 Why does the narrator compare Laura Hinkle to a "flirtatious crocodile"?
Ans. The narrator's wife had told him to partner Laura Hinkle as her partner, Mrs William Augustus Walnright had not come. When the narrator approached, Laura looked at him with a teasing smile that lmplied danger for him.
Q.5 Why did John wish Laura Hinkle was cheating on the Ouija board? Did his fears come out true?
Ans. When the narrator noticed some force tugging the board about, he hoped it was Laura Hinkle who was cheating with that board. He did not want the ghost, Helen, to send a message. His fears came true as Helen was the one who was sending the message.
Q.6 What message did the ghost convey to the assembled group? What was their reaction to the message?
Ans. The ghost called John a traitor and asked the Ouija board users to ask him why she was calling him that. The people using the Ouija boards all reported they had received a similar message and began talking about it.
Q.7 The narrator calls the assembled group 'manipulators'. Are they manipulators or are they being manipulated? If so, by whom and why? Why does the narrator call them manipulators?
Ans. The narrator calls the people at the Ouija boards manipulators as they were moving the boards around to get messages from the other world. But the Ouija boards were being manipulated by the ghost, Helen. She was the one who was sending a message to the narrator as despite her
telling him to stop his friends from using Ouija boards, he was using one too.
Q.8 Why is John's wife angry? What does she decide to do? How does he take her communication?
Ans. The narrator's wife was angry because she felt her husband had been trying to flirt with Laura Hinkle who had partnered him at the Ouija board. She decides to go to her grandmother's house and would communicate with him through a lawyer. The narrator is upset and is angry with the ghost, Helen.
Q.9 Why does the ghost return the day after the incident of the Ouija board?
Ans. The ghost arrives as the other ghosts have sent her there to find out when the narrator's wife was going to get rid of that Ouija board.
Q.10 Why had John not wanted his wife to encounter the ghost? Was his reasoning correct? Why/why not?
Ans. John felt that his wife was so sensitive that she couldn't bear to have a mouse say boo at her. Seeing a ghost in her own living-room would drive her to hysterics. His fears were unfounded as she smiled at the ghost, relieved she wasn't Helen of Troy.
Q.11 What do you think would be the plot for the narrator, next story?
Ans. John would write his next story about his encounter with the ghost of Helen.