While On the Face of It is primarily concerned with issues of human connection and alienation, it also touches on the value of simply sitting in nature, contemplating one’s experience, and observing the world and other people. Again, this is mostly presented through the character of Mr. Lamb, and also in the way that Derry is converted to Lamb’s contemplative worldview over the course of their conversation. In connection to its theme of remaining open to all kinds of experience, the play emphasizes the importance of appreciating nature and observing and learning from one’s surroundings.
Throughout his conversation with Derry, Mr. Lamb often returns to the subject of simply sitting, listening, and learning. He says “I sit here. I like sitting,” and “I’m interested in anybody. Anything. There’s nothing God made that doesn’t interest me.” He speaks of listening to his bees, saying, “When you listen to bees for a long while, they humm….and hum means ‘sing’. I hear them singing, my bees.” This also extends to Mr. Lamb’s openness towards other people, as he accepts all kinds of human interaction, either positive or negative, and tries to learn from it. In trying to convince Derry to return, Lamb discusses the boy’s vague longings in terms of contemplation, saying that Derry could learn what he wants by “Waiting. Watching. Listening. Sitting here or going there.” Mr. Lamb might be lonely for friends and family, but he also seems satisfied and at peace with his contemplative life, and finds company in his plants, bees, books, and the occasional visitor like Derry.
Though Derry is resistant to Mr. Lamb during their conversation, when the boy actually goes home to his mother, he summarizes Lamb’s ideas to her and seems to have been convinced of their validity. Derry tells his mother that what he really wants to do is go back to the old man’s garden and “be there, and sit and...listen to things. Listen and look.” He declares that what’s important is “what I think and feel and what I want to see and find out and hear.” Before Mr. Lamb, no one had spoken of things like this to Derry before, and the boy clearly has a contemplative nature and wants to learn more about himself and the world around him.
These ideas of observation and contemplation are also inextricably bound to nature, especially as they are first presented in the setting of Mr. Lamb’s garden. Derry enters the garden because he wanted to be in this beautiful place, and Mr. Lamb enjoys sitting in the garden. The initial meeting of the two characters is thus caused by their mutual desire to be outside and in nature. “A day like this,” Lamb says, soon after the two first encounter each other. “Beautiful day. Not a day to be indoors.” He also often turns to nature for comfort and peace, or to make a point to the defiant Derry. This is especially noticeable in Lamb’s discussion of the supposed “weeds” in his garden, which are only seen as weeds because of society’s perception of them, and in the fact that he bases their potential future relationship around Derry coming back to help him pick crab apples. When Derry complains about people always staring at his burned face, Lamb again diverts to nature, saying that “There’s plenty of other things to stare at. […] Like crab apples or the weeds or a spider climbing up a silken ladder, or my tall sun-flowers.” Instead of focusing inward on his own problems, Lamb prefers to look outward at the world, and he finds a sense of peace in contemplating nature rather than the negative aspects of humanity or his own disability.
Overall, Mr. Lamb’s character emphasizes the value of being present and observant, and Derry comes to appreciate these values through his conversation with the old man. In the end, Derry decides that he too wants to “[go] back there” to the garden, “to look at things and listen.” A large part of the play’s exploration of openness thus involves remaining aware of all kinds of experience: listening, looking, and appreciating nature.
Nature, Observation, and Contemplation ThemeTracker
Nature, Observation, and Contemplation Quotes in On the Face of It
DERRY: I thought it was empty….an empty house.
MR LAMB: So it is. Since I’m out here in the garden. It is empty. Until I go back inside. In the meantime, I’m out here and likely to stop. A day like this. Beautiful day. Not a day to be indoors.
DERRY: [Panic] I’ve got to go.
MR LAMB: Not on my account. I don’t mind who comes into the garden. The gate’s always open. Only you climbed the garden wall.
DERRY: [Angry] You were watching me.
MR LAMB: I saw you. But the gate’s open. All welcome. You’re welcome. I sit here. I like sitting.
MR LAMB: Some call them weeds. If you like, then….a weed garden, that. There’s fruit and there are flowers, and trees and herbs. All sorts. But over there….weeds. I grow weeds there. Why is one green, growing plant called a weed and another ‘flower’? Where’s the difference. It’s all life….growing. Same as you and me.
DERRY: We’re not the same.
MR LAMB: I’m old. You’re young. You’ve got a burned face, I’ve got a tin leg. Not important. You’re standing there…. I’m sitting here. Where’s the difference?
DERRY: […] Do you know, one day, a woman went by me in the street — I was at a bus-stop — and she was with another woman, and she looked at me, and she said….whispered….only I heard her…. she said, “Look at that, that’s a terrible thing. That’s a face only a mother could love.”
MR LAMB: So you believe everything you hear, then?
DERRY: It was cruel.
MR LAMB: And is that the only thing you ever heard anyone say, in your life?
DERRY: Oh no! I’ve heard a lot of things.
MR LAMB: So now you keep your ears shut.
MR LAMB: I’m not fond of curtains. Shutting things out, shutting things in. I like the light and the darkness, and the windows open, to hear the wind.
DERRY: Yes. I like that. When it’s raining, I like to hear it on the roof.
MR LAMB: So you’re not lost, are you? Not altogether? You do hear things. You listen.
DERRY: I hate it here.
MOTHER: You can’t help the things you say. I forgive you. It’s bound to make you feel bad things….and say them. I don’t blame you.
DERRY: It’s got nothing to do with my face and what I look like. I don’t care about that and it isn’t important. It’s what I think and feel and what I want to see and find out and hear. And I’m going back there. Only to help him with the crab apples. Only to look at things and listen. But I’m going.
MOTHER: You’ll stop here.
DERRY: Oh no, oh no. Because if I don’t go back there, I’ll never go anywhere in this world again.
[The door slams. Derry runs, panting.]
And I want the world….I want it….I want it….