On The Face Of It Summary by Susan Hill


The story speaks about two individuals, who meet unfortunate odds but develop different attitudes while facing those odds. The two persons are Derry, a young acid-attack victim, and Mr. Lamb a much older man who lost his limb in a blast.

Through the contrast in the outlook of both these survivors, the author tries to create a tale of overcoming odds and seemingly insurmountable difficulties and retaining hope in the ability to find happiness.

Derry – 14 Years Old Boy

The story begins Derry, a 14-year-old boy, strolling into a garden hoping to not find anyone there. Having suffered an acid injury that burnt almost half of his face, he had become reclusive and pessimistic. Therefore, he tended to be isolated and aloof and avoid interaction with people.

However, he was not alone in the garden. Suddenly, a man with a tin leg appeared in front of him and engaged in a conversation with him. Mr. Lamb was completely opposite of Derry. He had learned to be content with his deformity and find meaning in his life.

Derry, on the other hand, was young, angry and confused. He thought nobody could ever love him because they feared him. He was so self-conscious that he hated his own face and thought only his mother loved him. She only loved him only because she was her son, thought young Derry.

Mr. Lambs Narrates His Experience

Mr. Lamb said that he also used to think like that but time heals every wound. He gives an analogy of bees that irritate people with their buzzing but if one observes and hears them patiently, one will find music in their sounds.

Derry confessed that he was disturbed by other people’s comments and stares and therefore felt comfortable in seclusion. Mr. Lamb reassures him there are many who are a lot worse than him and he can still do whatever he wants. He still had his limbs, eyes, ears, etc. to fulfill all his dreams.

Mr. Lamb tells him that after his leg got blown off in a blast he conquered his own fear. He learned to walk and even climb trees. He welcomes Derry to join him in plucking apples of his trees when or if he comes back.

Mr. Lamb Encourages Derry

Mr. Lamb tries to encourage Derry to embrace all of his abilities that God had given him and not just focus on his one flaw. He tells him that he lives in a house without curtains and keeps his doors opens for others. He wants to be friendly everyone and advises Derry that hate and anger is worse than any kind of corrosive acid.

Derry narrates another incident when he heard his parents talking about his deformity and that they thought he would die with his deformity. This was really tough for Derry to take. Even his relatives thought he would be at peace in a hospital with other persons with deformities.

Mr. Lamb assures Derry that people get tired of talking and staring eventually. He needed to not concentrate on what they rather and focus on his own aspirations and abilities.

More Advice

Mr. Lamb also tells him that the World and the people living in it will gradually move onto some other new thing or person to critique or notice. He should not waste away his life by pondering on other people’s opinions of him.

He tells Derry a story of a man who stayed inside his house because he feared death by an accident. However, in the end, he died inside his room when a painting fell over his head. Thus, even Derry should come out of his ‘room of fear’ and embrace the outside world and its people.

He calls Derry his friend even thought that Derry does not reciprocate the same feelings. Derry says that he would never return to the garden so he could not call Mr. Lamb a friend.

Mr. Lamb asserted that the same fact did not make them enemies also. He reiterated that they were friends and that Derry is always welcome to his garden.

Derry Opens Up

Derry tells Mr. Lamb that if he comes to his garden, all his other friends will get scared of his face and Mr. Lamb will lose his friends. Mr. Lamb consoles him by saying that kids often call him by funny names like ‘Lamey Lamb’ but still come back to his garden.

Derry finally expresses some optimism and hopes to have a house without curtains of his own. He too wants to live in the light of faith and self-belief and come out of the shadows of self-doubt and fear.


Derry then returns home to his mother and narrates his encounter with Mr. Lamb. She warns him to stay away from Mr. Lamb who she thought was a dangerous person.

However, Derry defies her injunctions and returns to Mr. Lam’s garden. He was finally free of all his inhibitions, all thanks to the encouragement and comforting words of Mr. Lamb.

However, he returns to see Mr. Lamb lying flat on the ground. The ladder had slipped from the tree and Mr. Lamb had suffered a terrible fall. He laid there unmoved, injured (or even worse). The story ends with Derry breaking into melancholic tears.