The Three Strangers by Thomas Hardy: Summary & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Three strangers are not who they seem to be in this short story by Thomas Hardy. In this lesson, we'll dive deeper into ''The Three Strangers'' and analyze some of the aspects of the action.

The Party

Would you let a trio of mysterious strangers into a party at your private residence? The character in ''The Three Strangers'' by Thomas Hardy did! Read on to learn more about their secret identities and the chaos that ensues following their visit.

The first part of the story tells us about the isolated house where the events of the tale are going to unfold: ''Higher Crowstairs, as the house was called, stood quite detached and undefended.'' Yet, it's only a short distance from a town named Casterbridge, which houses the county jail.

The evening in question is a blustery day in late winter, and the occasion of the party at the Fennel residence is a celebration of the birth and christening of a new daughter. Twenty or so friends have packed into the cottage, giving the entire place a cozy feel: ''A glance into the apartment at eight o'clock on this eventful evening would have resulted in the opinion that it was as cosy and comfortable a nook as could be wished for in boisterous weather.'' There is dancing, singing, and chatter as the party-goers mingle and enjoy each other's company.

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  • 0:03 The Party
  • 1:05 The Strangers Arrive
  • 3:05 Revealing the Strangers
  • 3:28 Analyzing the Story
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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The Strangers Arrive

The first stranger arrives looking for a place to dry off and warm up from the rainy conditions. Mr. and Mrs. Fennel allow the man to come in and warm himself by the fire. He tells them he's come from the nearby town and lost both his pipe and his tobacco pouch, which the homeowners quickly remedy.

Just as the first stranger is getting settled, there comes another knocking at the door, who's headed toward town. The first man is headed away from town, though both men are looking to rest inside out of the inclement weather. He sits next to the first stranger and partakes of the party's mead, a type of liquor made with honey. In fact, he partakes maybe a little too much, drinking more than his share.

The party-goers try to engage the second stranger in conversation and ask about his occupation. In turn, he sings them a song about his career: ''My tools are but common ones, Simple shepherds all - My tools are no sight to see: A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing, Are implements enough for me!'' The second stranger is, in fact, a hangman headed toward the jail.

The arrival of the third, and final, stranger sets everyone - and everything - into motion. When he appears at the door, he looks around the room of party-goers, acts frightened and flees: ''They noticed to their surprise that he stood before them the picture of abject terror--his knees trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door-latch by which he supported himself rattled audibly: his white lips were parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry officer of justice in the middle of the room.''

After the man flees, the sound of a gun firing can be heard from the nearby town. It's a signal from the jail that a prisoner has escaped. One of the party guests identifies himself as a constable and organizes a search party for the third stranger who must be, they presume, the escaped convict. While everyone's out searching, the first two strangers sneak back into the house, helping themselves to more food and drink. The two men then part ways.

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