Who is to blame for the tragedy in "The Highwayman"?

Quick answer:

In “The Highwayman,” Tim the ostler is primarily to blame for the tragedy of the death of the highwayman and his lover Bess, because he overhears the highwayman's plans and informs the authorities. Additionally, King George's soldiers are to blame for setting the actual trap, killing the highwayman, and causing Bess to commit suicide.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In part 1 of the poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, a highwayman arrives at an inn at night for a tryst with the innkeeper's daughter Bess. The highwayman is in love with Bess, and he informs her that he will return with the gold of his plunder either that night or the next night and that she should watch for him.

However, Tim the ostler has been listening. This man is also in love with the innkeeper's daughter, and he overhears the highwayman's plans. Tim the ostler is primarily responsible for the tragedy of the death of Bess and of the highwayman, informing "King George's men" about when the highwayman will return.

In part 2 of the poem, the "red coat troop" arrives. These soldiers are the ones directly responsible for the tragedy. In answer to Tim's summons, they tie up Bess with a musket pointed at her chest and wait at the window for the highwayman to return. Bess shoots herself to warn her lover, and then the soldiers shoot the highwayman when he rides back after learning what has happened to Bess.

We see, then, that Tim the ostler is primarily responsible because he is the one who tells the authorities about where the highwayman will be, and "King George's men," the soldiers, are responsible for the actual violence because they set the trap, forcing Bess to shoot herself and then shooting the highwayman.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial