Monday, September 23, 2013

Short story "Test" by Theodore Thomas

Test
 - Theodore Thomas





Background:

This fantasy tells the story of Robert Proctor who, while taking a driver’s test under an advanced form of hypnosis, experiences a terrible accident. Although he behaves responsibly, he is denied his license and is taken away by the authorities.

ü  The story has a double plot structure – in two different times, two different state of mind, namely the accident that Robert experiences under the state of hypnosis, and one in the driver’s testing centre.

ü  Techniques employed by the author to create different moods in the story – uses short sentences to create tension, urgency and fast action, while long sentences are put in to slow the pace and create a more thoughtful atmosphere.

Genre:                    Contemporary Fantasy Fiction.
Theme:                    Ethics of the power of the state to control its citizens.
Point of view:          Third person narrator.
Setting:                   Turn-pike and the testing centre room where Robert Proctor is hypnotized.

Summary and Critical Analysis

Test” is a fascinating story about Robert Proctor, who represents young enthusiastic people wanting to drive and the state authority conducting a test to see whether he is fit to get a driver’s license. Though the fantasy fiction describes the concerns of the government in preventing and controlling accident, Thomas surprises the reader with a very unique way to test people on their driving skill. It provides us a glimpse on the imaginary invention of the future consisting of futuristic elements of science fiction, action stories and realism.

The story explores the theme of the ethics of the state to control the citizens over their opinion, ideas and self identity. The blue uniform and men with coats symbolize the group of government officials trying to exhibit their ability and technology to control the mind of Robert Proctor under an advanced form of hypnosis, and make him experience a terrible accident.

Although Robert Proctor behaves responsibly, he is denied his license and he is taken away by the authorities. He feels responsible for the death of his mother and the girl in the car which loomed ahead of him though nothing happened in reality. The vivid image of the girl’s face in his head, along with his mother’s cry lingers in his mind after the hypnosis. This is where Thomas integrates the two plot, and surprises the reader that the emotions that ran through him are true and real, but has been intentionally misled by the testing people (the authorities), because the act of hypnosis itself is a process of events that takes place in the mind under the direction of a second person.

The “two grooves worn in the floor”, of the last sentence of the story suggest the executive decision regarding the fate of the people coming to test themselves in the testing center. The world in which Robert Proctor lives, is a world based on control. The ruts on the floor symbolize the number of people who had come to test their driving skill, but have been dragged out of the door by the authorities deliberately, proclaiming them as unfit to be a driver in the real world.
The author sends out signal for the readers to question whether such type of test is fair or ethical, how could they judge people’s ability and skills with such restrictions? Would they make better drivers? Would they become careful drivers for the rest of their lives? Would mental torture and trauma be of any help to the person seeking a driver’s license? Will Robert Proctor be able to come back and get himself tested again? – are the questions which make the reader think and find out remedies to help the government prevent such dictatorship on the citizen in future.

The protagonist is hypnotized for a driver’s test, so the emotions that run through him are true but the incident that he imagines took place actually never happened. The protagonist sees himself driving on the turnpike on a warm May morning with his mother on the front seat. It was a pleasant ride and they were enjoying the ride.

Robert could see a blue convertible following a big truck in front of his car. He began to overtake them. When suddenly the blue convertible swung out behind the truck without warning and struck his car on the right front fender. As a result of this his car was knocked to the side of the turnpike. He was too smart to slam on the brakes. After that he lost control of the car and tried to struggle with the steering wheel. Then series of accidents occur. First the car hits a rock blowing out the tire, and the car turned sideways and skidded into the oncoming lanes, next an oncoming car struck his car from the side and spun it into the left hand lane and finally his car met head on with an oncoming car which was at high speed and he went into darkness.

Before he met head on with the oncoming car, he saw on the front seat a beautiful girl fast asleep with her head supported against the back seat, Robert Proctor stared at the face of the girl and the image of the girl was imprinted in his mind. After the accident, he felt deeply sorry for her. All the time the vivid image of the girl was in his mind. We the readers finally realize that what Robert experienced had never happened and the girl who died was not real as he was hypnotized to take the driver’s test. He was deliberately put in an accident by the hypnotists to test whether he was really fit to be a driver in the real world. He feels responsible for the death and even after the hypnosis is broken, there is a vivid picture of her face in his head but in real life no accident or death takes place. It’s really ironical in such a situation as Robert had no control over his mind as his mind was controlled by hypnotists. Still the hypnotists pronounce him unfit to drive in the real world. They fail to see that Robert was able to come out of the trauma after the serious accident and that he would be confident to face the road again.

