These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.
We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
Written by Timothy Sexton
William Wordsworth himself described the character of the narrator in subsequent published editions of the poem. In fact, he determinedly set out to enforce the acceptance of the person speaking the verse as an actual character external to the poet and not merely a representative of the poet himself. According to Wordsworth, the narrator of “The Thorn” is a common enough type to be widely recognized. He is to be viewed as the Captain of a small commercial boat who is now past middle-age and firmly set into a life of a pensioner retired to a small country village. Importantly, apparently, is that this old Captain lives in a part of the country to which he is not a native. In the wake of no longer having a purpose to get up for every day, the settling into a quiet settlement has stimulate a hidden propensity toward talkativeness which in turn reveals a belief in the more superstitious aspects of existence. This acceptance of the supernatural world is the creation of a mind infused with the creativity that allows simple causes to gain far more complexity on their way to creating effects The ideas which stick to them like glue have the power to eventually transform into passions which, when they collide with an acceptance of those superstitions, provide ample opportunity for loquacious and complex explanations of the outcome of such effects. He is also quite the gossip.
The story at the center of the poem is the mystery surrounding a woman named Martha Ray who arrived in that small, quite village some two decades after the defining event in Ray’s life. Ray had fallen in love with a man named Stephen Hill only to discover on the very day they were to wed that he was on his way to church to marry another. Making matters worse is that she is also pregnant with Stephen’s child. Overcome with grief at the loss of the life she expected to have, she seeks lonesome sanctuary high atop a mountain. There she remains for the subsequent twenty years until the narrator tales her tale, but in that time nobody ever saw the child she was supposedly carrying. Speculation ranges from a stillborn infant to infanticide on the part of Martha. Following whichever event resulted in the fact that nobody has ever seen the child, Martha has descended into insanity and can still be heard at time bemoaning her woeful fate.
Not much information is provided about Stephen Hill. All that can be known for sure—if the narrator can be trusted, that is—is that he is a thoughtless jerk. Here’s a guy who took Martha’s virginity and then proposed marriage only to pull the rug completely out from beneath her by showing up at church with another girl. After that, Stephen disappears from the story completely.
As the tale unfolds from a narrator who proves increasingly unreliable, however, doubt begins to creep in not only as to the fate of the unborn child, but whether Martha was even actually pregnant in the first place despite claims by the villagers that they know the location of the burial site of the baby. Of course, these people also claim that when an attempt was made to bring Martha to justice for killing the infant, the buried bones were somehow capable of creating an earthquake around the alleged burial site which quickly put an end to that objective.
Update this section!
You can help us out by revising, improving and updating