This story is written by Joseph Conrad.
The main protagonist of the story is Captain Hagberd who was once a sailor who avoided going to the sea. Hagberd had settled at Colebrook in the hope of finding his lost son, Harry. Colebrook had rented out a portion of his house to old Carvil and his daughter Bessie so that he could earn something in order to meet his ends. He gets a compassionate friend and muse in the form Bessie. These three people live like oddities in Colebrook where other residents don’t care a hoot for them.
One day, Harry comes back to his old and frail father only to be shooed away by old Hagberd.
Stop and Think
Question 1: What brought Captain Hagberd to Colebrook?
Answer: Captain Hagberd’s son had left home and after that his wife died. Hagberd knew that his son had once come to Colebrook. Hagberd came to Colebrook in the hope of a reunion with his lost son, because he thought that there was some strong inducement for his son to come back to Colebrook.
Question 2: Why did the people of Colebrook not have a favourable opinion of Captain Hagberd?
Answer: Captain Hagberd dressed like a lunatic and behaved like a lunatic. He wore a cloth made of coarse sailcloth, abnormal for any sane person. He always enquired about his son and gave advertisements in newspapers’ missing person section. Due to this, people of Colebrook did not have a favourable opinion of Hagberd.
Question 3: What sort of a seaman had Captain Hagberd been?
Answer: Captain Hagberd was among those sailors who don’t love the sea, rather love the coast. He preferred to stick to the coast and hence preferred odd jobs at the harbor. He preferred the apparent stability of land than the vagaries of the sea.
Question 4: Captain Hagberd constantly hinted at something that made Bessie blush. What was it?
Answer: While talking about his lost son, about other sundry topics Captain Hagberd used to wink. The mere act of winking used to make Bessie blush. The wink was never a vulgar one, but was friendly gesture, often bordering on parenting. In fact, Hagberd was seeing a prospective daughter-in-law in Bessie.
Question 5: What were Bessie’s reactions to old Hagberd’s ravings?
Answer: Bessie always gave a patient hearing to whatever Hagbert talked about. Most of the time, Bessie did not try to disappoint Hagberd by breaking his hope. She always showed support to Hagberd’s hopes of finding his lost son.
Question 6: What sort of a person was Mr. Carvil?
Answer: Mr. Carvil was an obese person who was loudmouthed to the hilt. He became blind at the peak of his chosen profession. He always blamed Bessie for his pitiful condition. He never talked in soft voice, rather always howled at Bessie. Because of his blindness, he was totally dependent on Bessie even for his routine tasks. Yet he never gave due to credit to Bessie, rather always ordered Bessie to do various chores for him.
Question 7: What was the point of similarity between Captain Hagberd and old Mr. Carvil?
Answer: Both were blind. While Mr. Carvil was blind because of some disease, Captain Hagberd was blinded by the hope of finding his lost son.
Question 8: Why did Bessie sometimes show signs of irritation and disgust?
Answer: Mr. Carvil made every effort to be fully dependent on Bessie for every task. He could even eat a morsel without Bessie’s help. He could not walk a single step without Bessie’s help. It appeared as if Carvil did it intentionally in order to enslave Bessie. He must be afraid of a life without Bessie.
Question 9: Who was the stranger who met Captain Hagberd? What was the Captain’s reaction to the meeting?
Answer: The stranger was Harry Hagberd, the lost son of Captain Hagberd. Captain Hagberd did not believe whatever Harry said. Instead, Captain did not allow Harry to enter the house. He even threw a shovel to scare away Harry.
Question 10: What did young Hagberd think it meant when old Hagberd said that his son would be coming home ‘tomorrow’?
Answer: When old Hagberd said that his son would be coming tomorrow, young Hagberd thought that his father had gone mad. He thought that his father did not change over all those years of separation of a father from his son.
Question 11: What reasons did Bessie give for encouraging old Hagberd in his insane hopes?
Answer: Bessie understood the futility of eternal hope which old Hagberd had about finding his son. But Bessie did not want to hurt his sentiments. So, she always augmented the hope of old Hagberd.
Question 12: What makes Bessie convinced that the young man is indeed Harry?
Answer: Harry resembled old Hagberd in many aspects, like facial features, tone of voice, and laughter. So, Bessie was convinced that the young man was indeed Harry.
