Lit Guides

The Hanging Stranger Summary

Summary and Analysis of The Hanging Stranger by Philip. K. Dick


The Hanging Stranger | Summary

Ed Loyce a forty-year-old man heads towards his TV shop at five in the evening after a day of digging and heavy labor in his basement. As he is trying to park his car, looking for a spot, he is shocked to find a corpse hanging from the lamppost and it was more shocking still that none was paying it any mind. Overcome by the confusion he asks his acquaintances about the same, only to find that none of his friends thought it to be weird or out f place in a society like theirs. He makes a scene that attracts people and police arrive to break the crowd, upon inquiring with the police they ask him if he were not in his shop that day, and tells him that his absence explains his surprise at the hanging corpse. They then tell him that there would be a short procedure and he can leave after that, Loyce gets suspicious as he notes that, he who knew every policeman in his town personally, has never seen these people before and he escapes.

On the way back while escaping he witnesses insect-like creatures which he concluded are aliens coming out of a patch of darkness near the city hall., Now knowing that these aliens are also capable of skin changing he wanted to go back home and escape, and as he boarded a bus he notices that most people on the bus have a vacant expression in their eyes all except for one, and Loyce shared a knowing glance with him, terrified he runs out of the bus thinking that the stranger could either be an alien or a survivor. The man follows him and in an ensuing tussle, Loyce kills the stranger. Running back home he decided to flee to the neighboring town. He tells his wife to pack up and tries to explain the situation to his wife but without any success, as she had gone out in the morning and had gotten brainwashed.

Hearing the calls and noise one of his sons comes down, and the other son, now replaced by an alien now assaults him, armed with a butcher knife he kills the alien but not before the alien tries to take over his mind, he escapes the influence of the alien after it as killed but his remaining family had been turned into statuesque existences by then. He gets second thoughts about trying to escape via road as it could be blockaded by the aliens. This forces him to crawl all the way to the nearby town only to be discovered by a farmer who reports him to the police. He gets interrogated by the police officer after a lot of liberation and tells Loyce that he has chosen to believe Loyce’s story. Loyce also reveals his theory that the insects might be demons or fallen angels trying to take over the world, reminding the officer how Beezlebub is often depicted as a fly. The officer also adds his views into the conversation telling him how it was a freak chance that Loyce escaped and that the hanging corpse could have been but a bait to lure out the people who were not brainwashed yet. Loyce tells him how the man who was hanged was a stranger to the town and the police officer tells Loyce to follow him and how would understand everything, he opens the door to the street and Loyce sees a group of police officers waiting outside the station near a platform near a telephone pole, the officer smiled coldly. Later that day Mason who worked at the bank was returning home when he saw a body hanging in front of the station but what surprised him the most is how nobody else seemed to notice it.

The Hanging Stranger | Analysis

The story opens by telling us how the protagonist has spent his entire day in the basement without going out, though it might strike as mundane it is an important detail that drives the plot. When he sees the hanging corpse he is caught off guard and is confused by the reactions of his acquaintances. The efficiency by which the aliens dealt with the people of the town reveals how well put together their plan for world domination is, even putting in place mechanisms and fail-safes to deal with any slip-ups. The story also works as a metaphor for authoritarianism and political victimization.

The aliens who appear as Lovecraftian horrors in the story can be easily read as the political elite, whose life and circumstances are worlds apart from the situation of the common man, the rules that they set for their gains drain people of life. here the brainwashing and mind control becomes representations of the ideology of the ruling class taking over the minds of people who are conditioned to accept unbelievable atrocities, creating a new normal. Public execution has been used as a method to deter dissent and destroy the morale of the thinkers from antiquity, the outliers who weren’t indoctrinated into the system and managed to hold on to their identities, “A freak chance. One in a million”, the people who realize that something is wrong and speak-up about it and get hunted down for it, and whose death could be used to stirrup the public more to churn out the ‘radicals’ who believe in different things than the ruling class, all these elements come together smoothly to form the story of unsuccessful revolutions, and political persecution, telling a tale of hopelessness and desperation. The society’s reaction to Loyce telling them about the body is one of apathy ( “Are you sick?” )  while some others move on as if nothing happened, and a few more believe that if the person is hanged there might be a good reason for it all the while, not questioning the moral and ethical implications of the same is also emblematic of the condition the society is in and how it relates to authoritarianism.

The Hanging Stranger | Title of the Story

The title of the story, The Hanging Stranger is of great symbolic significance in the story. The story begins with Loyce discovering a hanging stranger and finally by the end of the story, ends up as another hanging stranger, becoming nothing but bait to attract the outliers who could be filtered out through violence. The title is apt also in the sense that the key events of the story are kicked off by the discovery of a hanging stranger by the protagonist who is then fated to become another.

The Hanging Stranger | Literary Techniques

Written in the third person with a limited omniscient narrator, the story follows Loyce as he tries to tackle what might as well have been an apocalypse. The story is fast-paced and is able to maintain tension throughout the length of the story through it. The story also employs several literary devices the primary ones being symbolism ad metaphor. The hanging man is symbolic of every political sacrifice used as bait by the opposition, through the veils of time. There is also the irony of the protagonist trying to escape and by the end being turned into the tool for the proliferation of his enemies and victimization of his kind. The story, therefore, can be read as a metaphor for authoritarian regimes and the persecution of hapless individuals who are unlucky enough to find themselves under such despotic regimes.





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