"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories

"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "The Visitor"


A large wooden case from Haifa arrives at a young man's house, with the sender's address listed on the box. The protagonist pries open the box and discovers that it is filled with 28 volumes of books bound in green morocco. The protagonist looks through the pages, trying to find the book's author, but instead finds a letter from his uncle, Oswald Hendryks Cornelius. No one in the protagonist's family has heard from Oswald in over 30 years, so the letter, dated 10 March 1964, proves that he still exists. Oswald is notorious for being "a wealthy bachelor with unsavoury but glamorous habits" (646) in his family, and is surrounded by grandiose rumors and hearsay.

Oswald's letter reveals that the boy and his three sisters are the rightful heirs to their uncle's fortune. But, because Oswald has lost all of his money, he leaves the protagonist his private diaries with the caveat that he not try to publish them as he may ruin the reputation of the many heroines within the stories. The intrigues within the diaries bring excitement to the family, and the 28 volumes, with 300 pages each, closely hold the attention of all of his family members. Because he finds the stories so captivating, the protagonist tries to have one of the stories published, and after speaking with several lawyers, decides that "Sinai Desert Episode" (648) is the safest story to publish.

At the time of Sinai Desert Episode, Oswald is 51 years old, and he never marries because he loses interest in women once he "conquer[s]" (648) them, and he is too much of a philanderer to be a good husband. Oswald is a tall, narrow person with a soft voice and a courteous manner, and is very discreet about his affairs. But, something changes within him when he speaks to women, and he immediately becomes a great conversationalist while his nose strangely flairs, something that many women find electric. Oswald also collects spiders—which he appreciates because the "female spider is so savage in her lovemaking that the male is very lucky indeed if he escapes with his life at the end of it all" (651)—and walking sticks, all of which belong "to a distinguished or disgusting person" (650).

Oswald's exciting personality progresses into the Sinai episode, as Oswald drives between Khartoum and Cairo. Oswald begins an affair in Cairo with Isabella, the mistress of a notorious royal. Oswald takes Isabella to the top of the pyramid of Cheops, only to be flanked by three sinister figures, as he and Isabella narrowly escape. Here, Oswald's written account begins as Oswald leaves Isabella at the hotel, losing interest after she calls him a string of profanities. Oswald then decides to drive to Jerusalem from Cairo, stopping in Ismaila, then taking the desert across Sinai to the Palestine border before continuing to Jerusalem.

Oswald arrives at Ismaila and stops at a hotel after singing Aida on his ride. In the morning, he leaves the hotel in a hurry after he finds a hair on his breakfast. Oswald then stops at a general store outside of the Sinai desert, and asks for boiled water from the proprietor. The proprietor has trachoma, and Oswald spirals into hypochondria as he imagines the hair in his breakfast to be the result of many diseases the cook may have. After pouring the boiled water into a cannister, Oswald continues driving until he reaches a part of the desert with scorpions he wants to collect. He steps into the desert and captures a large mother scorpion carrying fourteen babies, relishing this new addition to his collection.

Oswald then drives to a filling station and diagnoses Omar, the attendant of the gas station, with ataxia and syphilis. After a slight standoff between Oswald and the attendant, who Oswald refers to as "the Arab" (662), the attendant fills up the tank and decides to check the water and oil. The attendant removes a broken fan-belt from Oswald's car, which Oswald believes the attendant may have intentionally cut. The attendant tells Oswald that a new fan-belt will arrive from Ismaila on a mail truck the following day, but Oswald insists that he can only get the right fan-belt for his car from Cairo. Oswald moves to call agents in Cairo, but is disgusted by the thought of bringing the attendant's phone to his face, and asks the attendant to place the call for him. The attendant offers to feed and lodge Oswald while he waits for the fan belt, but Oswald decides to sleep in his car after learning the attendant lives with his wife, and Saleh, one of his helpers.

In the night, Oswald is sure that someone is watching him. But, he is elated when a Rolls Royce pulls up near him, as he believes there is a kinship and mutual respect between wealthy people and people who own expensive automobiles. Abdul Aziz steps out of the Rolls, and, after speaking with the attendant and with Oswald, invites Oswald to spend the night at his house. Oswald believes they are going to Ismaila, but learns that Abdul lives in Maghara, which Oswald calls "a wasteland" (671). As they travel to Abdul's house, Oswald and Abdul bond over Oswald's expensive carpet, as Abdul is in the carpet business. When Oswald notices that Abdul has a phone line, he speculates that Abdul may have asked Omar to phone whenever a sophisticated traveler stops at the gas station so Abdul can have company.

Abdul explains that he lives in the desert because it calls to him like some men are called to the sea, and admits that he wants to keep his 18-year-old daughter protected and away from predatory men. Abdul asks Oswald if he has ever wanted to get married, and Oswald says that he only desired to marry once, before lying that he is disinterested in "matters of the flesh" (674) after the death of his beloved. Oswald and Abdul then arrive at Abdul's home, a lavish white castle.

