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The Weapon – Short Story and Questions

Short Story

The Weapon
The room was quiet in the dimness of early evening. Dr. James Graham, key scientist of a very important project, sat in his favorite chair, thinking. It was so still that he could hear the turning of pages in the next room as his son leafed through a picture book.

by Frederic Brown (1906 – 1972)

Often Graham did his best work, his most creative thinking, under these circumstances, sitting alone in an unlighted room in his own apartment after the day’s regular work. But tonight his mind would not work constructively. Mostly he thought about his mentally arrested son–his only son–in the next room. The thoughts were loving thoughts, not the bitter anguish he had felt years ago when he had first learned of the boy’s condition. The boy was happy; wasn’t that the main thing? And to how many men is given a child who will always be a child, who will not grow up to leave him? Certainly that was rationalization, but what is wrong with rationalization when– The doorbell rang.

Graham rose and turned on lights in the almost-dark room before he went through the hallway to the door. He was not annoyed; tonight, at this moment, almost any Interruption to his thoughts was welcome.

He opened the door. A stranger stood there; he said, “Dr. Graham? My name is Niemand; I’d like to talk to you. May I come in a moment?”

Graham looked at him. He was a small man, nondescript, obviously harmless–possibly a reporter or an insurance agent.

But it didn’t matter what he was. Graham found himself saying, “Of course. Come in, Mr. Niemand.” A few minutes of conversation, he justified himself by thinking, might divert his thoughts and clear his mind.

“Sit down,” he said, in the living room. “Care for a drink?”

Niemand said, “No, thank you.” He sat in the chair; Graham sat on the sofa.

The small man interlocked his fingers; he leaned forward. He said, “Dr. Graham, you are the man whose scientific work is more likely than that of any other man to end the human race’s chance for survival.”

A crackpot, Graham thought. Too late now he realized that he should have asked the man’s business before admitting him. It would be an embarrassing interview–he disliked being rude, yet only rudeness was effective.

“Dr. Graham, the weapon on which you are working–”

The visitor stopped and turned his head as the door that led to a bedroom opened and a boy of fifteen came in. The boy didn’t notice Niemand; he ran to Graham.

“Daddy, will you read to me now?” The boy of fifteen laughed the sweet laughter of a child of four.

Graham put an arm around the boy. He looked at his visitor, wondering whether he had known about the boy. From the lack of surprise on Niemand’s face, Graham felt sure he had known.

“Harry”–Grab am’s voice was warm with affection”Daddy’s busy. Just for a little while. Go back to your room; I’ll come and read to you soon.”

“Chicken Little? You’ll read me Chicken Little?”

“If you wish. Now run along. Wait. Harry, this is Mr. Niemand.”

The boy smiled bashfully at the visitor. Niemand said, “Hi, Harry,” and smiled back at him, holding out his hand. Graham, watching, was sure now that Niemand had known: the smile and the gesture were for the boy’s mental age, not his physical one.

The boy took Niemand’s hand. For a moment it seemed that he was going to climb into Niemand’s lap, and Graham pulled him back gently. He said, “Go to your room now, Harry.”

The boy skipped back into his bedroom, not closing the door.

Niemand’s eyes met Graham’s and he said, “I like him,” with obvious sincerity. He added, “I hope that what you’re going to read to him will always be true.”

Graham didn’t understand. Niemand said, “Chicken Little, I mean. It’s a fine story–but may Chicken Little always be wrong about the sky falling down.”

Graham suddenly had liked Niemand when Niemand had shown liking for the boy. Now he remembered that he must close the interview quickly. He rose, in dismissal.

He said, “I fear you’re wasting your time and mine, Mr. Niemand. I know all the arguments, everything you can say I’ve heard a thousand times. Possibly there is truth in what you believe, but it does not concern me. I’m a scientist, and only a scientist. Yes, it is public knowledge that I am working on a weapon, a rather ultimate one. But, for me personally, that is only a by-product of the fact that I am advancing science. I have thought it through, and I have found that that is my only concern.”

