Hello everyone! My name is Peyton, and today I will be talking about Timothy Shay Arthur’s short story “An Angel in Disguise.” For those of you who aren’t unfamiliar with this story, it is a heartwarming tale of how a cripple child, Maggie, is unexpectedly taken pity on by the poor Thompson family and is eventually adopted by them. Maggie’s innocence, gratitude, and unconditional love fill a void in the Thompson’s hearts that they didn’t even know existed and she ultimately ends up being their salvation. This story is clearly about love and compassion; however, what is less obvious is how T.S Arthur makes distinct references to the commonly referred to biblical story: the cripple at a gate called beautiful. Arthur purposely inverts a biblical story in which the apostle Peter heals a crippled beggar in order to create a motif of selflessness being the only way to obtain salvation.
Familiarity with the parable of Peter and the beggar, in Acts chapter three, is vital to understanding the parallels Arthur makes in his own story.
[ Video audio explaining Peter and beggar parable in Acts chapter 3
Brief Summary: In the book of Acts, Peter and John are walking into a temple when they come across a cripple beggar asking for money. Rather than giving the beggar silver, Peter lifts the man up and restores his ability to walk. Together they walk into the beautiful temple gate where the Christians marvel at the miracle they have seen Peter perform. This story is meant to be entirely metaphorical. The crippled man is meant to represent all of man plagued by sin and self-loathing and the gate called beautiful leading into the temple is meant to signify salvation. When Peter makes the selfless choice to save the old beggar, the beggar for the first time is able to walk into the temple that he had been forced to sit outside of for so long, opening his eyes to the life he is now able to live now being able to hear the gospel.]
Clearly, this biblical parable and “An Angel in Disguise” have some distinct similarities.
First, I would like to draw to your attention how Arthur choses to characterize Maggie and Mr. Thompson in such a way that they directly align with Peter and crippled beggar. For instance, Maggie is portrayed as being an innocent child who is unable to take care of herself because she is paralyzed, and bed ridden. Towards the beginning of the anecdote circumstances also result in Maggie “begging” for the company of Mr. Thompson, classifying her as the beggar persona of the story. Conversely, Mr. Thompson is made out to be a loving, kind, and poor man that often finds himself with a different sense of morality than his contemporaries which is vital to the characterization of Peter after the death of Christ.
Additionally, Arthur purposefully uses actions at the beginning of the plot to further reinforce Maggie and Mr. Thompson as the beggar and savior figures. For instance, Maggie is made out to be extremely vulnerable when Mr. Thompson physically carries her across town to his home just as the beggar had to be carried every morning to the temple gate by Roman soldiers. Similarly, Mr. Thompson selflessly puts himself at risk financially since he is poor, and emotionally since he knows his wife will not approve of the sick girl when he chooses to take her on just as Peter risked persecution when he healed the beggar. It is not until later in the story, through simple dialogue that the act of carrying Maggie is revealed to the reader as foreshadowing of Maggie as the true Christ figure of the narrative.
Despite having presented Maggie and Mr. Thompson to the reader in a certain light, Arthur purposefully uses actions throughout the plot to help convey a message of salvation. For instance, in the beginning of the story, Maggie is carried by Mr. Thompson across the village to the Thompson residence. The act of bearing the weight of a sick child is meant to have the reader believe that Mr. Thompson is the savior persona of the plot by connecting to the emotions of the reader. However, Arthur later foreshadows the revelation of Maggie as the true Christ figure of the narrative when he reveals the pain Maggie feels in her back when Mr. Thompson carries her through the village. Initially, this is not presented to the reader as an oddity since Maggie has previously been introduced as being paralyzed, but the pain felt by Maggie is meant to symbolize the emotional burden belonging to Mr. Thompson that she is carrying. Back pain is commonly linked to bearing heavy weights for long periods of time; Arthur exploits this shared experience among his audience to illustrate Maggie as the true hero rather than Mr. Thompson who physically rescues the child. Through simple discourse Arthur foreshadows the outcome of the story, so that he can create a clear anecdotal picture of the Peter and the beggar story to his audience.
In the final paragraph of the story, Arthur reveals a change in the roles of the two main characters in order to present an anecdotal illustration of Peter and the beggar. It is in this paragraph that the action of the story is concluded with the “sweetness… love, patience, and gratitude” of the sick child convincing Mr. and Mrs. Thompson to adopt Maggie into their family. The rest of the paragraph is Mr. Thompson’s reflection on how choosing to save Maggie, regardless of his financial situation, had dismissed the “dark, and the cold, and the miserable [which had been in the Thompson home] for a long time.” It is at this moment that the reader is able to clearly see that regardless of Mr. Thompson being personified as the savior figure, Maggie is the true Christ figure that provides salvation. Maggie brought “light and blessings” into a home of misery and restored love into the hearts of both Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Arthur even goes as far as to say that after Maggie came into Joe Thompson’s life “ there was not a man in all the neighborhood who drank daily of a more precious wine of life than he” solidifying the degree to which Maggie served as a saving grace to the poor family and ultimately showing that while characterized as the beggar she performs the actions of Peter.
T.S. Arthur anecdotally tells a well-known bible story in a unique way in order to present the idea that selflessness is the path to salvation. By conveying Maggie and Mr. Thompson as beggar and savior characters he establishes a connection between the anecdote and the original parable before switching the roles of each persona so that the beggar becomes the saving grace of the savior. By inverting the parable, Arthur is able to communicate that through the noble act of taking in the sick child, Mr. Thompson makes it possible for Maggie to metaphorically free him of his lameness and restore the light in his life. The light brought to Mr. Thompson by Maggie is symbolic of the life Mr. Thompson can now live because he has been saved. Manipulation of the popular story and expressing it through different characters allows Arthur to successfully communicate his ideologies about the role of the individual in the process of salvation.