Angel in Disguise Summary and Analysis: T.S. Arthur

Timothy Shay Arthur was born on the 6th of June, 1809 in New York to a miller who had relocated from Baltimore. Even from a young age, Arthur showed deep regard for books and literature and never showed any interest in manual work. He would spend his time writing whenever he could covet some time from his work. This famous nineteenth-century American author went on to publish his stories in the monthly magazine named Godey’s Lady’s Book. It was a popular magazine and from here his fame as a writer grew which inspired him to publish and edit his own magazine titled, Arthur’s Home Magazine. He is a largely forgotten figure now in the field of literature, but his writings did much to change the superficial customs of upper-class America which existed in that era.

The prose, An Angel in Disguise is a short story which is based on the idea that love can conquer everything. It is a story which depicts the misery of the less fortunate, people who are born into poverty and who due to physical disabilities are unable to fend for themselves. However, it is also about the joys of showing kindness to fellow beings and receiving their unconditional love in return.

Angel in Disguise Summary and Analysis: Plot & Setting

The author, in his formative years, grew up in remote surroundings and perhaps the setting of this story is inspired by that. In a sparsely populated rural village, a poor single mother struggles with her addiction to alcohol while also having to take care of her three children, one of whom is perpetually sick and bedridden. This unnamed woman had been an outcast for most of her life since the villagers can show no pity to a person who is always intoxicated. It is important that the reader understands the time in which this story has been written as village society back then had yet to emerge from the clutches of poverty and low standards of living. The people of the village were themselves destitute and had very little time or inclination to help others. It was a hard life for them and therefore they had found it easier to simply exile the wretched woman from their society. The author painstakingly articulated this setting to make the story more poignant and endearing. The harshness of the other villagers makes the kindness of one villager shine even brighter like a lamp of light in the dark.

After the idle woman dies in a fit of drunkenness in front of her terrified little children, the villagers find it in their hearts to give her a proper funeral. Since death is the ultimate punishment for the wicked, they believed that the woman had suffered enough in her lifetime and she should receive a good send off. They all gather around the village to arrange for the ceremony and afterwards they try to contemplate about what they should do about the three children. This is the basic plot of the story and it develops from here.

Angel in Disguise Summary:

After the death of an anonymous drunk woman, the people of her village decide to forgive her previous misconduct and they all come together to decide the fate of her three little children. One of the farmers from the village chose to adopt the eldest son, who was twelve years old at the time. The farmer thought that the boy would be of use to him in the field so he takes him home as one of his own. Next the young girl Kate gets adopted by Mrs. Eli, although she does so with great reluctance as Kate was still much too young to be able to work in any factory and earn money. Mrs. Eli kept chiding at her for being an undisciplined child and didn’t seem happy at all for having to feed an extra mouth. At long last did their concern fall upon little Maggie who was the youngest among all three siblings. None of the people surrounding the unfortunate family came forward to adopt her, since she was terminally ill and could be of not material use to them. When Maggie was just a little older than a toddler, she had fallen down from a window. This accident had resulted in a permanently damaged spine which had physically disabled her. All agree to put her up in a poor house but none of the onlookers take any initiative to fulfil this responsibility. The crude villagers looked upon her as nothing but a liability and they hastily turned away from her, leaving her alone at the funeral of her dead mother.

All left, except Joe Thompson who lingered behind to look upon the poor little child. As a village man, Joe was a hard-working wheel-maker who earned his living by making wooden wheels for carts and carriages. Although his personality and demeanour made him appear rough and uncouth he was in reality a kind man who loved children. He and his wife had been hoping for a baby for a long time but the distraught couple were left childless despite many attempts. Maggie notices Joe standing among the parting crowd and beckons him to come towards her. She realises that everybody is going away except him and therefore pleads him not to leave her alone. The gentle-hearted man knew that his wife will be perturbed if he took her back to his home, but still he gives in to Maggie’s pleas and carries her away in his arms. As the two of them reached home, Joe’s wife demanded an explanation for Maggie’s presence in the house. Joe explained the entire incident to her, and as he had rightly guessed, she was none too happy upon hearing the news. She was not ready to adopt Maggie as a child and asked her husband to dispel her from the house. The kind man tried to reason with his wife by citing a text to her from the Bible. According to the holy text, those who help children never go unrewarded. Then Joe asks his wife to set aside the bitterness of her heart and imagine the harsh life that Maggie has to face everyday just for the sake of survival. The innocent child is not at fault for her condition and she still has to bear the pain for it. This softened the childless mother’s heart and she felt compassion for the bedridden Maggie who was now all alone in the world without a home. She suppresses her emotions and doesn’t talk about it at the moment and goes to work in the kitchen. Later in the night she went herself to feed Maggie some supper. Next day, Joe gets the permission from the authorities at the poor house and returns home to see his wife and young Maggie conversing with each other. He was pleased to see his wife’s changed expression and they looked as if they were bonding. The couple came to an understanding that they should help Maggie recover her health and so they decided to let her stay with them a few more days before she was to be sent off to the poor house. Somehow, the sweet angelic face of Maggie and her deep sense of love and gratitude for them won the hearts of the Thompsons and she eventually became their daughter.

