The Way Up to Heaven


Roald Dahl

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Themes and Colors
Cruelty and Revenge Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
Propriety and Class Theme Icon
Deception and Disloyalty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Way Up to Heaven, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Cruelty and Revenge

The marriage at the center of “The Way Up to Heaven” is characterized by cruelty: for years Mr. Foster deliberately stokes Mrs. Foster’s “pathological fear” of being late, so, ultimately, Mrs. Foster leaves her husband trapped in an elevator to die. This might seem an extreme overreaction by Mrs. Foster, but Dahl depicts Mr. Foster’s persistent and malicious lateness as the crueler behavior—after all, it causes Mrs. Foster such distress that it leads her…

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Gender and Marriage

In the 1950s, when “The Way Up to Heaven” was published, husbands were expected to be the heads of household, while their wives were meant to be comparatively passive. In “The Way Up to Heaven,” Dahl pushes this unequal dynamic to its extreme. Mr. Foster is not simply controlling, but also sadistic: ordering Mrs. Foster around, exploiting her pathological fear of being late, and indirectly trying to stop her from going to visit their daughter

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Propriety and Class

In “The Way Up to Heaven,” Mr. and Mrs. Foster behave with a strict sense of propriety. While propriety is normally associated with decency, Dahl parodies this notion by having propriety exacerbate the couple’s cruelty. Mr. Foster uses upper-class propriety to his advantage by using his manners to conceal that he is being surreptitiously cruel to his wife. Meanwhile, Mrs. Foster is smothered by her sense of propriety, since she feels that it’s not proper…

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Deception and Disloyalty

Throughout most of “The Way Up to Heaven,” Mrs. Foster is loyal and kind while Mr. Foster is cruel and dishonest, tormenting his wife psychologically while pretending that his behavior is careless rather than malicious. However, when Mrs. Foster discovers the extent of her husband’s cruelty and deception, she herself takes on his qualities: she betrays him by leaving him to die in an elevator, and then acts deceptively when she pretends that all is…

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