Literature Annotations


Dahl, Roald
Poison


Genre Short Story (10 pp.)
KeywordsAnesthesia, Communication, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Professionalism, Racism
Summary

Harry Pope is afraid to move even a muscle. While lying in bed and reading a book, he notices a krait--Bungarus caeruleus, a deadly Asian snake--slithering on top of his pajamas. When his companion, Timber, arrives at the bungalow around midnight, Harry is still petrified with fright. Convinced the snake is asleep on his stomach beneath the bed sheet, Harry has been lying motionless for hours.

Timber telephones Dr. Ganderbai for help and despite the late hour, the Indian physician promptly makes a house call. He administers an injection of anti-venom just in case the snake bites Harry. Next, Dr. Ganderbai carefully infuses chloroform underneath the bed sheet in an attempt to anesthetize the krait. Timber and the doctor then remove the sheet but no snake is found. Dr. Ganderbai questions the validity of Harry's account and wonders if the man was merely dreaming. Harry becomes enraged and spews insults including racial slurs. The doctor remains composed and exits quietly, remarking only that Harry could use a vacation.

Commentary

The truth is skewed in this wily story. The physician's bedside manner is "confident and reassuring." He describes the problem as "a simple matter." Actually, he frets over the situation and struggles to formulate a course of action. The doctor informs Harry that the anti-venom will protect him but then confesses to Timber that the serum may or may not save Harry if he is bitten by the snake.

Dr. Ganderbai is a benevolent man even though he distorts the truth to bolster the patient's confidence and comfort him. He maintains his professional composure when handling a potentially life-threatening clinical situation and later, an angry patient. The story offers a nice portrait of a physician's house call including images of the doctor's bag, hypodermic syringe, and meticulous attention to the preparation and administration of an intravenous injection.

What exactly is the "poison" that the title refers to? Some possibilities include the venom of the krait, fear, and racism. When it comes to dangerous creatures, this tale suggests that human beings can be the most venomous species of life on earth.

SourceThe Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl
PublisherPenguin Books India
Edition1992
Place PublishedNew Delhi
MiscellaneousThis story was first published in 1953.
Annotated by Miksanek, Tony
Date of Entry 10/12/04
Last Revised 05/02/06