“The Park” Summary: Short Story by James Matthews

“The Park” is a short story by James Matthews from his 1974 collection The Park and Other Stories. Here’s a summary of “The Park”.

“The Park” Summary

A boy looks longingly at the kids playing in the park. Another boy stops, calls him a “brown ape” and throws a piece of clay against the rail above, raining down fragments on him. He wants to throw something back, but other boys arrive and he’s afraid. He picks up the wrapped, freshly-laundered clothing he laid on the ground, and walks away.

He thinks of the last time he was at the park. He walked through the gate and onto a swing, then got on the see-saw with a White boy. A Black attendant ordered him out of the park. Blacks and Whites don’t use the same parks. He has to use one where he lives. There isn’t one near his place, but that doesn’t matter. The attendant walked him out past everyone, and pointed to the official notice forbidding his entry.

The boy walks past the park every time he delivers the washing his mother does. He wonders what harm it would cause if he used the park too. The only thing better than it was one time his father took him to ride a wooden horse at a fairground.

The boy reaches his destination and goes around back where he’s admitted to the house by an African maid. She calls the madam, who checks to see if everything is there (it always is). They go through their usual routine—she asks if he’s eaten, has the maid take out a tray of food and pour milk, and she leaves him with the maid while he eats. It’s a small serving, and he wonders how white people get filled up.

The Park Short Story Summary by James Matthews
“The Park” Summary: Short Story by James Matthews

The madam returns with his mother’s payment—a rand note—and a five cent piece for himself. She’s going on holiday for a month and will let his mother know when she’s back. She leaves the kitchen. The maid hands the boy an apple, which he eats as he walks down the path.

The old dog barks hoarsely at him. As he walks on, he thinks about the candy he’ll buy with the five cents. He goes into the first shop, but it’s more expensive that the Indian shop he’s used to. He leaves without buying anything.

Reaching the park, he sees boys playing ball. He yearns to join in. He starts swearing out loud and shakes the railing. Realizing he won’t be passing by for a month, he feels despair and anger. He takes a bag of fruit peels from the garbage, throws it over the railing and runs off.

He’s pained and distracted as he walks home. He doesn’t feel like going into the Indian shop anymore. Boys playing with a tire call to him but he ignores them. He goes into the worn two-story house and into the kitchen where his mother cooks.

She puts the money in a teapot on the shelf. She gives her son some soup and bread. He tells her there’s no washing for a month. His mother is upset; the washing money keeps them going. She wasn’t given any notice to find other work. The boy eats quickly to escape his mother’s troubles.

He joins the boys outside playing with the tire. He daydreams about the park and walks away from the group. He’s enraged at the poverty and filth and overcrowding, and especially at a law that keeps him out of the park. He cries and another boy makes fun of him.

The boy goes to the Indian shop. It’s cluttered and poorly kept. He buys candies from the ancient proprietor with red stained teeth. The boy sits on the street eating the candy. A girl approaches and tells him it’s time for supper.

“The Park” Summary, Cont’d

His father is at the table when they go in. He washes his hands and they all eat in silence. The boy is struck with an idea—he could go to the park after dark when there’d be no one to throw him out! He’s nervous because he’s never been in that part of town at night, but he decides to do it.

As soon as possible, he clears the table and helps do the dishes with his sister, then sweeps the kitchen and takes out the garbage. His mother lets him go play after lighting the lamp.

He walks then jogs until he reaches the park. He climbs over the cold railing. He runs to the slide and goes down it a few times. He rides the merry-go-round but it takes a lot of effort. He goes to the swings and gains momentum until he feels he’s flying.

At the far side of the park, a light goes on in a little hut and the attendant comes out with a flashlight, and walks over. He wants to leave the boy alone, but his job is at risk so he reprimands him. He screams at the boy to go home, threatening to call the police. He’s angry, not at the boy, but at the system.

The boy keeps swinging. The attendant hurries for the gate. The boy calls for his Mama, imagining himself safe in the kitchen. He continues calling out and swinging until they become one.

At the entrance, the shadow of the notice board points at him.

I hope this summary of “The Park” by James Matthews was helpful.