Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Structurally, “They” falls into three sections, corresponding to the three visits the narrator makes to the Sussex Downs. The very first paragraph effectively but unobtrusively leads the reader into the unusual world in which the story takes place. The references to Roman roads, Norman churches, and an old smithy that had once been a hall of the Knights Templars evoke the vast reach of time in English history. The narrator enters a world that is full of the passage of time and the imprint it leaves. Paradoxically, however, it is also a fairy-tale world that is beyond time; retracing his route on a map the narrator can find no name or information about the old house on which he has unwittingly stumbled. He realizes that he is “clean out of [his] known marks,” a thought that has more significance than he realizes: He is entering a place that is unknown to him not only geographically, but spiritually as well.

The anonymity of the two central characters—they are never named—contributes to this effect. Not only does it surround them with a slight aura of mystery, but it also suggests that they possess some kind of universal significance, beyond the localized boundaries of time and place and larger than their individual personalities. As a significant contrast, all the characters in the poignant little episode that makes up the second section of the story are named: Arthur the sick child, Jenny the mother, Mrs. Madehurst the grandmother. The subtle...

(The entire section is 443 words.)