It makes the reader wonder whether such a test is really ethical. How can someone test one’s ability by hypnotizing them and draw conclusions from the unreal situation?

“Test” is a short story about people’s need for power. The power being that to control other’s ideas, opinions and self identity, through fear of divergence and government control. The short story “Test” is derived from the fear of diversification and self identity. From the moment Robert Proctor wakes up from his hypnosis, the reader sees that the foundation of the world he is living is based on control. The act of hypnosis itself is someone going into your mind and telling you exactly what to do. Symbolism abounds in this short story: one in particular is that of the man in the blue uniform. The uniform symbolizes police and government dominance. However “Test” shows us that it is the government that is in control. Throughout the story the main character is always referred to by his full name, Robert Proctor. This suggests that Robert is being watched and recorded all the time he is taking his test. Big Brother is always watching him; perhaps the men in white coats are observing him throughout his ordeal watching him like a lab rat. The man telling Robert what to do during his test is wearing a blue uniform symbolizing police and government control. In this story, the government is like a “Dictator”. The theme of the story is revealed in the final interchange between Robert and the uniformed man.

The author points that we never know when a seemingly simple action, like driving down a freeway, will have serious consequences. Or ability to make wise decisions may be tested at any time. Hence, Theodore Thomas uses current-day situation in such a way that readers would be alert when the time comes and might use prevention rather than cure.


Points to Remember:

ü  ‘Test’ is a fantasy and a science fiction written by American author Theodore Thomas.
ü  Robert Proctor is the main protagonist of this story along with some minor and supporting characters like the men in uniform and other officials.
ü  The story basically deals with the theme of the ethics of the power and extent of the state or government to exercise its control over its citizens.
ü  Robert Proctor is the main protagonist of the story who is undergoing a test to obtain his driving licence.
ü  This story applies the science of ‘hypnosis’ on a human.
ü  The author is the narrator in this story.
ü  The story has been written from the third person point of view.
ü  The story, being a science fiction, is futuristic in its style.
ü  The highway (turn pike), and the room in the department’s office is the setting of this story.
ü  Elements of science fiction, description of thrilling actions and realism are blended together in this fine story.
ü  In this story an advance level of hypnosis has been used on a young person who is seeking driving licence.
Theme:
This story deals with the theme of humanity’s (state and the government representatives here seem to be representing the elite sections of humanity) hunger for power to control others. It also shows that to meet this end they can go to any extent regardless of any ethical values or any respect for others’ (common men) dignity and rights.

Techniques Used:
As the story is a science fiction so the elements of science fiction are prominently dominating the technique of the author as the author has used the advance technique of hypnotism. Besides, the author has also blended excellently the elements of thrill, adventure and realism.

Title(Justification):
As the whole story is about a person undergoing the test to obtain his driving licence, there could be no better title then ‘test’. However it’s worth noting that the main focus in the story is the method of conducting test and the ethical aspects of the test and subsequent denial of licence to the person undergoing the test.

Character Sketch:

Robert Proctor: In this story Robert Proctor is the only character around whom the whole story has been woven. He is undergoing the test for obtaining the driving licence. In the story there is not much scope to explore the characteristic qualities of Robert Proctor. However, during the test when he is experiencing the accident under the spell of hypnosis, he has shown lots of skill and maturity. He does not show any sign of panic. He is fully aware of the situation and acts the best in the given circumstances. So we can say that he is a skilful and responsible young man and an expert in driving too. Right after the test, he is once again ready to drive which shows that he is confident and daring too. He is not a person who can easily be intimidated. And at the end it was this quality that disqualified him in the test and he was denied his rightful driving licence.


Questions and Answer:

1.      Describe the plot of this story in your own words.       Or This story has two distinct plots. Describe them in your own words.
This story is a science fiction based on the advanced level of hypnotism used is testing drivers before awarding them driving licence. Thus this story has two very distinct plots.
One is when the protagonist, under the spell of hypnotism, undergoes the test on the turn-pike in a cool sunny May morning and experiences all the imaginary accidents. In this plot he very happy and cheerful until he meets those accidents. And, the other is when he is brought back into his normal consciousness after the spell of hypnotism. In this plot he is relieved initially when he is told that all the accidents were fake and imaginary. But when he is denied his licence he gets frustrated and angry and clearly shows his frustration and anger.

