Lighting the Way

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Throughout Thomas Hardy's "The Three Strangers" light is used as a mechanism for what is about to happen next or at least has some symbolism behind it as a way of helping the first stranger escape death. The very first interaction the reader has with light is on page 327 where "lights were scattered around the room, two of them standing on the chimney piece. This position of candles was in itself significant. Candles on the chimney piece always meant a party." Hardy is indicating that there is some significance to the lighting or the atmosphere that the candles cast. This euphoric scene is about to be disturbed by a stranger.

When the first stranger walks in, "the shepherd arose, snuffed two of the nearest candles, and turned to look at him" (330) illustrating that there is some importance to why these two candles were snuffed out. My first impression was that there was something mysterious about the first stranger. Because why else would the author choose at that moment to extinguish two candles? It may also show that the stranger is a dangerous man for later the reader finds out later that he stole sheep and is set to be hanged the following day. However, by further looking into the details about what the first stranger did, the words, "in open daylight "(334) display another light element that shows that the first stranger was merely trying to feed his family by stealing two sheep. He had no real intention of not getting caught, but simply needed to do something or starve to death.

Later when the people are all chasing after the third stranger, believing him to be the real thief, they have lanterns that, "seemed rather to dazzle their eyes and warn the fugitive than to assist them in the exploration, were extinguished" (337-338). This demonstrates that sometimes people are blind to their own understanding of what is taking place and therefore must come to their own conclusions of who the real thief is instead of believing the second stranger. By believing the second stranger, they allow the real thief to get away.

Finally, "the third stranger was led to the light" (338) where the whole story unravels and everyone understands what happened as well as who the three strangers really were.  The people do not decide to continue their search for the real thief, perhaps because of the man's noble intentions of wishing to feed his family, but also because they simply did not wish to continue the matter further. Overall, the author seems to pay particular attention to the details of the scenes and characters, and as a result the lights seem to play a significant role of foreshadowing and symbolism throughout the story.  


Wow! That is some excellent close reading. If you're not using your first close reading paper for this Friday, I think you could definitely write something about the light in "The Three Strangers." I think the lanterns were also significant. Hardy writes that a shepherd always has many lanterns, and everyone grabs one, "lighting them hastily" (336), just as they hastily decided the third stranger was the escaped prisoner.

Melissa Schwenk said:

Karyssa - Thanks. Interesting take on the lanterns. It definitely enhances my thought about why the lanterns were extinguished though. Also, illustrating the point that the "lanterns roll[ed] from their hands to the bottom" (337) showing that their lights did absolutely nothing for them since they were still tripping and falling down the hills.

Josie Rush said:

I also think that the darkness the villagers stumble through could symbolize their lack of moral guidance. They definitely just let a stranger order them to to track down a random man. They're not following their own guide; they are morally in the dark.

Aja Hannah said:

Wow! I totally missed this aspect of the story. Good catch. I also wondered why he would extiniguish the two candels as the first man entered, but not more after the other two strangers. I would turn on more light so I could get a good look at this man who entered my home.

Kayla Lesko said:

Nice close reading!

I like Josie's idea of the darkness representing their lack of moral guidance. The first stranger is described as being "dark in complexion" (330). Perhaps this play on darkness versus the light was Hardy's way of symbolizing the good and the bad.

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Recent Comments

Karyssa Blair on Lighting the Way: I like Josie's idea of the dar
Kayla Lesko on Lighting the Way: Nice close reading!
Aja Hannah on Lighting the Way: Wow! I totally missed this asp
Josie Rush on Lighting the Way: I also think that the darkness
Melissa Schwenk on Lighting the Way: Karyssa - Thanks. Interesting
Karyssa Blair on Lighting the Way: Wow! That is some excellent cl