“But, Dr. Graham, is humanity ready for an ultimate weapon?”

Graham frowned. “I have told you my point of view, Mr. Niemand.”

Niemand rose slowly from the chair. He said, “Very well, if you do not choose to discuss it, I’ll say no more.” He passed a hand across his forehead. “I’ll leave, Dr. Graham. I wonder, though . . . may I change my mind about the drink you offered me?”

Graham’s irritation faded. He said, “Certainly. Will whisky and water do?”

“Admirably.”

Graham excused himself and went into the kitchen. He got the decanter of whisky, another of water, ice cubes, glasses.

When he returned to the living room, Niemand was just

leaving the boy’s bedroom. He heard Niemand’s “Good night, Harry,” and Harry’s happy ” ‘Night, Mr. Niemand.”

Graham made drinks. A little later, Niemand declined a second one and started to leave.

Niemand said, “I took the liberty of bringing a small gift to your son, doctor. I gave it to him while you were getting the drinks for us. 1 hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course. Thank you. Good night.”

Graham closed the door; he walked through the living room into Harry’s room. He said, “All right, Harry. Now I’ll read to–”

There was sudden sweat on his forehead, but he forced his face and his voice to be calm as he stepped to the side of the bed. “May I see that, Harry?” When he had it safely, his hands shook as he examined it.

He thought, only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot.

Questions

  1. The Weapon is about a scientist but is not a science fiction story. Explain why this is so.
  2. Why do you think Fredric Brown wrote this story?
  3. What is the main idea or theme of this story? Write your answer in a sentence.
  4. What does the gun symbolise in the story?
  5. What does the author use the ‘idiot’ to symbolise?
  6. What is the effect of the last sentence on the reader? How does this sentence relate to Niemand’s reason for visiting Dr Graham?
  7. Apart from some irritation on the part of Dr Graham, when he thinks that Niemand is going to criticise him, Fredric Brown uses a calm, understated tone in the story. How does this style of presentation affect the reader’s response to the ending?
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10 comments

  1. The ending has been changed from the original. The original ends “…to a retarded child.” Is political correctness so pervasive we change an author’s words decades after his death? It detracts from the power of the message.


  2. We are doing an analysis of this story at my high school, grade 8. We are making a storyboard of the 12 main events of the story. This is a great assignment teachers can give to their students at our age.


  3. answers?


  4. What was Niemands purpose of visiting


  5. This is is such an amazing story I can’t even explain how much I love this story. Thank You so much for sharing this story on the internet. I just got connected to it and I love it.


  6. I read this story some 20 years ago (I was teaching English to Italian classes at the time) and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I read it out to a some of my students (hoping I was not infringing Copyright law) and a long, heated debate (argument) exploded.This brief story is a very effective conversation starter; any English Language teacher should be advised to use it.
    Yours,
    J. Graham


  7. 1. Because everything in the story is realistic
    2. To entertain
    3. Don’t waste your time
    4. The dangerous weapon
    5. The scientists son
    6. We should make a positive impact on the world
    7. Makes him seem like he is smart and knows what he is talking about


  8. Liam McGrady
    1) everything that happens in the story could have happened in real life
    2) To show that we shouldn’t do some things just to make money or because it’s your job because they could do bad things with it.
    3) make things to impact the world In a good way.
    4) bad things
    5) his son
    6) we should make sure that what we do is good for the world.
    7) make the look wise


  9. 1. Because everything in he story is possible .
    2. To entertain
    3. Don’t waste your time
    4. The atomic bomb
    5. The scientists son
    6. We should make a good impact on the world
    7. Makes him seem like he is smart and knows what he is talking about


  10. 1.because the story is realistic fiction
    2. because it might be real
    3.to make things good
    4. bad things
    5.his son
    6 life should be positive
    7make hime look wise



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