The CuriousPages Sketchbook

The story: Good Intentions, by W. W. Jacobs

My comments after reading this story. I can’t decide if it’s good or bad to leave this many questions unanswered.

When I first finished reading this story, I was left with the impression that the captain had planned the whole thing from the start and set up the narrator, just to remove this second woman from his life. Which was a perfectly acceptable end. Then I wondered who locked them in; first I thought that the captain must have done that and then sent the note to the narrator’s wife. But then I realized that he would have still been entertaining, so he couldn’t have. I then thought that perhaps he had instructed the boy to do that and send the note to the narrator’s wife. Then, this raised the question, at what point did the captain plan this. Was it, in fact, from the start, or was it much later, when he saw an opportunity, or did he not plan it at all and when he came out to see what all the noise was, he then had no choice but to double cross the narrator, because the other option would have been to admit his own guilt. Or, seeing them both in there, and the narrator’s wife there and also angry at the narrator, was it then that the captain saw the opportunity for himself to get rid of this second woman by pretending that she was having an affair with the narrator?

This last option seemed the most likely, once I had thought about it. But then, who locked them in and sent the note. At first I thought that it was the crew members who had seen them at the theatre, and that they had done this purely as a joke.

Then, looking back to the start of the story, I recalled the single line:

“…Ever since I was married the missis has been setting traps for me, and asking people to keep an eye on me….”

And when I read this, I realized that perhaps it was one of his wife’s spies who had locked them in and then sent the note. This seemed to fit best, and I think that this was the author’s intention, and this was why he had planted this single clue near the opening of the story.

So, probably, this was the course of events. His wife’s spy had followed them to the theatre, then locked them in and sent the note to his wife. When the captain came out to see what all the noise was, he couldn’t admit the truth, and he spotted an opportunity to double cross the narrator and thereby get rid of this second woman from his life. Just before this, the narrator had considered shopping the captain, so that muddied his character in the eyes of the reader and made the captain more sympathetic, so the ending was more acceptable.
After a certain amount of thinking, I had come up with the solution, but it still didn’t seem satisfactory because there were other possibilities. The one I’ve suggested above is just one possibility. So, no matter how much you think about it, there is not a clear solution to the story. Is this desirable?

I don’t know. Many stories are deliberately vague, so as to leave the reader thinking. I suspect, personally, that I would not want one of my own stories to be this vague. There are plenty of other things in a story for the reader to be left thinking about. I don’t think the details of the plot should be one of those. But I’m not sure about this. I don’t know. Life is sometimes unclear. No, I’ve decided; I think this is wrong. This lack of clarity is a flaw. The solving of a mystery should be what the story is about. To leave an unsolvable mystery after the story is finished, I think is a flaw—as far as the plot goes. Of course there are always going to be factors in many stories that are unclear, but these are usually to do with the characters’ motives and so on, and are not to do with details of the plot.


Read the story here.


18 October 2008



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