English Notes (Class 10)

CBSE Class 10 English Fiction 4 A Shady Plot

Written by cbselearners
A Shady Plot – Elsie Brown


A Shady Plot

Ouija Board


John Hallock has to write a ghost story which will get published, but he is not able to think up a plot to write the story. To get inspiration and to make the circumstances suitable, he starts seeing a ghost of a woman named Helen, who answers his questions and makes a demand to stop the use of Ouija boards. Later John’s wife also came to know about it about which was mysterious in the beginning. Things ended in a cordial way between the couple and John got an excellent plot to give shape to his ghost story.

The Story Retold
Need to Write a Ghost Story Jenkins demands another story on supernatural powers from John Hallock; something which can give horror to the readers because that is what the public wants. He thinks that John is good at writing ghost stories because his ghosts are live propositions. John accepts to write the story although he does not have any plot in his mind, he knows that this is the only magazine where his writing is published and therefore he sits down to write.
John Starts Wandering When John sits down to write his mind starts to wander off to other things. Then he started to stare at the ceiling. He started talking to himself aloud when suddenly a voice answered him. The voice then started taking shape in pieces. She was long and angular, with enormous fishy eyes behind big bone-rimmed spectacles, and her hair in a tightwad at the back of her head, with a solid jaw. The entire figure starts looking absolutely real.

The Conversation Between the Ghost and John
The ghost told Hallock that she too used to write in the other world. Later she became a reader but faced many problems. Therefore she and others like her decided to form ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’. They roam here and there and help the writers who don’t have sufficient ideas to write their stories.
They give the writers’ thinking a shape and when their work is done, they have to report to their main office. The ghost, whose name was Helen, further told him about the Ouija Board fanatics. She told him that they had stopped wandering and now they sit at one place and answer questions. She thus told him to ask his friends and acquaintances to stop using the Ouija board.

Lavinia Enters the Scene
Lavinia, who is John’s wife, listens to loud voices coming from the room. When she questions John he refuses to answer. She tells him that she had bought an Ouija board for him. She calls for an Ouija board party, which John refuses to attend initially. Later when he attends the party Lavinia pairs him with Laura Hinkle who is a flirtatious woman. At the party when the Ouija board is used it takes the name of John as a ‘traitor’.
Everyone is surprised. Hallock saw the board was going round faster than ever. He tried to get up but his fingers seemed stuck to the board. Hinkle asked the board who was talking. The board spelled ‘H-E-L-E-N’. Miss Hinkle asked Lavinia if she knew anyone by the name of Helen. Lavinia told that someone with the name Helen had been trying to communicate with her husband. Very soon other couples began to report that the board was taking Hallock’s name. At the party, John asks everyone not to use the Ouija board but nobody listens to him.

John and Lavinia’s Relation Go Through a Turmoil
At the party, Lavinia could not handle the situation and looked towards Hallock in suspicion as she had done in the library the evening before. Hallock did not know when the party ended as he went to his room and went to sleep. Next morning he could not see his wife and when he was sitting in his library trying to make another try for his story, a slip of paper slid under the door. It read, ‘Dear John, I am going back to my grandmother: My lawyer will
communicate with you later.’ John wished that he died.

The Ghost Appears Again
Suddenly the voice of the ghost could be heard again which agreed that he should be dead. Hallock asked the ghost why she appeared in parts. She said that if he gave her time she would appear in full. She was now too tired to materialize. She had come back again just to know when his wife was going to get rid of the Ouija board. Hallock blamed the ghost for disturbing his relations with his wife. It was due to her that Lavinia had decided to leave. Meanwhile, Gladolia came at the door remarked to Hallock that she did not like the cook (black magic) and would leave her job. Hallock again blamed the ghost for this.
Hallock, Lavinia, and the Ghost
And then the door opened and Lavinia entered. She was ready to leave with her suitcase. John tried his best to conceal the ghost from Lavinia but she was very clearly able to make out that John was hiding something from her. She was now obsessed to know what was actually going on about Which he was mysterious. Hallock thought that Lavinia would faint if she saw a ghost because she used to fear even a mouse. She argued with John over flirting at the Ouija board party.
While they were arguing, she saw who was behind John and then the voice of the ghost revealed herself that she was Helen. Lavinia was shocked to see the ghost and faced it very strongly. Lavinia asked her whether she was Helen of Troy and the ghost agreed that she was Helen of Troy, New York and disappeared saying a goodbye.

Hallock and Lavinia Settle Down
Lavinia forgivingly fell into the arms of John and regretted to misunderstand her husband. Hallock now felt a strong desire to write. He claimed ‘loudly, I’ve got the bulliest(best) plot to write a ghost story’.

