Ralph writes in his journal and at midnight takes out his wife’s picture to kiss it, but he’s interrupted by Ketch, who apologizes for intruding. “When I say my prayers I have a terrible doubt,” Ketch says. “How can I be sure God is forgiving me?” He then wishes aloud that he stayed in Ireland, where he believes his “guardian angel” used to be. When he moved to England, his guardian angel didn’t follow him, which he thinks is the reason he ended up getting arrested in the first place. After all, if he hadn’t come to England, he wouldn’t have been part of a workers’ strike, and if he hadn’t been part of the strike, he wouldn’t have helped a group of strikers beat a fellow employee to death for going against them.
Ketch’s comment about forgiveness suggests that he’s struggling with guilt; he is the colony’s hangman, which means he has to find a way to cope with his role as a killer. The mere fact that he’s talking about such things in the middle of the night suggests that his conscience is bothering him, but he also seems to sidestep any kind of moral culpability when he suggests that the only reason he was arrested in the first place is because his guardian angel failed to guide him. Still, it’s evident that he’s thinking hard about his actions, and is hungry for acceptance and moral absolution.
Ketch upholds that—although he was involved in the murder of a worker who went against the strike—he shouldn’t have been held accountable, since he was only going along with the rest of the group. This, he claims, is also what happened when he was caught stealing food with Handy Baker and Thomas Barrett; he was simply going along with the plan. He tells Ralph that he was given a chance after getting caught to “hang or be hanged.” “What would you do? Someone has to do it,” he says, attempting to justify the fact that he hangs his fellow convicts. Getting to his point, he tells Ralph that he’s tired of everybody hating him in the colony. “It’s the women,” he says, “they’re without mercy.” Because of this, he wants to join the play, hoping that doing so will help him regain the convicts’ acceptance.
Ketch has trouble accepting responsibility for his actions. Until now, it has apparently been rather easy for him to blame his moral failures on someone or something else, but now—as the hangman—it’s a bit more difficult for him to sidestep moral culpability. Still, though, he tries to rid himself of guilt by pointing out that “someone has to” do the hanging, so it might as well be him. And yet, this logic fails to make him feel better, because what he truly seeks is his peers’ approval. As such, he wants to redeem himself by joining the play, which he hopes will endear him to his fellow convicts.