The main themes in “The Man in the Well” are identity and responsibility. The children in the story have no problem being unkind toward the man, telling him that “[their] dad is almost here” (Sher 118), until the man learns the names of the kids, revealing their identities. Small children and even teenagers tend to think it is okay to be crueler to other people if the other person cannot see them or does not know who they are. Small children also have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. When the man asks the children to “go get a ladder; get help” (Sher 116), they decide to just keep him in there as if he is some kind of prisoner. Sher shows the themes of responsibility and identity in the story through the conversations between the man and the other children.
One of the ways Sher establishes the theme of dialogue in the story is by having the man constantly ask the children to “get help” (Sher 116) throughout the story. The children, knowing the man is helpless and has no way of getting them in trouble completely ignore his request, lye that help is on the way, and make a game out of the whole situation. It is evident that the narrator seems to think that they are playing a game because when Wendy reveals Aaron’s name, the narrator said “she’d broken one of the rules” (Sher 116). The fact that the man behind the well does not know their names and makes the children think that it is okay to be mean. This situation is similar to cyber bullying, but the bully is concealed behind a
Brisman 2 screen instead of a well. Before the man knows their names, the children talk to man like a cyber bully would talk to a helpless victim, telling him that help would arrive shortly.
Near the end of the story, the man figures out all of the children’s names and then a change in power between the children and the man occurs. When the man starts calling names, the children start to become uncomfortable and scared. The narrator “knew [he] couldn’t answer” (Sher 119) because then the man would know his name. The man takes advantage of this situation by “us[ing] everybody’s name” (Sher 120). At first it would seem like the man is taunting the children, but later he asks them,”’ Why didn’t you tell anyone?’ he coughed, ‘Didn’t you want to tell anyone?” (Sher 120) which makes it seem like the man just did not know why they did not go and get help in the first place.
The children in the story are only nine and have no responsibility which is why they did not help the man in the well. Many people would probably consider these kids bad people, but that is not really the case here. The kids did make a poor decision, but because they have cannot be expected to have any responsibility, how can you expect them to go find a ladder and bring it all the way back to the man in the well? They considered trying, but they “looked at each other and it was decided” (Sher 116). Their irresponsibility shows off even more when the man tells them to “’Go tell your parents there is someone in this well’” (Sher 116), and Jason responds by asking “’Is it dark’” (Sher 116).
The dialogue in the story between the children and the man in the well plays an important role within the story. The difference between the way the man communicates when he does not know the children’s names and when he does know them is a change that shows the theme of Brisman identity while throughout the whole story there is a constant theme of responsibility. It is interesting that the story was written before there was a big hype about cyber bullying, and yet the story can still be related to it. In conclusion, Sher’s story shows many of its themes through the conversations between the children and the man.