The Striding Place Analysis
The Destiny of the Soul as a Theme
Perhaps the central theme of “The Striding Place” is the question of the fate of the soul after death. The protagonist’s friend, Gifford, believes that the human soul can stay in the body after death, experiencing the respect of a proper funeral and seeing friends say their last goodbyes. The body and soul, he argues, are twins; they are bound to each other but innately separate. Weigall states that if he were to die, he wouldn’t wish to find his soul in a broken body. In response, Gifford suggests that it would be interesting to “experiment with broken machinery.” This conversation foreshadows the climax of the story, in which Gifford appears to be dead and yet animated.
Gifford’s final state does not resolve the question of the soul’s destiny after death. On one hand, Gifford’s grasping of the branch seems to indicate the lingering presence of his soul, which perhaps guards and guides his body in the manner he had theorized. On the other hand, Gifford’s facelessness—a sight so “strange and disagreeable” to Weigall—suggests the absence of soul. The mystery of the soul’s destiny remains just that: a mystery.
Setting and the Gothic Tradition
“The Striding Place” is set in a real place on the River Wharfe. The River Wharfe is a river in Yorkshire, England, that has a famously treacherous stretch known as the Strid. The river is generally around thirty feet wide, but narrows drastically at the Strid into a creek about six feet wide—narrow enough for a person to leap over. The rapids formed here have carved underground caverns and tunnels in the underlying limestone. Those who fall into the Strid are sucked under by the rapids. Due to the caverns and tunnels below, the chances of resurfacing are slim.
Atherton uses the grim history of the Strid to foreshadow and contextualize the horror of her story. For example, Atherton’s narrator states that no other place in England has the “right to claim so many ghosts, if ghosts there were.” “The Striding Place” was likely influenced by Atherton’s friendship and correspondence with Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914), an influential author known for his horror fiction. As Bierce’s famous story “As Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” draws a thematically relevant setting out of the violence of the Civil War, Atherton invokes the true and tragic history of the Strid to symbolize the unknownable and uncontrollable nature of death.