This discussion board is worth 12 points. Refer to the discussion board rubric. Please remember the Thursday/Sunday rule: initial posts due Thursday nights; responses due Sunday nights.
Your initial post is due by Thursday night, February 3, 11:59 p.m. CST. Two responses to classmates’ initial posts are due by Sunday night, February 6, 11:59 p.m. CST.
For your initial post, thoroughly answer the following questions about “Cask of Amontillado” and “The Man in the Well”:
1. Although the man in the well appears to be in the well accidentally and Poe’s Fortunato was confined in the wall on purpose, presumably the man in the well and Fortunato both die. Montresor, obviously, murdered Fortunato in “cold blood.” How might the children be seen as equally culpable as Montresor?
2. In both stories, the victims plead with their nemeses. Are they using the right strategies? Could the man in the well and/or Fortunato have said anything differently in order to change their fates? If you were these characters, what would your argument be to get out of the predicament?
“Abandoned Well” by Bertalan Szürös is licensed under CC BY-NC-
The Man in the Well
By Ira Sher
Ira Sher is a contemporary author who writes short fiction. In this chilling short story, a group of children
discovers a man trapped in a well.
I was nine when I discovered the man in the well
in an abandoned farm-lot near my home. I was
with a group of friends, playing hide and go seek
or something when I found the well, and then I
heard the voice of the man in the well calling out
I think it’s important that we decided not to help
him. Everyone, like myself, was probably on the
verge of fetching a rope, or asking where we
could find a ladder, but then we looked around at
each other and it was decided. I don’t remember
if we told ourselves a reason why we couldn’t
help him, but we had decided then. Because of
this, I never went very close to the lip of the well,
or I only came up on my hands and knees, so that
he couldn’t see me; and just as we wouldn’t allow
him to see us, I know that none of us ever saw
the man in the well — the well was too dark for
that, too deep, even when the sun was high up,
angling light down the stone sides like golden
I remember that we were still full of games and
laughter when we called down to him. He had
heard us shouting while we were playing, and he
had been hollering for us to come; he was so
relieved at that moment.
“God, get me out. I’ve been here for days.” He must have known we were children, because he
immediately instructed us to “go get a ladder, get help.”
At first afraid to disobey the voice from the man in the well, we turned around and actually began to
walk toward the nearest house, which was Arthur’s. But along the way we slowed down, and then we
stopped, and after waiting what seemed like a good while, we quietly came back to the well.
We stood or lay around the lip, listening for maybe half an hour, and then Arthur, after some
hesitation, called down, “What’s your name?” This, after all, seemed like the most natural question.
The man answered back immediately, “Do you have the ladder?”
We all looked at Arthur, and he called back down, “No, we couldn’t find one.”
Now that we had established some sort of a dialogue, everyone had questions he or she wanted to ask
the man in the well, but the man wouldn’t stop speaking:
“Go tell your parents there’s someone in this well. If they have a rope or a ladder…” he trailed off. His
voice was raw and sometimes he would cough. “Just tell your parents.”
We were quiet, but this time no one stood up or moved. Someone, I think little Jason, called down,
“Hello. Is it dark?” and then, after a moment, “Can you see the sky?”
He didn’t answer but instead told us to go again.
When we were quiet for a bit, he called to see if we had gone.
After a pause, Wendy crawled right to the edge so that her hair lifted slightly in the updraft.1 “Is there
any water down there?”
“Have they gone for help?” he asked.
She looked around at us, and then she called down, “Yes, they’re all gone now. Isn’t there any water
down there?” I don’t think anyone smiled at how easy it was to deceive him — this was too important.
“Isn’t there?” she said again.
“No,” he said. “It’s very dry.” He cleared his throat. “Do you think it will rain?”
She stood up and took in the whole sky with her blue eyes, making sure. “No, I don’t think so.” We
heard him coughing in the well, and we waited for a while, thinking about him waiting in the well.
Resting on the grass and cement by the well, I tried to picture him. I tried to imagine the gesture of his
hand reaching to cover his mouth, each time he coughed. Or perhaps he was too tired to make that
gesture, each time. After an hour, he began calling again, but for some reason we didn’t want to
answer. We got up and began running, filling up with panic as we moved, until we were racing across
the ruts of the old field. I kept turning, stumbling as I looked behind. Perhaps he had heard us getting
up and running away from the well. Only Wendy stayed by the well for a while, watching us run as his
calling grew louder and wilder, until finally she ran, too, and then we were all far away.
The next morning we came back, most of us carrying bread or fruit or something to eat in our pockets.
Arthur brought a canvas bag from his house and a plastic jug of water.
When we got to the well we stood around quietly for a moment listening for him. “Maybe he’s asleep,”
1. a wind moving upward
We sat down around the mouth of the well on the old concrete slab, warming in the sun and coursing
with ants and tiny insects. Aaron called down then, when everyone was comfortable, and the man
answered right away, as if he had been listening to us the whole time.
“Did your parents get help?”
