ChapterThe Elevator

The Elevator speaks about the experiences of a young boy and his fears in a small elevator. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • William Sleator was an American author and science fiction novelist.
  • Born: 13th February, 1945
  • Place of Birth: Havre, De Grace, Maryland, United States
  • Died: 3rd August, 2011
  • Best Known for: Writing novels mostly in the young adult fiction genre that discusses family dynamics.
An Old Elevator
An Old Elevator

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Summary of the Chapter

The Elevator is a short story by William Sleator. It is about a boy called Martin, who dreads using the elevator.

Martin and his father have moved into an apartment with a very old elevator. It is small in size and sufficient for three people.

Of course, he was always uncomfortable in elevators, afraid that they would fall, but this one was especially unpleasant. Perhaps this was because of the poor lighting and dirty walls. Perhaps, it was because of the door, which never stayed open long enough, and slammed shut with a loud clanging noise.

Each time the elevator left the floor, it shuddered as it was exhausted. It always seemed too small and crowded even if there were only two people in it.

The stairs too were no better. One day after school, Martin had taken the stairs. They were dark and there were no windows. Martin’s footsteps echoed behind him making him feel as though there was someone else close behind. By the time he reached his house on the seventeenth floor, he was gasping.

Martin’s father who worked at home asked him why he was out of breath. He frowned at his son and asked him why he didn't take the elevator. His father’s expression seemed judgemental. As if to say, you are not only skinny, weak and bad at sports but also a coward. After that Martin made up his mind to use the elevator. He would hopefully get accustomed to it, just as he had got accustomed to the bullying at school.

But he didn't get used to it. He was always afraid it would stop suddenly and he would get trapped inside it for hours by himself. But it wasn’t much better when there were other passengers.

One morning the elevator stopped at the fourteenth floor and a fat lady got in. As she stepped in, Martin felt sure that the elevator would sink. Her coat brushed against him and he went and stood in a corner. She took up most of the space leaving no room for anyone else. When the door closed, she stood facing Martin and stared at him. Martin looked at her and observed her.

She had large fleshy cheeks and no chin, just a huge mass of neck. Her blue eyes were tiny but sharp. They seemed to be boring into Martin’s face. Martin looked away, but the woman didn't turn around.

He wondered if she was still looking at him. He glanced at her and looked away quickly. She was still watching him. Martin thought she was crazy. He wondered what she might do next. When the elevator reached the first floor, Martin grew impatient and ran out. He ran almost till school. He thought about her the entire day. Did she live in the same building? There were not many people in the building and Martin had never seen her before. He thought that it was not possible that she was visiting someone, because 7:30 in the morning seemed too early.

After school that day, Martin felt nervous about going back to the building. However he thought there was nothing to be afraid of. She was just an old lady. He pressed the button and got inside the elevator hoping it would not stop. However it did stop at the third floor and the same fat lady stepped in with her piggish face, blue eyes and green coat as if waiting for him.

Elevator Call Button
Elevator Call Button

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It wasn’t possible. It was like a nightmare. But there she was. “Going up!” said Martin, his voice little more than a squeak. She nodded and stepped in. The door slammed. He watched her pudgy hands move towards the buttons. She pressed, not fourteen, but eighteen, the top floor. The elevator trembled and began to go up. The fat lady watched him.

Martin was puzzled. This morning she got in on the fourteenth floor. Now, why did she get in on the third floor and press 18? Martin was very uncomfortable. He wanted to press 7 and then walk but he couldn’t reach the buttons without touching her. The elevator seemed to be moving so slowly. When the elevator finally stopped on the seventeenth floor, Martin wanted to step out immediately but her horrible scratchy coat rubbed against him as he squeezed past her. She continued watching him as the door shut.

“Now she knows I live on seventeen,” he thought.

“Have you ever noticed a strange lady in the elevator?” he asked his father that evening.

“Can’t say I have”, he replied, not looking away from the television.

Martin was desperate to talk to someone. He told his father that he met the lady twice in the elevator and she just kept staring at him without looking away.

Martin’s father became impatient. He looked away from the television and asked Martin why he was so worried. “What am I going to do with you Martin? Honestly, now you are afraid of some poor old lady.”

Martin replied that he was not afraid. His father asked him if he was going to be timid for the rest of his life or grow up and act like a man?

Martin didn't want to cry in front of his father, so he waited until he got into his room. His father probably knew he was crying anyway. He slept very little.

In the morning, when the elevator door opened, the fat lady was waiting for him.

Martin froze for a moment, then backed away. As the door slammed, she smiled at him. Her expression had changed.

Martin darted towards the stairs. The stairs were dark and he fell. His father didn’t say a word on the way to the hospital. He was disappointed and angry that his son was a coward and a fool. Martin was on crutches now, since he had broken his leg. He would not be able to use the stairs. Why had she smiled at him, he wondered. Did she know all of this would happen?

He was glad that his father was there with him in the lift on the way back from the hospital. Now the fat lady wouldn't get in, and even if she did, his father would see her and probably understand. The doctor said that Martin could take rest for a few days. So, that meant he could stay in his apartment and avoid meeting the fat lady. Martin felt safe.

Suddenly, to his surprise, his father reached out his hand and pressed number nine. Immediately, Martin asked his father what happened and why he did that. His father responded that he wanted to meet Mrs Ullman. Saying so, he looked at his watch and stepped out of the elevator. Martin was petrified. Even though he was struggling to move with his crutches, he told his father that he wanted to join him. The door was closing and Martin’s father told him to grow up and stop being afraid of being alone in the elevator.

Martin hobbled and tried to press nine but it was no good. The lift stopped at ten where the fat lady was waiting for him. She got in quickly and Martin wanted to get out. However, the door shut and he was stuck with her. The elevator began to move.

“Hello Martin,” she said, and laughed, and pushed the Stop button.

Thus, the story ends. There is no resolution to the problem even in the end. Such a plot ending is known as a ‘cliffhanger’. The author does not provide a perfect resolution to Martin’s dilemma even in the end. Thus, it is open to discussion leaving the reader curious as to what happens next.

The lady laughs in the end. Probably, one can hope that the lady laughing at him, makes him realize his silliness. It probably made all his anger vanish and Martin overcame forever his fear of the woman as well as the lift.

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Above and Beyond the Text

Author’s Profile

William Slater who died unexpectedly at the age of 66, tackled social issues from a dystopian angle. He liked writing on the subject of family dynamics, science fiction and also fantasy and horror. His novels were elegantly and intelligently written. He also spent a lot of time in Thailand where he eventually passed away. He had different lifestyles in the US and Thailand and he often shuttled between these two countries. He enjoyed playing the piano and fishing too. He composed three ballets.

Cliffhanger Endings

A cliffhanger ending leaves the reader in suspense. It is used in plays and movies also. For example, there is a scene or situation in which the main character is left in a dilemma! The viewers are not told about the ending so they are kept wondering what happens next. Cliffhanger endings can be both positive and negative. It is up to the reader or writer to anticipate himself or herself about what happens next.

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The Elevator Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

When the lady entered the elevator, she would face Martin instead of facing the door. She would continuously stare at him. In the end, she greeted him and suddenly laughed.

Martin was timid and afraid. That was the main problem. He didn’t have anyone at home other than his father to share his concerns with.

The main theme of the story is about ‘overcoming fear.’ Martin is nervous and timid, unable to conquer his fears and find solutions. He needs to be bold and courageous. He needs to become stronger.