Both these stories build up mystery. However, because they are written in different ways, there is significant contrast in the way the two stories are built up. Hardy’s story is longer, and has much more detail than Maupassant’s. Hardy’s has more characters and there is a twist in the tale. Maupassant’s is simpler, to the point and only has one character. These differences in structure contribute to the contrasting styles in which the mystery is built up.
The setting at the beginning of ‘The Three Strangers’, plays a big part in creating mystery. Thomas Hardy describes ‘a lonely cottage’ (page 130) as ‘solitary’.
The way he describes this leads the reader to think that if anything happens out there, no one would know about it. Hardy’s descriptive use of the weather when he says ‘the level rainstorm’ (on page 131), creates an atmosphere that plays on the readers emotions. The setting for Maupassant’s story builds up mystery too.
It opens with a horrific murder. On page 201, we are told that the victim was ‘treacherously knifed’. This is important, as straight away there is some action in it, which makes us wonder what’s going to happen next. This is a clever way to build up mystery.
Like Maupassant’s, Hardy’s story gets to the point almost straight away: ‘an incident had occurred’ (page 133). This is mysterious, because it doesn’t tell you what the incident was until a little bit later. This builds up suspension and mystery very well.
As the first stranger ascends the hill, Hardy develops mystery by using nature. The time of day helps when on page 134, it says ‘the time of full moon. ‘ The sense of mystery is developed further through this, as a full moon is often associated with mysterious events. The way the first stranger walks also brings out the mystery in him.
It says on page 134 ‘there was caution in it,’ referring to his walk. This makes us wonder why and leads the reader to think that the man is scared of something, mystery being built, as we don’t as yet know what the danger is. On several occasions, Hardy refers to the first stranger as a ‘solitary pedestrian. ‘ This adds to the mystery rather well because if one is alone, no one will know if something happens to you. Later, as he is about to enter the house, the first pedestrian is described to be ‘mentally looking through the door’ (page 135).
This shows that he might be uncomfortable with what the people inside might ask him. This is backed up by the quotation on page 135. ‘The question of his entry. ‘ This argument could be reinforced by the quotation on page 136. ‘His hat hung low over his head. ‘ It is evident that the stranger doesn’t want to be recognised in the house. Overall, Hardy gives the impression to the reader that the man did not want to be recognised, and he did not want too many questions to be asked about him.
This builds up suspension and mystery as it tells us that something is going on, and the man has a secret. In Maupassant’s story, there is also a secret. This secret is being revealed to us little by little, gradually telling us how the widow will carry out the vendetta. By doing this, he introduces the idea she has had. First, he tells us that there was nothing else on her mind but this. On page 202, it tells you ‘she had no rest. ‘ This shows she was determined to carry out the vendetta, but it seems she didn’t know how to go about it.
Next, he tells us that she has decided what to do. On page 202, it reads ‘inspiration. ‘ We now know that she has decided what she is going to do, however, the reader has not been informed what it is and still, Maupassant gives the pieces little by little. The story continues and we finally get to know what is going to happen on page 203, when it says the dog ‘tore the face to pieces. ‘ This is somewhat different to the way Hardy develops the plot. Hardy draws it out even more, and I think this helped Hardy’s story immensely with the build up of tension and mystery.
Once the second stranger is inside, and the people at the party are asking about the strangers’ professions, the first stranger does not seem to be too pleased to be asked about it. It seems at first that he is keen to let everyone know what he is when he says very quickly and firmly ‘I’m a wheelwright’. However, it appears that he is feeling a little too keen, especially as when the hedge carpenter says you can tell a man’s profession by his hands, the first man ‘instinctively sought the shade’ (page 142). All this shows that he is not telling the truth about his profession.
This also adds to the mystery of the story, and again, it makes the reader wonder why the man is so secretive about himself, and why he would lie about his profession. In Maupassant’s story, there is a level of predictability regarding what is going to happen when it reads, on page 203; ‘reduced the throat to ribbons. ‘ Before this, though, the clues are introduced very gradually. This also shows the determination and intelligence of the old woman. Usually a plot like this would be very well planned-out. However, it says that she had a ‘sudden inspiration’ (page 202).
This tells you that the woman is not a gentle, soft woman, or not in this case, at least. This is because she is so determined to do what she has to do, since it is what she has believed in throughout her whole life. Page 202 also says that the inspiration was a ‘fierce vindictive’ one. The woman had forced herself to be less shy and timid, especially to be able to carry out the vendetta on her son’s behalf. This builds up mystery well, as it means that the woman could be unpredictable as she is not her usual self. Hardy also uses this method in his story.
