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 normal. Therefore, Dahl depicts deception and disloyalty as feeding on themselves; once discovered, deceptive and disloyal acts initiate a vicious cycle of betrayal that, in this case, ends in death.
Mr. Foster deceives his wife by pretending that his tardiness is accidental or careless, rather than deliberate psychological torture. The fact that he would torture his wife also marks his disloyalty to her, which is clear in his other cruel behavior, too. He speaks to her in a patronizing and chauvinistic way, calling her “foolish” and “stupid,” and often bossing her around. Furthermore, he makes clear that he does not intend to write to her when she is away, and he has no feelings of loyalty or compassion toward their daughter or grandchildren, to whom he can’t be bothered to write, let alone visit. By contrast, Mrs. Foster has “served [her husband] loyally and well” for over thirty years, caring for him, their child, and the household. She always gives him the benefit of the doubt (even though his behavior is suspicious and painful to her), and when she has moments of wishing that she could live in Paris with her daughter and grandchildren instead of remaining in New York with her husband, she immediately pushes those thoughts away because she fears they may be disloyal to Mr. Foster.
Mrs. Foster is not deliberately deceitful or disloyal until she discovers, beyond a reasonable doubt, that her husband has betrayed and deceived her. When he makes her late for her plane by pretending to look in the house for a present for their daughter (a small box that Mrs. Foster finds hidden between the car seats), she deduces that his cruelty was deliberate all along. In light of this, when she then hears him get stuck in the elevator, she feels justified in betraying him by leaving him there, seemingly knowing that he will die. At this point, she feels no regret about her actions—only relief, since this single moment of disloyalty will end her suffering.
Just as her husband pretended for years that his tardiness wasn’t intentional, after Mrs. Foster leaves Mr. Foster trapped in the elevator, she pretends that all is well at home. She writes letters to him from Paris, and when she returns to a curiously empty house, she simply calls the elevator repair man as though the only thing amiss is a broken lift. Their deceptions, therefore, are mirror images of one another, as each Foster pretends that all is normal in order to be cruel to the other. Clearly, though, Mr. Foster was the corrupting influence on his long-suffering, kindhearted wife: without his misdeeds, she would never have betrayed or deceived him. As such, Dahl shows disloyalty, mistrust, and deception create a vicious, self-perpetuating, and toxic cycle that can spiral out of control.
Deception and Disloyalty ThemeTracker
Deception and Disloyalty Quotes in The Way Up to Heaven
And now, lately, she had come more and more to feel that she did not really wish to live out her days in a place where she could not be near these children, and have them visit her, and take them out for walks, and buy them presents, and watch them grow. She knew, of course, that it was wrong and in a way disloyal to have thoughts like these while her husband was still alive.
“But don’t you really think Walker should stay there all the time to look after things?” she asked meekly.
“Nonsense. It’s quite unnecessary. And anyway, I’d have to pay him full wages.”
“Oh yes,” she said. “Of course.”
“What’s more, you never know what people get up to when they’re left alone in a house,” Mr. Foster announced, and with that he took out a cigar and, after snipping off the end with a silver cutter, lit it with a gold lighter.
She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to her that there was suddenly a new note in his voice, and she turned to look at him… She glanced at him again, and this time she noticed with a kind of horror that he was staring intently at the little place in the corner of her left eye where she could feel the muscle twitching.
“In that case, dear, I’ll just get myself a room somewhere for the night. And don’t you bother yourself about it at all.”
“That would be foolish,” he said. “You’ve got a large house here at your disposal. Use it.”
“But, dear, it’s empty.”
“Then I’ll stay with you myself.”
“There’s no food in the house. There’s nothing.”
“Then eat before you come in. Don’t be so stupid, woman. Everything you do, you seem to want to make a fuss about it.”
“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t think I will. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t drop me at the club on your way.”
She looked at him, and at that moment he seemed to be standing a long way off from her, beyond some borderline. He was suddenly so small and far away that she couldn’t be sure what he was doing, or what he was thinking, or even what he was.
At this point, Mrs. Foster suddenly spotted a corner of something white wedged down in the crack of the seat on the side where her husband had been sitting. She reached over and pulled out a small paper-wrapped box, and at the same time she couldn’t help noticing that it was wedged down firm and deep, as though with the help of a pushing hand.
The chauffeur, had he been watching her closely, might have noticed that her face had turned absolutely white and that the whole expression had suddenly altered. There was no longer that rather soft and silly look. A peculiar hardness had settled itself upon the features. The little mouth, usually so flabby, was now tight and thin, the eyes were bright, and the voice, when she spoke, carried a new note of authority.
Once a week, on Tuesdays, she wrote a letter to her husband, a nice, chatty letter—full of news and gossip, which always ended with the words “Now be sure to take your meals regularly, dear, although this is something I’m afraid you may not be doing when I’m not with you.”
“Hello,” she said. “Listen - this is Nine East Sixty-second Street…Yes, that’s right. Could you send someone round as soon as possible, do you think? Yes, it seems to be stuck between the second and third floors. At least, that’s where the indicator’s pointing…Right away? Oh, that’s very kind of you. You see, my legs aren’t any too good for walking up a lot of stairs. Thank you so much. Good-bye.”
She replaced the receiver and sat there at her husband’s desk, patiently waiting for the man who would be coming soon to repair the lift.