Important Questions

Q. What made the writer believe that he was good at writing ghost stories?
A. The narrator thought that he was good at writing ghost stories because his publisher Jenkins always wanted him to write ghost stories. He told the narrator that his ghost stories were very well-received by the audience.
Q. Why did the ghost of Helen come to see John Hallock?
A. The ghost came to see John Hallock because the people on earth were making the lives of ghosts a hell by calling them every now and then using Ouija Boards and forcing them to answer their questions. The people had robbed them off all their joy and amusement and they couldn’t go haunting people.
Q. Why did the spirit in the Ouija Board call Hallock a traitor?
A. The spirit of Helen had come to Hallock with a request. She wanted him to convince all his friends and relatives to stop using Ouija Board and there he himself was using Ouija Board in the party. So, she called him a traitor.
Q. Why is John’s wife angry and what does she decide to do?
A. John’s wife was angry when all the Ouija Boards in the party called him a traitor and another name which was called was Helen. Lavinia thought that her husband was cheating on her and was going around with a woman named Helen. She decided to leave him and said that her lawyer would talk to him.
Q. John Hallock could never displease Jenkins. Why?
A. Jenkins was the only publisher who published John’s books. He wanted John to write books which had supernatural elements in them. All his ghost stories were liked by the public. So, John could never annoy Jenkins.
Q. Why didn’t John want to partner Laura Hinkle at the Ouija Board party?
A. John didn’t want to be a partner with Laura Hinkle during the Ouija Board Party because he had been asked by the ghost to not only stop playing but also dissuade others. The ghost made it very clear that only then it would help him write his ghost story.
Q. What is ‘The Writer’s Inspirational Bureau’ and was its protest?
A. It was a bureau which was started by all the ghostwriters to help the aspiring authors. The main task of this organization was to scout around until a writer without ideas was found. They would then plant an idea into their inspirational mind.
Q. Why were Helen and other ghosts unhappy with the use of Ouija Boards?
A. Helen and other ghosts were unhappy with the use of Ouija Boards because they had to be always on their toes for the Ouija Board fanatics called them too often to answer their questions. This did not leave them with any time to amuse themselves by haunting others.
Q. How did Helen’s appearance in the party make Lavinia get rid of her superstitious belief in Ouija Boards?
A. Helen was quite superstitious and she bought an Ouija Board from the sale and organized an Ouija Board party. The author was also forced to participate in the party. All the boards in the party screamed the author’s name and called him a traitor.
Everyone in the party believed that the narrator was having an affair with a woman called Helen. Lavinia Was very angry and she made up her mind to leave the author. But when Lavinia entered the author’s room and saw Helen, the ghost, she forgave her husband.
She then told the ghost, she forgave her husband and told her maid to burn the Ouija Board in the kitchen fire.
Q. How did ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’ function?
A. Those writers who faced difficulties in gathering ideas for writing ghost stories organized ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’. They moved around until they found a writer without ideas and with a mind soft enough to accept impression. Then, the case was brought to the attention of the main office, and one of them was assigned to it. When that case was finished they would bring in a report.
Q. What does the ghost mean when it says, ‘It is all your fault’?
A. The ghost means to say that she requested her to persuade the people to stop the use of the Ouija Board. But in his own house, his wife has arranged an Ouija Part. The ghost remains busy answering the questions asked by the people using Ouija Boards. It is the violation of the promise and John is bound to suffer.
Q. Why had John forgotten about Lavinia’s message?
A. At the moment John wanted to conceal Helen from Lavinia was too sensitive to bear the presence of a ghost in her house. So he gave priority to the act of concealing Helen.
Q. How does the lesson ‘A Shady Plot’ remind us that man has no right to invoke supernatural powers through Ouija Boards, Tarot cards, etc. to solve his problems and that one should face life boldly and overcome difficulties using wit and intelligence.
A. Man must honor the balance between earthly creatures and supernatural power as it has been made by Nature. He has no right to intrude into the placid world of the ghosts. Compelling the ghost to answer the questions using Ouija Board is an immortal activity of the ghost.
They don’t get time to take rest, nor do they get time for recreation. In this scientific world, man is not supposed to believe in ghosts. God has given man immense power of thinking and made him next to him.
Man must have the confidence in solving all sorts of problems instead of hankering after superstitions and antiquated ideas. Using his wit and courage he himself can do wonders.
Q. At one stage in the story, John wishes that he were dead. Why?
A. John found himself in a vicious cycle. His publisher was putting pressure t write the ghost story as soon as possible. Helen was not going to help him in writing the story. His wife had the confusion that her husband had fallen in love with Helen.
She had warned him that she would divorce him. The maidservant was going to leave the house of John. In this Situation, John wished that he were dead.
Q. What made the writer believe that he was good at writing ghost stories and how was it disproved?
A. A ghost story had been the first fiction that the author had written. As it was liked by the readers, Jenkins called on him whenever he wanted a ghost story for his magazine. It was disapproved when he felt that idea had not been coming to him despite his incessant endeavor.
Q. Why does Lavinia feel that the Ouija Board would help her husband?
A. Lavinia has sent her husband struggling for getting ideas for writing ghost stories. She thinks that her husband will be able to talk to ghosts using an Ouija Board and then he will have sufficient ideas for writing ghost stories.
Q. Who formed the ‘Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’? Why was it formed?
A. In her previous life, Helen was confused as a writer she hardly got ideas to write stories. In her ghost life, she found others who had suffered similarly and they together formed ‘Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’. It was formed to help a writer without ideas and with a mind soft enough to accept impression.
Q. What does Helen, the ghost, demand from John Hallock? Why does she do so?
A. Helen was the member of ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’. She had to go to the writers with no idea of writing ghost stories to help them. For this purpose only, she came to John. She explained her problem saying that she and other ghosts had to respond to the questions asked by the people using Ouija Boards.
All the ghosts had to work even at odd times and for a longer time. They had no time for their own entertainment. Expressing her problems, she began to weep.
Helen requested the author to persuade the people to stop using Ouija Boards using his own influence. If he did so, she would help him by providing ideas for writing a ghost story. If Helen succeeded in her mission, she and other ghosts would lead a peaceful life.
So for getting rid of her problems as well as the problems of the other ghosts. She showed her eagerness to help John and get his help.
Q. How did the ‘Ouija Board Party’ prove disastrous for John Hallock?
A. In the Ouija Board party, several couples had been invited by Linia. A Mrs. Laura Hinkle was without her husband. Lavinia requested her husband to use the Ouija board along with Mrs. Hinkle. All of a sudden, a piece of news spread in the party that Mr. John had fallen in love with a lady named Helen.
As he Deceived her, she was calling him a traitor. Some ladies in the party tried their level best to make Lavinia know the rumor that had spread. it was a very humiliating experience for John. Lavinia doubted the loyalty of her husband and warned that she would leave his house and divorce him.
Gentle and loyal John was unable to prove himself innocent. He was of the view that Lavinia would faint if she came to know that Helen was a ghost. Gentle and loyal John was unable to prove himself innocent. He was of the view that Lavinia would faint if she came to know that Helen was a ghost.
Later, the maidservant also announced that she was going to leave the house. On the other side, Helen was angry thinking that John had not kept his promises as the Ouija Party was organized in his house. So she would not help John in writing a ghost story.
His publisher Jenkins was putting pressure on him to write the ghost story as soon as possible and John was unable to get ideas for writing a ghost story. So the Ouija Board Party proved so disastrous for John.

