“The Handler” Summary: Ray Bradbury Short Story Synopsis

The Handler Summary Ray Bradbury Short Story Synopsis
“The Handler” Summary

“The Handler” is a short story by Ray Bradbury that appeared in his debut 1947 collection Dark Carnival. It’s about a small-town mortician, Mr. Benedict, who feels terribly inferior around the living, but makes up for it when he’s alone with his work. Here’s a summary of “The Handler”.

“The Handler” Summary

Mr. Benedict is the town mortician. He owns the church, mortuary and the accompanying graveyard. He lives in a little house behind the facility.

When Mr. Benedict comes out of his house, a little child stares at him through the gate and asks about his place. Mr. Benedict feels pride in his place and his work. He compliments the child, afraid the child won’t like him. He feels perpetually inferior to everyone and never dares to disagree with anything people say.

Mr. Benedict doesn’t think of the joy of his work right now. He starts his regular routine of getting enraged by the superiority of his neighbors. He talks to Mr. Rodgers, the druggist, who makes a joke about his work. He laughs weakly.

Mr. Benedict makes his rounds, talking to the contractor, the delicatessen man and many others. They all make jokes about his work, and they find themselves very funny. His inferiority and anger grow as their disrespect and ridicule are heaped on him.

When his inferiority reaches a peak, Mr. Benedict is ready to work and heads for the mortuary. Here, he is the puppet-master.

Mr. Benedict changes into his white smock and washes his hands. He’s the master here and can do what he wants with people without any argument or resistance. He feels completely confident here, just like when he sees a movie and imagines himself like the hero.

He walks among the covered bodies and greets them. He starts with Mrs. Shellmund who had never spoken to him once. He sees she ate a rich diet. She prided herself on her brain, so Mr. Benedict opens her scalp, takes the brain out, and fills the space with whipped cream and frosting. He expertly hides any trace of his work.

To Mr. Wren, who hated minorities, he draws out the blood and replaces it with ink, turning him black.

“The Handler” Summary, Cont’d

Mr. Benedict moves to Edmund Worth, who was known for his handsome body and used it to his full advantage. Thinking of his own many physical shortcomings, he removes the head and places it in a coffin, making up the missing weight with bricks. He uses pillows to fill out the upper body and dresses it appropriately. He’ll keep the body refrigerated until his own death. He’ll leave instructions for a yet-to-be acquired, like-minded assistant who’ll attach his own head to the magnificent body when he dies.

Many of the town funerals are closed-casket, which gives Mr. Benedict plenty of opportunities for mischief. He perpetrates many indignities on the bodies, usually in the form of something that mocks one of their prior annoying traits. As he works on the bodies, he talks aloud about what he’s doing and tells stories of previous deceptions.

Finally, Mr. Benedict arrives at the body of Mr. Blythe, an ancient man prone to comas who’s been brought in before, mistakenly thought to be dead. Pulling the sheet back, Mr. Blythe is once again still alive.

He cries out for release. He’s heard Mr. Benedict say terrible things and threatens to tell everyone in town what a monster he is. He shrieks, reviling Mr. Benedict for his outrageous acts against the dead. When he tries to get up, Mr. Benedict injects him with a syringe.

Mr. Blythe knows he’s dying. With his final breaths he implores the dead to stop Mr. Benedict, to get revenge on him. He warns that tonight they’ll do something to him. Mr. Benedict is shaken and numbed by the experience. Mr. Blythe dies.

There’s chaos in the graveyard that night—explosions, violent movement, rain and lightning, stones toppling, things flying through the air, a swearing of oaths, and a chasing and screaming. It culminates with much property damage and a terrible scream that sounds like Mr. Benedict.

The town’s people investigate the mortuary and grounds in the morning. There’s no sign of Mr. Benedict, but there’s blood everywhere. Examining the gravestones, they find one with Mr. Benedict’s name on it, freshly scratched by fingernails. They’re shocked to find his name on five other gravestones.

They don’t understand; he couldn’t be buried under all of them. After a silence, someone asks if he could be.

I hope this summary of “The Handler” by Ray Bradbury was helpful.