Question 13: What kind of life had Harry lived after he left home?
Answer: After leaving home, Harry never stuck to a particular job for long. He did many odd jobs, like shearing sheep, skinning dead cattle, rigging a ship, and gold hunting. But he never worked as either a tailor or a soldier. Harry never stayed at a place for long rather he lived the life of a vagabond.
Question 14: What does Bessie tell Harry about his father’s plans for him?
Answer: Bessie told Harry that Captain Hagberd had carefully planned for a comfortable life for Harry. Old Hagberd had already planned to marry Bessie with Harry so that both of them would live a blissful life.
Question 15: What did Captain Hagberd call out to Bessie from the window?
Answer: Captain Hagberd called out to Bessie to get rid of Harry as soon as possible. Captain Hagberd still not believed that it was his son who had come to join him.
Understanding the Text
Question 1: What is the consistency one finds in the old man’s madness?
Answer: The old man shows great consistency in his madness in everything he does. His dress can be easily of any of the lunatics. The way he digs soil in his garden without purpose reeks of madness. The way he secretly brings sundry items for his lost son, borders on madness. The way he avoids people shows his madness. Even when Harry returns, the old man is refusing to believe that his son has come back indeed.
Question 2: How does Captain Hagberd prepare for Harry’s homecoming?
Answer: Captain Hagberd made various elaborate arrangements for Harry’s homecoming. He brought many items for Harry. He never allows anybody inside his home as he thinks it is Harry’s privilege to be the first person inside the home. Old Hagberd had also planned for marrying Harry to Bessie.
Question 3: How did Bessie begin to share Hagberd’s insanity regarding his son?
Answer: Bessie is able to see some sort of eternal hope in the eyes of Captain Hagberd. Gradually she develops all the confidence that a day will come when Harry will come back to his father’s home.
Question 4: What were Harry’s reasons for coming to meet old Hagberd?
Answer: Harry said that one of his chums in London told him about newspaper advertisements. His chum also cajoled him to go back to loving parents. His chum also arranged for the expenses for travel from London to Colebrook.
Question 5: Why does Harry’s return prove to be a disappointment for Bessie?
Answer: Like old Hagberd, Bessie was also waiting for the homecoming of Harry. But Captain Hagberd refused to accept Harry as his son. Bessie must have seen a faint ray of hope of getting out of the burdensome life she was going through because of a demanding father who was handicapped by his blindness, obesity and old age. Once Harry failed to get an entry in his father’s house, it was the end of the road for Bessie too.
Talking About the Text
Question 1: Every mental state, even madness, has its equilibrium, based upon self-esteem. Its disturbance causes unhappiness.
Answer: This statement is said in the context of Captain Hagberd getting irritated at the sight of anyone grinning at him. Hagberd never had a favourable opinion of someone grinning at him. He always thought that a grin was always an attempt of mocking at his pitiable state.
Question 2: Joyce’s ‘Eveline’ and Conrad’s ‘Tomorrow’ are thematically similar.
Answer: In the story by Joyce, Eveline has the proverbial millstone tied to her neck. She cannot leave her filial commitments as she is bound by the promise she made to her dying mother. Once she gets the opportunity to break the shackles and leave for the proverbial pot of gold at another end of the rainbow. But she steps back at the crucial moment and prefers to stay with her family, only to continue the drudgery of living her life as it had always been.
In the story by Conrad, the ‘tomorrow’ never comes for Captain Hagberd.
In both the cases, status quo is maintained at the end of the story with some promising interludes in between.
Question 1: Comment on the technique used by the author to unfold the story of Captain Hagberd’s past.
Answer: The author has used the technique of going into flashback to tell the story of Captain Hagberd’s past.
Question 2: Identify instances in the story in which you find streaks of insanity in people other than Hagberd. What implications do they suggest?
Answer: Almost all the characters in this story are insane. The old Carvil is insane because he cannot see both in tangible and intangible senses. In order to retain some semblance of power he keeps on howling at his daughter.
Harry is insane because he thinks the life of a vagabond is better than the settled life of a clerk. They way he talks about his gold hunting sprees and numerous girls he made merry with smells of insanity.
Bessie may appear to be the sanest person in this story. But she too has become insane because of carrying the burden of her burdensome father. She shows streaks of insanity in developing a hope of some semblance of a better life after marriage with Harry.