A Dip in the Pool by Roald Dahl: Summary, Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Story Summary
  • 2:35 Analysis
  • 3:24 Themes
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Wolak

Karen has taught 4-8th grade English/Language Arts and has worked closely with adult learners for several years. M.Ed. in Adult Education.

'A Dip in the Pool' is a short story by Roald Dahl that was published in 'The New Yorker' in 1952. The plot of the story revolves around the poor decisions of a man named William Botibol. Let's review a summary of the story and analyze its plot and theme.

Story Summary

William Botibol is a passenger on a ship in the mid-1900s. As a form of entertainment and gambling, the ship allows passengers to bet on how far the ship will travel over the next day. The captain presents an estimation, and the ten miles above and below that point are auctioned off. They also auction off the low field (all the numbers below that range) and the high field (all the numbers above it). Whoever bets on the correct number of miles wins the pot of money collected in the auction.

The ship has experienced bad weather for two days, but on the third day, the weather calms. The ship's passengers emerge from their cabins and enjoy a peaceful day at sea. However, the bad weather returns by the evening. Botibol speaks with a crew member and learns that the captain made that day's estimate before the inclement weather returned.

The ship encounters poor weather.
Stormy Sea

Using this insider information, Botibol decides to enter the night's auction. Botibol would like to buy his wife Ethel a pale green Lincoln convertible. He wants to see the look on her face when he pulls it into the driveway. He feels confident that this is an easy way to make money, since the poor weather would certainly slow the ship. He decides to bid on the low field, and he spends most of his savings to do so.

The next morning, Botibol is horrified to see that the weather is completely calm. The ship will likely continue at full speed, and Botibol will lose his bet. He wonders how to keep his wife from finding out that he gambled away their savings, and he wonders if he can bribe the ship's captain to slow the ship. Botibol realizes that if someone fell overboard, the ship would be forced to turn around and retrieve the passenger.

After some hasty reasoning and planning, Botibol decides to throw himself overboard. Needing a witness, he spots an older woman on the deck of the ship. He speaks a few words to her - just enough to ensure she is neither deaf nor blind, as both of these things would prevent her from playing her role. He also ensures she isn't one of the higher bidders. Satisfied, he proceeds with his plan. He finds a secluded part of the deck and throws himself overboard, screaming for help.

Botibol wants to buy his wife a light green convertible.

The woman sees him enter the water, emerge, and wave his arms frantically. She watches him until he drifts out of sight. An authoritative woman comes up on deck, and scolds the woman for wandering away. She reminds her not to wander off. This woman is apparently a caregiver for the elderly woman. The elderly woman mentions that she saw a man dive into the water with his clothes on, and that she found that odd. She says he was kind, and that he waved at her from the water. The caregiver dismisses this as nonsense. She leads away her senile patient, and Botibol's absence is never reported.


This is a dark tale, but there is humor in it as well. The title of the story, for example, is a pun, or a joke that highlights the similarities between words. Taking a ''dip in a pool'' is an expression indicating that someone is going swimming. The phrase is usually used in a lighthearted way. This expression would be used to describe the actions of someone relaxing on a vacation - not an Olympic swimmer during training.

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