Character Sketch

  • John Hallock – He is a very successful writer of ghost stories. Whenever his publisher asks him for a new story, he is able to write one. Usually, he has no idea where the plot will come from, he suddenly gets inspiration and is able to produce a new story. This made him cocky and overconfident. But being a writer is not enough. He has a wistful and whimsical wife who seems to enjoy spending money on every new fad or fashion. In order to meet mee her demands, Hallock has to work as a bookkeeper in a warehouse. His encounter with the ghost of Helen is a new and shocking thing as he is told that ghosts inspired him and gave him all the ideas for his stories. He holds long and interesting them with their Ouija Boards. He is witty, creative, caring and in moral dread of his wife Lavinia.
  • Lavinia – She is John’s wife. She is a domineering person and at the same time, she is interested in fashions and fads. She is a spendthrift as she has an alarming tendency to spend money on the latest fads and trends. Her latest craze was Ouija Board. She buys one and calls her friend for an Ouija Board Party. But John and Gladolia do not like this. It is Gladolia’s ultimatum that makes her give up her Ouija Board. She does not do it for her husband whom she is ready to leave. Hallock describes his wife as a very sensitive little lady. Hallock says that Lavinia couldn’t even bare a mouse say boo to her. Like all the wife she is jealous Lavinia can be easily influenced. She is suspicious and lacks trust in her husband.
  • Jenkins – Jenkins was the owner of a magazine. Though it has not been mentioned very explicitly that Jenkins liked the stories composed by Hallock, it is clear that he always forced him to write ghost stories for him. He believed that Hallock had the ability to write interesting ghost stories. He was in a way the major driving force behind Hallock writing these ghost stories. Helen is the ghost in the story. Helen is angry because the ghosts had to be at the beck and call of the Ouija board fanatics to answer their questions. This does not leave them with any time for their amusement or haunting others. In her past life, Helen was a writer who gave up her job to work as a reader of a magazine. She had suffered miserably in her past life and to prevent other writers from suffering, she organizes ‘The Writer’s Inspiration Bureau’ in her ghost life.
  • Helen – She is a ghost who is helping writers in writing ghost stories. In the past life, she is a writer who suffered miserably so, she founded ‘Writers’ Inspiration Bureau’ which give extended help to those writers who have no ideas. She is angry because the ghosts have to be at the beck and call of the Ouija board fanatics to answer their questions. This does not leave them with any time for their amusement or haunting others. So, she orders John to stop these things in his house.

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