Arthur kneeled at the edge of the well and called “Watch out,” and then he let the bag fall after holding
it out for a moment, maybe for the man to see. It hit the ground more quickly than I had expected;
that, combined with a feeling that he could hear everything we said, made him suddenly closer, as if he
might be able to see us. I wanted to be very quiet, so that if he heard or saw anyone, he would not
notice me. The man in the well started coughing, and Arthur volunteered, “There’s some water in the
bag. We all brought something.”
We could hear him moving around down there. After a few minutes, he asked us, “When are they
coming? What did your parents say?”
We all looked at each other, aware that he couldn’t address anyone in particular. He must have
understood this, because he called out in his thin, groping voice, “What are your names?”
No one answered until Aaron, who was the oldest, said, “My father said he’s coming, with the police.
And he knows what to do.” We admired Aaron very much for coming up with this, on the spot.
“Are they on their way?” the man in the well asked. We could hear that he was eating.
“My father said don’t worry, because he’s coming with the police.”
Little Jason came up next to Aaron, and asked, “What’s your name?” because we still didn’t know what
to call him. When we talked among our selves, he had simply become “the man.”
He didn’t answer, so Jason asked him how old he was, and then Grace came up too and asked him
something, I don’t remember. We all asked such stupid questions, and he wouldn’t answer anyone.
Finally, we all stopped talking, and we lay down on the cement.
It was a hot day, so after a while, Grace got up, and then Little Jason and another young boy, Robert I
think, and went to town to sit in the cool movie theater. That was what we did most afternoons back
then. After an hour everyone had left except Wendy and myself, and I was beginning to think I would
He called up to us all of a sudden. “Are they coming now?”
“Yes,” Wendy said, looking at me, and I nodded my head. She sounded certain: “I think they’re almost
here. Aaron said his dad is almost here.”
As soon as she said it she was sorry, because she’d broken one of the rules. I could see it on her face,
eyes filling with space as she moved back from the well. Now he had one of our names. She said
“They’re going to come” to cover up the mistake, but there it was, and there was nothing to do about it.
The man in the well didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Then he surprised us again by asking, “Is it
going to rain?”
Wendy stood up and turned around like she had done the other day, but the sky was clear. “No,” she
Then he asked again, “They’re coming, you said. Aaron’s dad,” and he shouted, “Right?” so that we
jumped, and stood up, and began running away, just as we had the day before. We could hear him
shouting for a while, and we were afraid someone might hear. I thought that toward the end maybe he
had said he was sorry. But I never asked Wendy what she thought he’d said.
Everyone was there again on the following morning. It was all I could think about during supper the
night before, and then the anticipation in the morning over breakfast. My mother was very upset with
something at the time. I could hear her weeping at night in her room downstairs, and the stubborn
murmur of my father. There was a feeling to those days, months actually, that I can’t describe without
resorting2 to the man in the well, as if through a great whispering, like a gathering of clouds, or the
long sound, the turbulent wreck of the ocean.
At the well we put together the things to eat we had smuggled out, but we hadn’t even gotten them all
in the bag when the voice of the man in the well soared out sharply, “They’re on their way, now?”
We stood very still, so that he couldn’t hear us, but I knew what was coming and I couldn’t do anything
to soften or blur the words of the voice.
“Aaron,” he pronounced, and I had imagined him practicing that voice all night long, and holding it in
his mouth so that he wouldn’t let it slip away in his sleep. Aaron lost all the color in his face, and he
looked at us with suspicion, as if we had somehow taken on a part of the man in the well. I didn’t even
glance at Wendy. We were both too embarrassed — neither of us said anything; we were all quiet then.
Arthur finished assembling the bag, and we could see his hands shaking as he dropped it into the well.
We heard the man in the well moving around.
After ten minutes or so, Grace called down to him, “What’s your name?” but someone pulled her back
from the well, and we became silent again. Today the question humiliated3 us with its simplicity.
There was no sound for a while from the well, except for the cloth noises and the scraping the man in
the well made as he moved around. Then he called out, in a pleasant voice, “Aaron, what do you think
my name is?”
Aaron, who had been very still this whole time, looked around at all of us again. We knew he was
afraid; his fingers were pulling with a separate life at the collar of his shirt, and maybe because she felt
badly for him, Wendy answered instead: “Is your name Charles?” It sounded inane,4 but the man in the
2. Resort (verb): to do or use something because one has no other choice
3. Humiliate (verb): to make someone feel ashamed or foolish
4. Inane (adjective): silly and pointless
“No,” the man said.
She thought for a moment. “Edgar.”
Little Jason called out, “David?”
“No,” the man in the well said.
Then Aaron, who had been absolutely quiet, said “Arthur” in a small, clear voice, and we all started. I
could see Arthur was furious, but Aaron was older and bigger than he was, and nothing could be said
or done without giving himself, his name, away; we knew the man in the well was listening for the
changes in our breath, anything. Aaron didn’t look at Arthur, or anyone, and then he began giving all of
our names, one at a time. We all watched him, trembling, our faces the faces I had seen pasted on the
spectators in the freak tent when the circus had come to town. We were watching such a deformity
take place before our eyes; and I remember the spasm of anger when he said my name, and felt the
man in the well soak it up — because the man in the well understood. The man in the well didn’t say
When Aaron was done, we all waited for the man in the well to speak up. I stood on one leg, then the
other, and eventually I sat down. We had to wait for an hour, and today no one wanted to leave to lie in
the shade or hide in the velvet movie seats.
