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Richard Matheson's 'Button Button': Summary

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Button Button

Button Button is a short story written by Richard Matheson. Button Button tells the story of an average American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lewis, who is offered a peculiar offer from a stranger they’ve never encountered before. This stranger, Mr. Steward, offers them fifty thousand dollars to push a button but if they do push the button someone they do not know will die (Matheson 17). Mr. Lewis finds the whole idea mortifying and refuses to entertain the notion while his wife is intrigued and begins to imagine all the things they could do with an additional fifty thousand dollars. After an argument with her husband, Mrs. Lewis pushes the button and later receives a call informing her that her husband has died and that she will receive his fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy. Mrs. Lewis calls Mr. Steward, frantic and distraught, screaming that he told her no one she knew would die. The story ends with Mr. Steward asking her if she really knew who her husband was (Matheson 25). Well, did she? In the beginning of the story when Mr. Steward first introduces the idea of the story Arthur and Norma are both disgusted with the idea. After Mr. Steward leaves his card on the table Arthur rips it into pieces. After he destroys Mr. Stewards’ card Norma askes him what he thinks it was. He replies that he doesn’t care to know and she tries to smile and asks “Aren’t you curious at all?” But he shakes his head to show that he is not (Matheson 18). Later on in the day she brings up the odd encounter again and asks her husband why he wont talk about it. She asks him if it intrigues him and he simply replied “It offends me” (Matheson 18). This is the first sign that Norma doesn’t truly know her husband. She believed that her husband would be just as intrigued as she was. If she did know him she would’ve known that it was something he would never entertain. While they are in bed she continues to talk about the proposition and defends herself by saying that it may be psychological research. Once again she asks him if he would like to know and he shakes his head. She asked him why and he told her “Because it’s immoral” (Matheson 18). The following morning Norma snuck the ripped up card off the table and put it in her purse. During her lunch break she decided to call Mr. Steward. She told him that she was curious and he repeated the same proposition that he gave her and her husband the day before. Mr. Steward asked if she wanted him to return the button unit and she said “Certainly not” (Matheson 20). But sure enough the package was there waiting for her by the time she got home. She picked up the package, left it on the kitchen table, and once again she brought up the odd proposition to her husband. Instead of trying to establish curiosity within her husband she began to try to justify the situation. She brought up the idea that “Maybe some eccentric millionaire is playing games with people.” He responded by telling her that he doesn’t understand her and that she should just let it go (Matheson 20). After eating in silence she brought it up again saying that it could be a genuine offer. Finally Arthur challenged her and asked her what she would like to do. He asked her if she would want to murder someone (Matheson 21). The question astonished Norma because she never truly thought of it as murder. She then went on to defend herself by saying that it could be an “old Chinese peasant ten thousand miles away” or a “diseased native in the Congo”, to which Arthur responded it could also be a baby boy in Pennsylvania or “some beautiful little girl on the next block” (Matheson 21). He continued by saying “The point is Norma that who you kill makes no difference. It’s still murder.” This whole argument between Norma and Arthur proves Mr. Stewards assertion that Norma did not truly know her husband. Norma should have known that despite the high amount of money that was offered and despite all the things it could've done for their family Arthur would never be okay with murdering someone. She should’ve known that whether it was an old peasant in China or a baby boy in Pennsylvania nothing would've convinced Arthur that money was worth someones life. This also proves that Arthur didn’t know his wife that well either. If he did, he would've kept the ripped card instead of leaving it on the table which gave Norma the opportunity to call Mr. Steward. Button Button is a grasping and ironic short story about greed and what can happen when one becomes too greedy. Within this short story, Richard Matheson shows how far one will go for their own selfish desires and where selfishness and greed gets you. For Norma, her selfishness and greed caused her to receive the money she wanted but lose the person she wanted to use all the money with.

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