Turning the Buckle: The Shift in Character of a Quiet Man

Claire Dunnington '05, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Mr. Buckle, the master of the house at which Jack Maggs obtains his position as a footman, is initially depicted as a passive man, kind to his servants and content to remain reading in his room for the majority of the day while carrying on a quiet affair with his young maid, Mercy, at night. However, with the advent of Tobias Oates's experiment on Jack Maggs and Maggs's subsequent outbursts, Mr. Buckle's character seems to twist open, revealing a man who is more materialistic and gratified by power and control than his earlier characterization would suggest. He is especially unnerved and upset by the damage Magg's commits to the house when he enacts a quarantine by bolting the doors and windows with poorly inserted nails. With this event, Mr. Buckle begins to lose his polished veneer and composure, and the subtle beginnings of his change are apparent when he first views the house after the nails are removed:

You could have fed him rancid bacon and he might not have complained. You could leave the sheets unlaundered for two weeks at a stretch. But Heaven help you if the floors weren't polished, if the mantelpiece wasn't dusted every day. He liked his inheritance to shine. Consequently, to see the fresh injury which Jack Maggs's departure had caused to his front door was more disturbing to the owner than even he -- who had seen the rusty nails first breach that lustrous black surface -- might have anticipated.

He knelt before the door as if winded. The nails had been ripped out roughly. In their place were jagged wounds: gouges, dents, raw splinters. Tenderly, he laid back the splinters against the wounds, but the hurt was too savage for such ministrations.

Back in his sitting room, he repeatedly pulled the bell for Constable. When he was not answered, he returned to the front door and picked up the horrid nails himself. He dropped them into his jacket pocket, and hurried down the breakneck stairs into his kitchen. Here he found the fire dead and a queer pink-grey mouse eating a crust of bread on the table. The three thin lines between Mr Buckle's eyebrows deepened. At first it seemed that he might strike the mouse, but then all his energy emerged in a violent shiver. He went quickly back up to the ground floor and then up the back stairs.

And there, in the snuggery, he found Mercy and Constable sitting side by side on the ottoman, chatting contentedly like dowagers at a ball.

He spoke to them politely. They were lazy and familiar in return. [162-3]


1. The injuries of the house are described almost as if the house was a person. How is this significant in the context of Mr. Buckle's relationship with the house itself? How is it related to his relationships with the servants who live in the house?

2. The damage to the wood is attributed to "Jack Magg's departure" [162]. Usually, one would expect damage to a house being caused by someone entering the building by force, not someone leaving. How does this reversal reveal the character of Jack Magg's, and his odd position as a criminal?

3. What is the distinction made between household chores which are primarily related to the body -- eating rotten bacon, sleeping on unclean sheets -- and chores which affect the appearance of the house itself? Why is this so important to Mr. Buckle?

4. What stops Mr. Buckle from attacking the mouse? Is he in conflict over his character changes, which seem to stem from the upheaval of his household? How might his relations with the servants, particularly their apparent lack of concern toward Mr. Buckle at the end of the passage, contribute to his agitation? Is Mr. Buckle a genuinely good person who has undergone tremendous stress, or was his apparent kindness prior to this based on the lack of turmoil in his household?


Carey, Peter. Jack Maggs. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Australia Carey OV Jack Maggs Leading Questions

Last modified 1 March 2004