The Yellow Paint by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1896
The magic trick:
Distilling a complicated phenomenon of modern life into clarity using a familiar fable format
We close this week in Scotland where we started it – the esteemed RLS.
“The Yellow Paint” is pretty lightweight but still packs a good punch. A fable, “The Yellow Paint” distills the fairly complicated psychological-social phenomenon of the fraudulent huckster into a simple and familiar story format where the plot changes three times, escalating each time in a way that both brings increasing chaos to the protagonist and increasing clarity to the reader.
And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.
In a certain city there lived a physician who sold yellow paint. This was of so singular a virtue that whoso was bedaubed with it from head to heel was set free from the dangers of life, and the bondage of sin, and the fear of death for ever. So the physician said in his prospectus; and so said all the citizens in the city; and there was nothing more urgent in men’s hearts than to be properly painted themselves, and nothing they took more delight in than to see others painted.
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