Ultima Thule Questions and Answers
by Davis McCombs

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Do the events in the story justify the name Ultima Thule, which is given to Mr. Jackson's house? What was the real Ultima Thule?

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In this short story by John Galsworthy, Ultima Thule is used as a metaphor for distance. In modern literature, the phrase "Ultima Thule" refers to a mythological place outside the realms of the known world.

The events in this story point to two possible reasons for this choice of name for Mr. Jackson’s house. The first is the financial distance between the two men, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson’s house, officially titled Ultima Thule, is only called this because he found it on the gate of the large manor and vineyard when he moved in. The house is “the last word in comfort” according to the narrator. This makes it significantly different from Mr. Thompson’s room in the boarding house, which is cold, bare, dirty, and full of rescued animals.

The second kind of distance comes from the distance between the two men’s attitudes. Mr. Thompson was compassionate; he is shown saving injured animals and trying to rescue an enslaved dancing bear. Mr. Jackson, on the other hand, is shown as callous: he tells Mr. Thompson to fire a flautist because he wants the theater to “run much cheaper” and has no regard for their wellbeing. Mr. Thompson then hands in his resignation, to save the other flautists from unemployment

In terms of whether the name is justified by the actions, it is worth considering the implications of the name. Is it true that Mr. Jackson’s house is outside of the realms of the known world? For Mr. Thompson, and for the animals as well, Mr. Jackson’s house is outside the realms of the known world. Mr. Thompson was never invited to visit. And despite being full of their favorite food and filled with cushions, the cats all left to go back to their lives as strays.

So the real “Ultima Thule” in this story was Mr. Thompson’s room. We can see this in the final sentence in which the narrator has

a vision of the little old fellow in his "Ultima Thule," with the bullfinch lying dead on a heart that had never known success.

The reason the narrator calls this “his” Ultima Thule is because he is acknowledging that, for Mr. Thompson, the ideal was to be surrounded by rehabilitated animals and to live a virtuous life. He only thought of his animals, he “never thought about himself,” according to his landlady. This selflessness is shown by the narrator as outside of his experience of humanity.

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