It is a sort of detective short story written by Ralph E. Hayes– a West Virginian writer. It focuses on the undeniable truth that exteriors are deceptive and that humans should not be judged by their external appearances which are, more often misleading and beguiling.

The short story revolves around Addison Barnby- a secret service agent. Barnby has lost the trust of his superiors for quite some reasons. He has come of age being around 40, has put up fat, has balded considerably and also seemingly lost smartness He also lacks killer instinct, a trait inseparable from a detective. He never carries a sun lest he should kill anybody even by mistake.

It is because he loves mankind. However, later on, he starts carrying a gun in his holster but not before making sure that is unloaded and does not have a single bullet in the magazine. It’s because of these so-called disqualifications that he is posted in far off places like Africa.

Once the department assigns the task of testing Barnby’s “fitness” to another agent Brain Thompson, whose report would determine Barnby’s future in the department. Barnby is asked to carry a bag full of jelly explosives (actually Gum Drops) to Thompson`s hotel room. Thompson begins with irritating and insulting Barnby in order to test his patience, vigilance, keen observation and other such qualities necessary for a secret agent. Later the two are engaged in a scuffle in which Barnby overpowers

Thompson by using a trick or two of judo as a substitute for using a loaded gun. When he is about to leave Thompson handcuffed with the hotel room bedpost, the secret is disclosed to him with the news that he has passed the test.

Summary-2 of The Gumdrop Affair

The story revolves round Addison Barnaby, a secret agent who has lost the trust of his superiors for want of what they call the killer instinct and smartness. He has come of age and at 40 he is stationed in Africa. He is fat and considerably bald. He has lost the most important instincts of being violent in challenging situations and even killing his targets which a detective must possess. He ignores the basic safety measures of possessing a loaded gun and killing anybody even by mistake.
Addison Barnaby loves mankind and hates violence. However, later on he carries a gun in his pouch but ensures that it is not loaded and does not have a single bullet in the magazine. These are actually the so called disqualifications that make him non-serious and trust-less agent and is punished and sent to far off locations like Africa.

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Once the department wants to test the fitness of Barnaby and selects another agent Brain Thompson to give a detailed report about Addison Barnaby. This report is assumed to decide the future of Barnaby in the department. Mr Barnaby is instructed to carry a bag full of jelly explosives (Gum Drops) to Thompson‘s hotel room. Thompson begins with irritating and insulting Barnaby in order to test his patience, vigilance, keenness, smartness and other important qualities for a person who is a professional secret agent. Later the two agents enter into a scuffle in which Addison Barnaby overpowers Mr Thompson by using his time tested tricks of judo as an alternative instead of using a loaded gun. Barnaby hand cuffs Thompson with the room bed and begins to leave the room with the explosives (Gumdrops). Thompson requests Barnaby to stop and reveals the secret of his plan and testing of Barnaby. He declares to Barnaby that he had successfully passed through the test. At the end Thompson eats one of the Gumdrops and chews it to pieces as it was full of lemon and was delicious.

Theme of The Gumdrop Affair

The theme of the story is that appearances are always deceptive. We should not be judgmental in observing people externally. Our observations can be misleading. This wise statement can be read through the character of Barnaby who is maltreated by his department for being a lazy and insignificant person but he proves his worth after passing the real test successfully during the test of carrying the gumdrops to the contact man.

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Title of the Story The Gumdrop Affair

The gumdrop is the significant thing that acts as the spinal cord of this story. The jelly packet is externally believed to be a pack of explosives but during the development of the story we end up with strange information about the explosives. They are not what they appear. They are actually sweets of delicious taste with lemon flavour. These gumdrops closely knit the story and keep the characters intimately attached to each other. So “The Gum Drop Affair” is an apt and perfectly justified title.

Character sketch of Addison Barnaby

Addison Barnaby, the protagonist of Addison Barnby is the hero of Ralph E. Hayes’ “The Gum Drop Affair” a detective short story conveying the message that human personalities cannot be and should not be judged by exterior appearances but by inner content of the person.

Addison Barnby is a senior member of a detective agency. He has lost the goodwill of his superiors not because of any fault or mistake on his part but because of his growing years, adding weight getting bald and above all lacking “Killer Instinct” all too important a trait supposed to be possessed by secret agents. His lacking killer instinct is not because of cowardice but because of his unstable love for mankind.

However, he makes up for this lack by using a trick or two of judo, on his enemies to overpower such is his abhorrence for killing that, on departments’ insistence, he does carry a gun but not before making sure that is unloaded. He seems to have lost the distinctive traits of a secret agent namely vigil, keen observations, alertness, patience, etc. but he possesses them to the extreme when put to test. It is on account of his all too ordinary external appearance that the department always posts him far off places thus justifying the statement that he is “more sinned against the sinning”.


He is a dedicated, sincere and honest work as he gives extra time to his assignments and never leaves them unresolved.


Addison Barnaby, the protagonist of the story, is a secret agent. As far as
Addison Barnaby’s physical appearance is concerned, he has keen eyes and a bald head. His voice is admirable and he is fat but fit as he is proficient in judo. He is skilled and committed in his work. Instead of using violence Barnaby uses judo tricks to overpower his opponents. Addison Barnaby is serious, sober, smart, keen, alert, patient with no inclination towards violence and killing. He is a perfectionist and an admirable person who loves mankind. He does not compromise on the principles of taking arms during his assignment but ensures that his gun is not loaded to kill someone mistakenly.

He could not change with the changing environment in his department. He stands rock solid on his principles of abhorrence towards the killing instincts. In spite of the pressure from the department, Barnaby believed in the statement that one should eradicate the sin but not the sinner. At the same time, he is more sinned against the sinning as he is always posted at for off places. His attitude towards life and crime has paid him in the story as he wins the confidence of the department after successfully qualifying the test that he was put in by his organization. Thus, we conclude that Addison Barnaby is a dedicated, sincere and honest worker as he gives extra time to his assignments and never leaves them unresolved.

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