2.      Do you think ‘test’ is a science fiction? Justify your answer. Or        Analyse the story ‘test’ as a science fiction and a futuristic story. Or Bring out the elements of science fiction in the story ‘test’
‘Test’ is a science fiction and a futuristic fantasy without any doubt at all. A science fiction is a story based on science background. What is remarkable about science fiction is that the story takes the reader ahead of time and presents a futuristic scenario that may be possible in near or distant future. From this point of view ‘Test’ is an excellent science fiction and futuristic fantasy because in this story the author has used through the government representatives the advance form of hypnotism to test the people seeking driving licence. Whatever has happened in this story is not a contemporary reality but we cannot deny that this may be a requirement for obtaining driving licence in order to ensure safety on the road.

3.      Describe the accidents in your own words. Or Give a brief account of Robert Proctor’s driving (though imaginary) on that cool pleasant May morning.
In this story the protagonist Robert Proctor is appearing the test for obtaining his driving licence. The whole test is imaginary and under the spell of advanced form of hypnosis. The protagonist seems to be completely unaware of the truth. The story begins with Robert Proctor driving his car on the turn-pike. He is driving happily with his mother beside him. The morning is cool and pleasant. After driving for quite long he notices two vehicles in plying in front of him – a big truck ahead and a blue convertible following the truck. He decides to overtake them. He overtakes the convertible without any problem. But then suddenly and without any warning the blue convertible swings out from behind and hits his car near the right front fender. His car pulls towards left toward the median strip. After few seconds, an oncoming car hits him from the side and sends his car spinning further towards left. Ultimately his car crossed the median strip and collided with a car coming from the other side. The accident instantly killed his mother and the sleeping girl in the other car. Finally Robert Proctor became unconscious. However what is remarkable during this period is that he constantly hears the screaming of his mother.

4.      Why Robert Procter was denied his driving licence?  Or what were the explanations given by the man-in-uniform for failing the driving test?
Though Robert Proctor behaved quite sensibly during the hypnotised test for his driving licence but he was not given the licence. They said that he had been disqualified in the test because he did not show any sense of fear or regret; he did not seem to be bothering about the loss of human life. They said they wanted the drivers to be more responsible on the road. They made him sign for the next test and handed him over to the health officials for treatment.

5.      Give a brief account of the narrative technique used in this story?   Or Describe the narrative technique of this story.
This story has been written from the third person point of view. The author himself is the narrator in this story. This is a science fiction and a futuristic fantasy. Thus the story has elements of scientific fiction and it is futuristic in its approach and treatment of plot and theme. The author has also included lots of fast-track action, thrill and suspense in this story. The language used in the story is direct and sentences are often short and sharp.

6.      What was the reason/ who was responsible for the first accident?    Or Describe the first accident in your own word.
Robert Proctor was smoothly driving on the turn-pike for quite a long time on that cool and pleasant May morning. In front of him were two vehicles – a truck at the front followed by a blue convertible. Robert decided to overtake them and accelerated the speed of his car. He crossed the convertible without any problem. But while he was overtaking the truck, the convertible swung without any warning or signal and hit his car near the right front fender. This caused the first accident and it was all because of the driver of the blue convertible.

7.      Give a brief account of what happened after the first accident.        Or Describe the second accident in your own words.
The first accident disturbed his driving the car was pushed towards the left side. Then an oncoming car hit his car from the side pushing his car further towards the left. He was thrown into his mother’s lap towards the right gate. With his left hand he tried desperately to control the car and stop the spinning. He also tried to take his car out of traffic but he could not control as his left tyre had already blown out and his car moved further towards the left lane. The car continued spinning further leading to the third accident.

8.      Describe the third accident in your own words?          Or What caused and what happened in the third accident?
As the car continued spinning after the second accident it further kept on moving towards the left lane where it collided with another car coming from the opposite direction. There was a girl sleeping in the other car beside the driver of the second car. Ultimately the girl and Robert’s mother were dead in the accident. However, later on, it was revealed that the whole thing was fake and imaginary under the spell of hypnosis.

9.      How did Robert feel when he was regaining his consciousness?        Or Describe Robert Proctor’s journey from the sub-conscious stage to conscious stage.
When his car collided with another car coming from the opposite direction during the third accident Robert fell unconscious. He felt as if he was at the bottom of a deep well. After sometime he could see the glimpse of a faint light far away and he could also hear some voices. Slowly that faint light grew brighter and the voice became clearer and louder. Slowly he found himself close to the light and sound and when he opened his eyes he saw the officials sitting in front of him.

10.  Why did the official (man in blue) order to take Robert out of their office?
The officials had declared Robert unsuccessful after the test and they had denied him the licence. This had infuriated him very badly. He felt cheated and was very angry. He was ready even for the second drive and he demanded re-test. He was not going out of their office nor was he willing to follow their advice to go for treatment. Finally the officials threw him out of the office.