How It Happened


Arthur Conan Doyle

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Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Privilege, Arrogance, and Consequences Theme Icon
Humans and Technology Theme Icon
Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality Theme Icon
Death and the Supernatural Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in How It Happened, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality Theme Icon

In “How It Happened” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the narrator fails to reciprocate the loyalty and respect of his chauffeur, Perkins, suggesting that the narrator does not see Perkins as an equal. In the beginning of the story, for instance, the narrator disregards Perkins’s warning about the dangers of driving the new car, revealing a lack of respect for Perkins’s counsel in addition to his wellbeing. Later, when they are in a dangerous situation while driving down Claystall Hill, Perkins offers to take control of the car and let the narrator jump to safety. Given that he has no personal responsibility for the situation, this offer reveals a great degree of loyalty on Perkin’s part; he is willing to risk his life for someone who, on an arrogant whim, has endangered him. Like his earlier dismissal of Perkins’s warning, however, the narrator rejects this offer, arrogantly believing that he is just as capable as Perkins of driving them to safety. Though both may have survived if the narrator let Perkins take the wheel, the narrator himself fails to recognize the wisdom of Perkins’s offer, resulting in his death and Perkins’s injury. Likewise, though the narrator reciprocates Perkins’s offer, the gesture does not have the same significance because the narrator has already committed to staying in the car: whether or not Perkins jumps has no impact on the narrator’s own wellbeing, so the narrator’s offer isn’t a true sacrifice—it’s just a hardheaded refusal to relinquish control of the car. While both men make gestures of loyalty that might seem similar, then, it is only Perkins who shows true loyalty. In fact, the narrator’s offer only emphasizes his position of authority, as he refuses to give up control even in a crucial moment. As such, the story highlights the stark contrast between the narrator and Perkins, suggesting that the narrator’s power as an elite employer leads him to disregard Perkins’s wellbeing while also foolishly putting himself in danger.

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Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality appears in each chapter of How It Happened. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality Quotes in How It Happened

Below you will find the important quotes in How It Happened related to the theme of Loyalty, Selfishness, and Inequality.
How It Happened Quotes

“I’ll try her myself,” said I, and I climbed into the driver’s seat.

“The gears are not the same,” said he. “Perhaps, sir, I had better drive.”

“No; I should like to try her,” said I.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Perkins (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Robur (The Car)
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

It was foolish, no doubt, to begin to learn a new system in the dark, but one often does foolish things, and one has not always to pay the full price for them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Robur (The Car)
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll keep her steady,” said he, “if you care to jump and chance it. We can never get round that curve. Better jump, sir.”

“No,” said I; “I’ll stick it out. You can jump if you like.”

“I’ll stick it out with you, sir,” said he.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Perkins (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Robur (The Car)
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis: