by Richard Matheson
Norma is the protagonist of the story, married to Arthur and clearly a very curious individual. She is indirectly characterized by the author in a number of ways, but especially in how she thinks about her decision to push the button: "She tried to smile but couldn't. 'Aren't you curious at all?'" (106). In asking Arthur to keep thinking about the decision despite his protests, she shows both her curiosity and her pushy attitude, especially when it comes to money. The story is told mostly by following her actions.
Arthur is another main character, one who sticks closely to his morals despite Norma's constant urging to do otherwise. More than anything, Arthur is a man of principle and a man of honor, as shown by his unwillingness to even consider ever pushing the button: "Arthur picked up the button unit and the envelope and thrust them into Mr. Steward's hands. He walked into the hall and pulled open the door" (105). The author indirectly shows his strong sense of justice by writing him with such a serious reaction to Mr. Steward's proposal.
The mysterious businessman who presents Norma and Arthur with the Button in the first place, we know very little about him. He shows up without any notice and encourages Norma to push the button, placing her in the major conflict of the story. More than anything, we see Mr. Steward as cold and calculating: "My dear lady. Do you really think you knew your husband?" (111). Here, he shows no sign of sympathy for Norma, and even seems to revel in the deception of the Button.
- Exposition: The story begins with Mr. Steward arriving at Norma's door, where he quickly and calmly explains how the Button works.
- Rising Action: As Norma allows Mr. Steward into their home to explain himself, Arthur is quick to react and show him out. Arthur's reaction especially leads into the rising action, as the reader quickly gets a sense of tension from the moment.
- Climax: Norma is eventually alone with the button, and after arguing with herself back-and-forth, she abruptly pushes it down. It is in this moment - when she realizes what she'd done, that the tension is highest: "She shuddered. Was it happening? A chill of horror swept across her" (110).
- Falling Action: Norma is given a call - her husband has been killed in a work accident, and she receives a call from Mr. Steward. He is unapologetic, and the shock of the news also calls into question her relationship with Arthur.
- Resolution: The story ends without a sense of resolution - Arthur is dead, and Norma is shocked.
What is a Human Life Worth?
This makes reading the story particularly engaging and worthwhile - through such a short story, Matheson is able to force the reader to question their own morals. What would we do in that situation? Was Norma in the right? Or was Arthur? The author cleverly uses these two characters to represent each side of the decision, and through hearing them argue, we learn more about the pros and cons of the decision. Further, this sort of decision sounds like sci-fi, but it is something that comes up regularly. As we consider what we would ask for to take a human life in the story, we can also ask ourselves the opposite - what would we pay to save one? With events like the major earthquake in Nepal, such questions are always worth asking.