Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443
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 and the mysterious gives way to the concrete and the real, and this prepares the reader for the revelation contained in the final section.
The force of the third section comes largely from the unexpected shift in focus from the house, the children, and the blind woman, to the sudden intensity of the narrator’s feelings. Up to this point in the story, he has been a model of politeness and courteous detachment, as much the observer of sights and events as their direct participant. The fact that the sudden surfacing of his inner life is so dramatically effective is a tribute to Kipling’s skill as a storyteller. Throughout the story he has inveigled the reader into seeing and experiencing with the eyes and the mind of the narrator, in his puzzled innocence. When the carefully cultivated sense of suspense, strangeness, and mystery is resolved in the final, overwhelming flash of realization, in which all the events of the story fall into place, readers find that they have been inexorably drawn into the experience, and as the story closes they find themselves, like the narrator, silently contemplating thoughts beyond the reaches of their souls.
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