Oswald is ushered into the castle as he fantasizes about ravishing Abdul's daughter. Abdul's attractive wife greets them both, and Oswald turns his attention to her. Excited by the danger of seducing Abdul's daughter and wife, Oswald begins his seduction while poolside with the wife and daughter. After dinner, Abdul tells his wife and daughter to head to bed, and Oswald is bewildered that neither of them stops to whisper in his ear or to initiate a late-night meeting between them. After waiting patiently for several hours, Oswald grows disgruntled. Then, right before he is about to go to sleep, someone quietly opens his door. He sleeps with the visitor, but he is unsure whether it is Abdul's wife or daughter who has come to him in the night. In an attempt to pinpoint who the visitor is, he leaves a bite at the top of her neck.

In the morning, Oswald wakes up in a good mood and takes his breakfast. Abdul's wife greets Oswald with a pale-green chiffon scarf wrapped around her neck, indicating to Oswald that she was his late-night visitor. But, when the daughter walks into the room, she is also wearing a chiffon scarf, leaving Oswald's lover a mystery. As Abdul drives Oswald back to the gas station, Oswald asks to return to the house again, and Abdul responds that there is no harm in flirting. Abdul tells Oswald that they have many visitors to their house, and Oswald waits for Abdul to invite him again. Instead, Abdul shares that another reason he lives in the desert is because he has a second daughter who is suffering from anaesthetic leprosy which is highly resistant and almost impossible to cure. Because of this, the daughter goes to the third floor and keeps to her own apartment when guests visit. But, Abdul reassures Oswald that the leprosy is only contagious with the most intimate contact, and as Oswald steps out of the car, he is shaking so violently that he drops his cigarette packet on the ground. He bends down to retrieve the cigarette packet, and manages to light a cigarette while the green Rolls-Royce is already half a mile down the road and moving fast.


In the "The Visitor," Oswald, a proud, vain and lustful man, is humbled after he likely contracts an incurable form of leprosy. After years of exploits and passions which fill 28 volumes of diaries, the old man's final story, a retelling of a trip to the Middle East and a man who takes him in when his car breaks down, is an indication of his demise. Since Oswald loses all of his money and becomes diseased, "The Visitor" serves as a powerful statement against hubris, and an ironic statement about vanity and pride.

One of the "The Visitor's" most jarring elements is its use of situational irony. After Oswald consistently demeans people with disabilities, he learns that he may have contracted an incurable form of leprosy because of his vanity and pride. Indeed, throughout the story, Oswald fears that a hair that falls onto his food is from a cook infected with "purulent seborrheic impetigo" (658) or from ringworm. When he interacts with a cashier that has trachoma, Oswald insists that he watch while the cashier boils water for him, so as not to catch any disease. Finally, when Oswald runs out of gas in B'ir Rawd Salim, and Omar fills up his car, Oswald is disgusted by Omar's degenerated spinal cord, likely caused by syphilis. So, when Oswald learns that he may have contracted an incurable form of leprosy, this outcome is the exact opposite of what is expected from an extreme hypochondriac.

Another tragic moment of situational irony is Oswald's assumption that he will seduce either Abdul's wife or his daughter. When Oswald's late night visitor arrives, Oswald and the audience assume that either the wife or the daughter slept with Oswald. But, when Abdul shares that he has a third daughter, Oswald quickly realizes that he may have slept with Abdul's leprous daughter, completely unexpectedly catching an incurable disease. Indeed, Oswald's vanity and pride are confirmed, as he is able to seduce one of Abdul's daughters during his trip—just not the one he expects. The ironic twists of this story show that Oswald's vanity and pride are both dangerous, and work together to destroy him.

The color green is also a menacing motif and symbol in "The Visitor." When Oswald's nephew receives Oswald's diaries, he finds that they are covered in green morocco leather, and the last diary entry in these books tells the story of Oswald's troublesome experience with Abdul Aziz. Abdul Aziz's car is a green Rolls-Royce that leads Oswald to his difficult fate, and in the morning after Oswald sleeps with the visitor, Abdul's wife and daughter wear green chiffon scarves, preventing Oswald from learning if he slept with either of them. Green thus persists in the story as a symbol of conflict and affliction, as green leads the narrator to a difficult end.

Finally, the visitor's insistence that Oswald not light any matches or illuminate her is an allusion to the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. Eros (Cupid in Latin) brings Psyche to his magnificent castle at night when she laments that no one loves her. Psyche falls in love with Eros and becomes his wife, but he does not allow her to see his face. When she lights a candle and finally sees him, he leaves her, and she is forced to prove her love. Though the myth of Eros and Psyche ends happily, "The Visitor" has a less happy ending. Indeed, when Abdul Aziz brings Oswald to his castle, Oswald's late-night visitor proves to be his downfall once her identity and her leprosy are illuminated.