Summary: As the story opens, the narrator is a young boy walking to his first day of school. The boy is delighted with the new clothes he is wearing for the occasion, but is apprehensive about going to school. As he walks along, holding onto his father’s hand, he occasionally turns to ask his father why he must go; he feels that perhaps he is being sent away from home as a punishment.
Although his father reassures him, he is not convinced that “there really was any good to be had in tearing me away from the intimacy of my home. ” At the gate to the school, the boy hesitates again, and must be gently pushed by his father to enter the schoolyard. Telling him to “be a man,” the father explains that “today you truly begin life. ” Upon stepping into the yard, the boy sees the faces of the other boys and girls, but feels “like a stranger who had lost his way. One boy approaches and asks the narrator who brought him to school; when he replies that it was his father, the other boy states that his own father is dead. The narrator soon becomes one of the group of children, and the narrative voice changes from the first person singular “I” to alternatively speaking in the third person plural “we. ” The narrator makes friends with some of the boys and falls in love with some of the girls.
He describes the school day in a manner which is meant to be interpreted as an allegory for human life, with its ups and downs, trials and tribulations. When the bell rings to announce the end of the day, the narrator steps outside the gate, but his father is not waiting there for him as promised. He encounters a familiar middle-aged man; they greet one another and shake hands before the man moves along. The narrator finds that the street and surroundings have completely changed ince the morning. These changes are meant to be understood in allegorical terms, as representing the effect of modernization and urbanization in radically changing the face of the city within the lifetime of one man. He is unable to cross the street because of heavy traffic. Finally, a “young lad” offers to help him across, addressing him as “Grandpa”—the little boy has passed an entire life time in what seemed like only half a day, and is now an old man at the end of his life.