At last, the man in the well said, “All right, then. Arthur. What do you think I look like?” We heard him
cough a couple of times, and then a sound like the smacking of lips. Arthur, who was sitting on the
ground with his chin propped on his fists, didn’t say anything. How could he — I knew I couldn’t
answer, myself, if the man in the well called me by name. He called a few of us, and I watched the
shudder5 move from face to face.
Then he was quiet for a while. It was afternoon now, and the light was changing, withdrawing from the
well. It was as if the well was filling up with earth. The man in the well moved around a bit, and then he
called Jason. He asked, “How old do you think I am, Jason?” He didn’t seem to care that no one would
answer, or he seemed to expect that no one would. He said, “Wendy. Are they coming now? Is Aaron’s
dad coming now?” He walked around a bit, we heard him rummage6 in the bag of food, and he said,
“All right. What’s my name?” He used everyone’s name; he asked every one. When he said my name, I
felt the water clouding my eyes, and I wanted to throw stones, dirt down the well to crush out his voice.
But we couldn’t do anything, none of us did because then he would know.
In the evening we could tell he was getting tired. He wasn’t saying much, and seemed to have lost
interest in us. Before we left that day, as we were rising quietly and looking at the dark shadows of the
trees we had to move through to reach our homes, he said, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” He coughed.
“Didn’t you want to tell anyone?” Perhaps he heard the hesitation in our breaths, but he wasn’t going to
help us now. It was almost night then, and we were spared the detail of having to see and read each
5. Shudder (noun): a sudden shiver caused by fear
6. Rummage (verb): to search by moving, turning, or looking through the contents of a container
“The Man in the Well” by Ira Sher. Copyright © 1995 by Ira Sher. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.
That night it rained, and I listened to the rain on the roof and my mother sobbing, downstairs, until I
fell asleep. After that we didn’t play by the well anymore; even when we were much older, we didn’t go
back. I will never go back.
Directions: For the following questions, choose the best answer or respond in complete sentences.
1. Which of the following best describes a main theme of the text?
A. Children help others only when they feel fear or embarrassment.
B. People can act in cruel ways when they hold power over others.
C. Anyone can be a hero, but it is a choice people have to make.
D. Distrust of strangers has caused modern society to become less caring.
2. How does the narrator’s point of view influence how the events are described in the
A. The narrator is ashamed of what happened and portrays the others as more
deserving of blame.
B. The narrator is no longer ashamed of what happened and recounts the events
C. The narrator feels shame about what happened but still tries to tell the story in
a truthful way.
D. The narrator is an adult now and does not remember all of the details of what
happened years ago.
3. PART A: How do the children respond to the man’s initial cry for help?
A. Some of the children want to play tricks on the man, and the others go along
B. They make their decision without talking, but why they choose not to help the
man is left unclear.
C. They are unable to come to an agreement about how to help, so they decide not
to help at all.
D. They want to help him, but so much time passes that they fear he will punish
them if he ever gets out.
4. PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?
A. “Everyone, like myself, was probably on the verge of fetching a rope, or asking
where we could find a ladder, but then we looked around at each other and it
was decided.” (Paragraph 2)
B. “I remember that we were still full of games and laughter when we called down
to him. He heard us shouting while we were playing” (Paragraph 3)
C. “At first afraid to disobey the voice from the man in the well, we turned around
and actually began to walk toward the nearest house, which was Arthur’s. But
along the way we slowed down” (Paragraph 5)
D. “As we were rising quietly and looking at the dark shadows of the trees we had
to move through to reach our homes, he said, ‘Why didn’t you tell anyone?’ He
coughed. ‘Didn’t you want to tell anyone?’” (Paragraph 56)
5. Which statement best describes the relationship between the children and the man in the
well at the end of the story?
A. The children hoped that the man would be honest with them.
B. The children were embarrassed that they had treated the man poorly.
C. The children were sad they never got to know the man before he died.
D. The children became annoyed with the man when he started to question their
6. How do the children’s interactions with the man in the well reveal the theme of the text?
Use at least two pieces of evidence in your response.
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to
share your original ideas in a class discussion.
1. Are the children’s actions in this story cruel? Based on your own experiences, do you believe
children can often be cruel to others? Explain your answer.
2. Why do you think Aaron is upset that the man in the well knows his name? How do you
think you would have reacted if you were one of the children in the story and the man
found out your name? Explain your answer.
3. Consider the actions and motivations of the children in the story. Why do people do bad
things? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or
history in your answer.
4. In the context of this story, how does power corrupt? How does the balance of power
between the children and the man change throughout the story?
- The Man in the Well
- By Ira Sher
- Text-Dependent Questions
- Discussion Questions