Angel in Disguise Analysis:

T. S. Arthur, as a writer had been much preoccupied with elevated language and all his stories include strong vocabulary and complex style of writing. The prose, Angel in Disguise is no exception and its long winding sentences prove to be a challenge for the reader. The characters and the setting have been described in vivid detail. The way the characters speak and present themselves, stresses on reality rather than on fiction making the story a good rendition of the human psychology, especially under circumstances of social strain. It also speaks about the helplessness of children who are left without parents and the kind of dilemma they are made to go through. Most of the villagers are selfish and only looking for any scope of self-gratification. They hardly care about the children’s welfare or the future and select them only the basis of business. It’s like an auction where a master pay’s for a lifetime of servitude through food and shelter. Young John was the first to get picked by the farmer so that he could be made to work in the field.

There is no mention of the name of the place where the story enfolds, but the reader can guess that it’s an old rural place where money came before morals. All the villagers were acquainted with each other because they were a small society of people. This detail works in favour of highlighting each character and giving it a life of its own. The conservative and stifling atmosphere of the story brings out the narrow-mindedness of the people, especially in the manner in which they treat the outcast woman and her children. It’s like, emotions of love, sympathy and compassion are bereft among these people and they follow only base rituals and ceremonies because of fear of religion and judgement.

The flow of the narrative is outstanding as the author is careful in arranging the sequence of events in a natural manner. The eloquent vocabulary is just for the use of old English communicative mannerisms. It relates to that period in history where people used to talk, act and behave as indicated in the story. Hence, the author has remarkably created and influenced the characters to realistically tell the story of an all-enduring love in an orthodox society.

Angel in Disguise Theme

The central theme of the narration is obviously about love and the appeal of parenthood. Other themes like general social prejudices and personal selfishness act as contiguous elements that further reinforce the power of unconditional love and affection. It is important to note the physical and psychological damage that irresponsible parents can inflict upon their children. The survival and care of the three unfortunate kids had been left to the mercy of the rude and greedy villagers.

Death also plays a major determining role in this story as the poverty-stricken family of four could receive attention from the village people only after the death of the mother. If the poor single mother had been given some counselling and help before she died of excessive alcohol consumption, she could have perhaps overcome her addiction and led a respectable life. This speaks a lot about the nature of society as they prefer to provide sympathy by organizing a funeral after death but could not help while the person was still alive. It’s like dead people are given more value than living people.

Angel in Disguise Character Sketch

The character of Maggie is perhaps the main character of the story because the ‘Angel’ in the title is referred to her. However, some critics have pointed out that the title could also be in reference to the character of Joe. Since Joe was the brutish wheel-maker and the only person who could find enough love in his heart to care for the unwanted and neglected little girl, he could in full right be the real “angel in disguise”.

The wife of Joe is also a vital aspect of the story as the small sick girl could make her way into her heart and gain her confidence. Maggie had touched her dormant motherly affection and turned her into a loving person. It was her acceptance that altered the future of Maggie. From being a rejected orphan, Maggie had become a part of their family.


The story, Angel in Disguise, is a heart-touching tale of a little girl who finds comfort in the form of a home and a family with the Thompsons. Arthur as a writer has excellently captured the blunt truth about human society and portrayed the evils inside the hearts of men. The villagers simply wish to go on with their lives without giving any care to the fellow humans who falter. Even then, in the end it showcases the victory of love and kindness over selfish ignorance.

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