He does not disclose to us the next mystery that is about to arise. The mystery is what the second stranger does for a living. There are clues scattered about when he talks. For example, on page 138, it says ‘not a face without power. ‘ This gives the impression, that at least he is a boss of some kind or in charge of something. He was in fact, in charge of something, that thing being other peoples’ lives. Something that could put you off track however, is the second stranger’s kindness. On page 140, he says ‘relieve the needy. You don’t really expect an executioner to help the needy, as if he didn’t kill people every week, so this is a clever way to draw out the little mystery. Later on, when asked about his occupation, the second stranger says ‘I leave a mark upon my customers’ (page 142). This is again a clue to the stranger’s profession. Finally, in the second verse of his song, he gives his final clue. ‘A post whereon to swing’ (page 143). The post is the hanging pole, and they are swinging because of the rope holding them up by their necks.
I think Hardy has used this riddle well, for as well as leaving the readers to unfold it themselves, he has placed into their minds the question “what will this man have to do with the rest of the story? ” It was clever to use this riddle, as it builds such great suspense, that mystery is built up immensely in this part of the story. The third stranger comes in and flees so suddenly, that it is obvious that there is significance in the way he does so. It must provide a vital clue to the story. After he has fled, the party in the cottage wonder why he did so, which is what the reader is intended to wonder too!
When they hear the gunshot, and suspect what this man might have done, the story starts to unfold. After they have thought about it for a while, and heard the shots going off at regular intervals, it says ‘their suspicions became a certainty’ (page 146). After they supposedly become certain of their suspicions, the second stranger puts himself in charge of drawing up a plan. This plan consists of some danger. This also excites the reader, making him wonder what’s to come. On page 147, the constable says, ‘staves and pitchforks. This shows that Hardy is developing a sense of danger, which helps the build up of mystery in the story. On page 148, the first and second strangers are back in the cottage. They seem very confident of the others, as they say ‘they’ll have him. ‘ Although they seem confident, the reader is not supposed to be so sure. This helps greatly in the mystery development, as it helps to form suspense. Hardy has used this well, as when the reader finds out the whole thing was a ‘red herring’, he is excited by what the true answer is. Red herrings are important for mystery stories because they excite the reader.
The example in Hardy’s story is used very well. Maupassant does not have a red herring in his story. This is makes it is shorter and more to the point. Maupassant finishes his story how he started it: with a horrific murder. On page 204, it says the dog ‘seized his throat. ‘ It also says that when the dog was finished, Nicolas Ravolati ‘writhed. ‘ This shows that the death was a very painful one. Of course, it seems that the woman has got away with it. However that is what Nicolas thought. If the story had continued, we might have learnt that the old lady herself had been murdered in a vendetta for his life.
In leaving the ending “open”, Maupassant is still building the sense of mystery even though the text has concluded! At the end of Hardy’s story, when he writes the explanation, he tries to make it really interesting for the reader. First, before the real answer is explained, the magistrate says ‘haven’t you got the man after all? ‘ (Page 151)? This makes the reader wonder who the man really is, and why the third stranger ran away if he is not the man. Gradually, from here on, Hardy explains the real answers to these questions. First the third stranger says ‘the condemned man is my brother’ (page 151).
This is the first thing that is revealed. Still, though most of the questions remain. The next revelation is the real identity of the criminal. On page 151, the third stranger says ‘my brother was in the chimney corner. ‘ This is the mystery solved, and Hardy has done this in a very shrewd way. He has kept readers guessing to the last second. Hardy’s explanation summed up the whole story well, and explained the puzzle. This enthrals the reader and the whole story has built up the sense of mystery very well. I noticed that both stories used isolation as a way to build up mystery.
Hardy used it as in the isolation of the little cottage, whereas, Maupassant used it as in the isolation of the widow. On page 201, it says the widow ‘refused to let anyone stay. ‘ The authors are building up mystery in the same way, but in a different context. I can now say that I immensely enjoyed reading both of these stories. They had both contrasts and comparisons, but more contrasts. The two stories built up mystery very well, but they built it up in completely different ways. I think this is because both authors were not setting out to write the same kind of story.
I personally preferred Hardy’s story. I think this is because it built up mystery in a very shrewd way so that I was guessing what the answer would be right until the very end. One part that I did enjoy greatly, however, was the red herring. I found this to be a very clever way of putting readers off course from the real answer, as it did to me. I did enjoy Maupassant’s story as well, but I didn’t find it as mysterious as Hardy’s. In conclusion, I would like to say that I think both stories built up mystery well, but I think Hardy’s built it up to a greater effect.