Examination Day

This blog is about Examination Day, a science fiction short story written by Henry Slesar.

It’s about Dickie Jordan, a young boy living in a dystopian world where the government expects all children to take an exam before they reach the age of 12.

 First of all, I would like to briefly mention why I chose the story because it has an effect on the rest of my analysis. Science fiction, which is one of my favorite genres in fiction, is a genre that is always willing to try something new and, if well written, may produce very interesting and realistic works. I found this story by chance when I searched for the genre on Google. I purposely chose this genre because I have the knowledge and interest to say something about it and analyze it as far as I can. 

And when I read the story, I decided it was suitable for this assignment. 

The events occur in a dystopian world, in which the government restricts the intelligence of individuals. The major action takes place at the Jordan's house and at the government department, where Dickie is tested. There are only three characters in the story and it is a short story with a small plot. Dickie and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jordan. It is told in the third person. Narration is limited so we can only read the reactions of Dickie and his father. Before discussing the main character, I'd like to mention Mr. and Mrs. Jordan's characterizations, which I believe represent the dystopian society under which the story takes place — more specifically, an obedient couple to the system found in every dystopian story. This is because there are characters in dystopias who are usually fearful of the system, they live in. And I believe these two are portrayed as passive individuals who do not criticize the system. Because they have no power to change anything. They just obey it.

“The Jordans never spoke of the exam, not until their son, Dickie, was twelve years old.” 

For example, we learn at the beginning of the story, the examination Dickie had to take was never explained to him before. Since they believe it will happen someday and go well, even if they are aware of the risk at the end of the story, they are aware that they cannot stop it.

As for the protagonist, Dickie is a kind and insightful boy who trusts his parents and society. He is executed at the end of the story because the government considers he is too smart. Though the plot refers that he feels secure in his family and in society because he takes the exam with no excuses but he becomes the unfortunate object of his parents' fear of opposing the government, as well as of the government itself too. 

This is also one of the conflicts in the story. The other one is that Mr. Jordan is more hopeful about the exam unlike his wife, she seems more afraid to lose his son. In the beginning of the story when they told Dickie about the examination, we read this part:

“[…] Mrs. Jordan first mentioned the subject in his presence, and the anxious manner of her speech caused her husband to answer sharply.

‘Forget about it,’ he said. ‘He’ll do all right.’” 

And when Dickie asked about what the exam looks like, Mr. Jordan is more neutral than Mrs. Jordan:

“It’s just a sort of Government Intelligence test they give children at the age of twelve. You’ll be taking it next week. It’s nothing to worry about.” 

In some dystopias, the government tries to eliminate those who speak up for their freedom or question them. There are various books and films about this situation and I grew up with them so it’s really easy to recognize the similarity. 

‘Examination Day’ is a great example. In the first part of the story, I noticed that Dickie draws an image that questions his surroundings. For example, in the following section:

“‘Why did it have to rain today?’ he said. ‘Why couldn’t it rain tomorrow?’

His father, now slumped into an armchair with the Government newspaper rattled the sheets in

vexation. ‘Because it just did, that’s all. Rain makes the grass grow.’

‘Why, Dad?’

‘Because it does, that’s all.’

Dickie puckered his brow. ‘What makes it green, though? The grass?’

‘Nobody knows,’ his father snapped, then immediately regretted his abruptness.” 

What caught my attention in this quote was that the character was a boy who asks many questions. He asks questions, he notices things. When I read the rest, I came to the conclusion that this was actually a problem for the government in the story. Because we read at the end of the story Dickie is executed not because he was too stupid but too clever for the government’s measure and they don’t want an individual that questions everything around them. 

But I have one thing to add, I was surprised that he eventually died. For this reason, I found the ending of the story dark and shocking. 

In the story, the government restricts people's intellect levels and destroys the more intelligent ones. Since ruling certain communities in dystopias is impossible, the government in the story wishes to avoid this. One interpretation is that knowledge is meaningless and that being intelligent or criticizing the system is harmful. And, in reality, we can think about it this way: maybe the author was attempting to explain how individuals' ignorance is the source of this dystopia's strength. It is beyond their ability to control people by manipulating them and allowing ignorant people to exist.  

When I reflected on this part of the story, I reached that conclusion, so I'd like to conclude that it's a good example of the short story-dystopia genre when I do the close reading because the writer created a government that so horrible that they execute a boy who is innocent and his fault was being smart, and of course, the author created the plot of the story around it.

Works Cited:

Slesar, Henry. “Examination Day.” The Playboy, February 1958, pp.27-28.