The Stranger by Katherine Mansfield: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you are reading 'The Stranger' by Katherine Mansfield, you are probably wondering what actually happened. Take a look at the following summary where we will break down the story and offer an analysis.

Obsession

Have you have ever seen and enjoyed a movie that leaves you wondering what really happened in the end or which character to believe? If so, you may truly enjoy The Stranger, by Katherine Mansfield. In this story, an unlikely character tells a mysterious story about death and, perhaps, love. Let's take a look.

The Stranger

The Stranger, by Katherine Mansfield, opens with a man named Mr. Hammond waiting for his wife to disembark a ship. She seems to be taking her sweet time, and Mr. Hammond keeps checking his watch. Impatient much? Well, we can't blame him. It's actually kind of sweet how eager he is. He wonders what she is doing and hopes that she is just sitting on the ship enjoying a last cup of tea. Mr. Hammond is a decent guy - a family man. In fact, when he picks up a friend's daughter, he realizes that ''the movement of holding her, steadying her, relieved him wonderfully, lightened his heart.''

Finally

The ship finally pulls in and Hammond sees his wife. When he does see her he is impressed that she made it back by herself. As he greets her, he notices that everyone clamors for the chance to say goodbye. Hammond observes that ''It was as plain as a pikestaff that she was by far the most popular woman on board.' Mrs. Hammond says goodbye to everyone on the ship, but when she disappears for a few moments, Mr. Hammond goes into a neurotic spiral about how odd that was and then concludes that she is hiding something from him.

Alone

After Mrs. Hammond finally leaves the ship, she and her husband head straight to the fancy hotel Mr. Hammond reserved to be alone together. After it becomes clear that something is distracting Mrs. Hammond, she admits that while she was on the ship, a young man died. This may not have been a big deal, but the man was alone with her when he passed. Mrs. Hammond apologizes for telling him and says that she hopes it hasn't spoiled their evening together. Mr. Hammond bitterly thinks that this story has spoiled everything and now ''They would never be alone together again.' This is how the story ends.

Analysis

In The Stranger we follow the tale of a doting husband. Right from the beginning, it is clear that he is either in love or, alternately, obsessed. Regardless of his emotions, he massively infantalizes his wife. This means that he makes her seem like a baby, an infant. How does he do this, you may wonder. Well, throughout the story, Hammond uses the word ''little'' to describe his wife. At one point, he even says ''His heart was wrung with such a spasm that he could have cried out. How little she looked to have come all that long way and back by herself!'' The first part of that comment is okay, but the second part is pretty much expressing how surprised he is that a grown woman can travel on her own. These comments suggest a cynical look at sexism and patriarchy.

In response to this infantilization is Mrs. Hammond's side of the story. While Mr. Hammond is busy worrying himself over how is helpless little wife survived the travel, Mrs. Hammond has had quite an adventure. In fact, she is full of both surprise and mystery. This seems to directly challenge Mr. Hammond's (and maybe even society's) view of women being helpless and in need of care. She saw a man die. A young man. One who was alone with her. She doesn't offer any reason why she was alone with him either. Turns out, she's not so ''little'' after all.

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