A Dilemma Story by Silas Weir Mitchell Summary Class 10


A Dilemma written by Silas Weir Mitchell is an interesting short story of mystery. Tom who is the protagonist narrates how he was in dilemma to open a box given by his dead uncle. His uncle used to collect precious stones that were very valuable to him. Uncle Philip on his death bed called Tom and declared Tom as his only heir. Leaving an iron box for Tom, his uncle instructed him to carefully read a letter that lay on top of it. He told Tom that the box contained a large number of pigeon-blood rubies, diamonds, and pearls.


  1. Tom: the protagonist of this story and a sole heir to Uncle Philip who narrates how he was in a dilemma to open a box given by his uncle
  2. Uncle Philip: Uncle Philip was a bachelor, cunning and malicious, living alone. He was much interested in collecting valuable gems and pearls. On his death bed, he called Tom and declared Tom as his only heir.
  3. Professor clinch
  4. Dr. Schaff: Uncle Philip’s doctor.
  5. Susan: Tom’s fiancé who breaks off the engagement thinking Tom had gone insane.

Uncle Philip hands over his precious rubies to Tom before dying

Tom was just thirty-seven when his Uncle Philip dies and surprisingly a week before his death had called for Tom even though Uncle Philip and Tom’s mother were not on good terms and his mother had told Tom beforehand to not expect anything from Uncle Philip because as he grew richer his desire to collect rare stones grew which he added to the collection in his safe at the trust company. When Uncle Philip had called for Tom, he was a clerk and poor. Even though he remembered his mother’s warning and didn’t expect anything from his uncle, he still thought of giving him a visit.

When Tom went to meet his uncle, he told him about his precious jewels and where he kept them, he even asked to read the letter that he wrote for him carefully and make sure to open the box safely as it may blast. The rubies were valuable and kept in his uncle’s safe at a trusted company.

In the letter, Uncle Philp mentioned the varieties of stones that the box contained. He could’ve donated the box to charity but he hated the poor as much as his mother’s son. The box contained a mechanism that will act with certainty as one unlocks and will explode nine and a half ounces of his uncle’s improved dynamite. Uncle Philip asked Tom to handle it with care also remember him and pay for his funeral after his death.

The box causes suffering for Tom

 Tom was confused and didn’t know whether to believe or not and spent all his savings on the funeral which made him even poorer. Tom knew his uncle’s capabilities and began to feel that his uncle spoke the truth. He tried to think of ways of opening the box without exploding yet even after a week couldn’t find any solution.

He then thought of exploding the box at a safe distance but it won’t do any profit for him so he rejected this plan too. He hid the key but the thought of it getting lost or someone might steal it always haunted him. Even the vibrations caused by the heavy vans in the street became a terror for him. Worst of all his salary was reduced and marriage was out of the question.

In distress, he consulted Professor Clinch about the problems he was facing but the professor did not believe him even when he offered the biggest ruby if he helped him. Dr. Schaff who was his uncle’s doctor believed at the old man’s letter and added a completely useless caution. The doctor warned tom that he was losing his mind with too much thought about the rubies.

He did nothing but planned to get them safely and spent all his spare time at one of the great libraries reading about dynamite. He even talked to library attendants about dynamite and they believed him to be a lunatic. He started to become more fearful with time thinking that the box might explode anytime.

The doctor advices Tom to avoid thinking about the box

The doctor begged Tom to stop thinking about the matter and he took his advice. He then found a list of the stones with their cost in his uncle’s bible which was dated two years before his death and the enormous values amazed him. Rubies like “Sunset Ruby” which belonged to empress Queen Maria Theresa, “Bloody Ruby” were some of the names mentioned on the list. As he went on reading it seemed again to threaten death.

Tom was confused about what to do next and thought of some absurd ways as solutions. Even his dead father advised him in his dreams to not think about it but he couldn’t avoid thinking about it.

Two years later

Two years had passed by and still couldn’t take the thought of rubies out of his mind, he was one of the richest men in the city but with no money. Even his fiancé Susan broke off her engagement because to her Tom seemed insane. Having no option left he advertised in the journal of science and received dozens of schemes by many.

The thing became so well-known he constantly feared burglars and even his landlady gave him a notice to leave because it was unsafe for other people who lived in the building as the box could explode anytime. Tom was advised to print his story and wait for the advice from the American mind.

Tom moved to the suburbs, hid the box, changed his name and occupation, he did all this to escape the curiosity of the reporters. When the government officials came to know about the inheritance, they desired to collect the succession tax on his uncle’s estate. Tom was happy to assist them and told them his story, showed uncle Philip’s letter, offered him the key, and asked for time to get half a mile away.

Tom left the rubies and Pearls for the Presentation of Human Vivisection at last and if any man thinks of it a joke, he can gladly do so. Given the box which contains precious jewels and dynamite arranged to explode when tried to unlock with the key, any sane man would do so.


The writer wants to highlight through this story that a man craves riches and keeps running after them. He bothers least to face any difficulties and pain to live a rich and luxurious life. So, one must understand that one will certainly attain the prize for which he undergoes hardships and does hard work.