The Three Strangers: Theme & Conflict

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

The short story 'The Three Strangers' by Thomas Hardy is a mystery that involves determining which stranger at a party is a criminal. This lesson will explore the conflict of the story as well as the themes of justice and how looks being deceiving. Updated: 01/11/2021

''The Three Strangers'': Synopsis

The author Thomas Hardy's short story ''The Three Strangers'' tells a tale of intrigue. During a stormy night in a remote cottage, there's a party to celebrate the birth and christening of a new baby. During the party, three strangers knock on the door. The tension of the plot increases when the guests realize they have a criminal in their midst. Fortunately for the sheep-stealing thief, the guests believe the incorrect person is the criminal. The thief gets away.

Let's explore the problems or conflicts in this story and then explore the main recurring ideas or themes.

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''The Three Strangers'': Conflict

The major conflict, or the main problem, in ''The Three Strangers'' pits man against society. The escaped criminal tries to avoid capture, while the guests work against him.

The conflict arises when the first stranger arrives. The suspicion of the cottage owners and guests grows as more strangers arrive during the night. After the third stranger arrives, has a terrified look on his face when the door opens, then runs away, everyone is on high alert. The report of a gunshot, which lets people know there is an escaped criminal, encourages those in the cottage to believe the third stranger is the criminal.

The third stranger ends up being the one to bring resolution to the conflict. He tells everyone he is the criminal's brother. He also reveals the first stranger is Timothy Summers, the thief. In this story, the conflict's resolution has the criminal escaping justice. Now let's consider the themes, or rather, recurring ideas in this story, which this conflict helps the reader explore.

''The Three Strangers'': Theme

The first theme we'll explore is the idea of justice. Justice is meant to balance an inequality. However, in this story, Timothy Summers stole a sheep due to his family starving and his punishment is to die. This doesn't return equality and it isn't fair. So the true justice is for him not to die. The villagers agree that the punishment is too harsh, so they refuse to aid in his capture. They sympathize with Summers' reason for stealing because they're all struggling with the food shortage at this time.

The villagers also respect Timothy Summers for having outwitted the constable and the executioner. He becomes a sort of folk hero for this clever ruse. In their eyes, he may have earned his freedom with this act.

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