An Angel in Disguise: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Who Is an Angel in Disguise?
  • 1:06 Theme: The Evils of…
  • 2:03 Theme: Compassion
  • 2:38 Theme: The Love of a Child
  • 3:08 Analysis
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

'An Angel in Disguise' is a Victorian Era short story by T.S. Arthur. This lesson focuses on themes brought out in the story and some particular points of analysis that make the story more useful for the modern reader.

Who Is ''An Angel in Disguise''?

T.S. Arthur was a proponent of the movement for temperance, and his short story ''An Angel in Disguise'' has the evils of drinking as one of its messages. The very first line of this particular story tells us this:

''Idleness, vice, and intemperance had done their miserable work, and the dead mother lay cold and still amid her wretched children.'' Something must be done with these unfortunate orphans.

The mother is taken away for a pauper's burial while the neighbors go to her house to discuss what should be done with her three children. The older children are taken by neighboring families, while little Maggie, too ill to ever prove useful, is then left alone in the house.

The last to leave is Joe Thompson, the local wheelwright. Though he knows his stern wife will protest, his heart melts when the child pleads with him in fear. He carries her home, and day by day both Thompsons warm to her. And there she remains, an angel in disguise that has brought love to their home.

Theme: The Evils of Drunkenness

One of the key themes in this story, and a popular one at the time, is the sorrow and societal burden created by drunkenness. One important issue raised by the campaign for the banning of alcohol was the huge numbers of men who neglected the needs of their families in favor of drinking in bars and taverns.

T.S. Arthur was a very popular writer in the 19th century. He wrote stories for popular ladies' magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book, the most widely read American monthly magazine during the second half of the 19th century. Eventually, Arthur edited his own Arthur's Home Magazine, writing stories with uplifting and moral messages, including ways to combat the evils of alcohol.

In ''An Angel in Disguise,'' this theme takes perhaps a more tragic turn, as the mother is the one falling prey to the charms of drink, leaving her three children home alone and neglected. We can assume the two older children did what they could to care for Maggie in the absence of anyone else.

Theme: Compassion

On first reading, a modern reader may think that the neighbors must be cold-hearted people if they cannot feel compassion for three innocent children. Even the older children are only taken in to be useful and provide an extra farm hand. Remember, though, that these were different times; perhaps the neighbors did feel sympathy, or compassion, but were too poor and over-worked to make decisions based on that compassion.

What we do know in the story is that the couple who acted on their feelings of compassion found great joy in caring for little Maggie. They did, in fact, reap more than they sowed.

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