The Little Stranger


Sarah Waters

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Science and the Supernatural Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Decline of the British Upper Class Theme Icon
Desire, the Unconscious, and Manipulation Theme Icon
Class Envy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Little Stranger, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Science and the Supernatural Theme Icon

The protagonist of The Little Stranger, Dr. Faraday, is a man of science. He is a well-trained and respected doctor, who utilizes empirical evidence to reach medical conclusions. However, when Dr. Faraday meets the Ayers family and becomes a mainstay at their manor home, Hundreds Hall, his experiences force him to reevaluate his position. Both of the Ayers children, Caroline and Roderick, as well as their servants, believe that an evil force haunts Hundreds Hall. At first, Dr. Faraday dismisses their concerns as delusions, and finds appropriate medical answers for their problems. For instance, when Roderick discusses what he believes to be a supernatural experience with Dr. Faraday, Faraday tells him that he is hallucinating due to stress and a lack of sleep, compounded by his wartime trauma.

Later in the novel, Dr. Faraday has a difficult time finding scientific conclusions for what happens at Hundreds. At one point, he converses with Mrs. Ayers, who believes that Susan, her deceased daughter, is haunting the manor. She claims to feel Susan’s presence constantly and tells Dr. Faraday that Susan hurts her sometimes when she gets upset. With his own eyes, Faraday witnesses Mrs. Ayers suddenly start bleeding underneath her clothing, seemingly out of nowhere. Although he racks his brain for a scientific explanation of the incident, he cannot come up with one.

By the end of the novel, Dr. Faraday is at a loss. He does not know what to believe, though he outwardly professes that nothing supernatural has occurred. Although the book is critical of Dr. Faraday’s position, it never confirms whether the supernatural entity is real. In fact, Waters purposely gives different accounts of the supposed entity from each member of the Ayers family. None of them agree on its nature or cause, and they all experience it differently. As such, the novel does not simply pit the scientific against the supernatural. Rather, it exposes the limitations of science in the face of the unknown.

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Science and the Supernatural ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Science and the Supernatural appears in each chapter of The Little Stranger. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Science and the Supernatural Quotes in The Little Stranger

Below you will find the important quotes in The Little Stranger related to the theme of Science and the Supernatural.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Well, I suppose I shall have to trust you. It must be frightfully bad form to kill a doctor, after all; just a step or two down from shooting an albatross. Also quite hard, I imagine, since you must know all the tricks yourselves.

Related Characters: Caroline Ayers (speaker), Faraday , Roderick Ayers , Gyp
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

In fact, I’d say that probably the only person who wasn’t watching Gillian was Betty. After going around with the toast, she had put herself over by the door, and had been standing there with her gaze lowered, just as she had been trained. And yet—it was an extraordinary thing, but none of us could afterwards say that we had been looking at Gillian exactly when the incident occurred.

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Roderick Ayers , Betty , Gillian Baker-Hyde , Gyp
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

It was more than mere anger. It was as though the war itself had changed him, made an utter stranger of him. He seemed to hate himself, and everyone around him. Oh, when I think of all the boys like him, and all the frightful things we asked them to do in the name of making peace—!

Related Characters: Mrs. Ayers (speaker), Faraday , Roderick Ayers , Dr. Seeley    
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

‘It was the most sickening thing I ever saw,’ said Rod, describing it to me in a shaking voice, and wiping away the sweat which had started out again on his lip and forehead at the memory. ‘It was all the more sickening, somehow, for the glass being such an ordinary sort of object. If—I don’t know, but if some beast had suddenly appeared in the room, some spook or apparition, I think I would have borne the shock of it better. But this—it was hateful, it was wrong. It made one feel as though everything around one, the ordinary stuff of one’s ordinary life, might all at any moment start up like this and—overwhelm one.’

Related Characters: Roderick Ayers (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

‘Unconscious parts, so strong or so troubled they can take on a life of their own.’ She showed me a page. ‘Look. Here’s a man in England, anxious, wanting to speak to his friend—appearing to the woman and her companion, at exactly that moment, in an hotel room in Cairo! Appearing as his own ghost! Here’s a woman, at night, hearing a fluttering bird—just like Mother! Then she sees her husband, who’s in America, standing there before her; later she finds out he’s dead! The book says, with some sorts of people, when they’re unhappy or troubled, or they want something badly—Sometimes they don’t even know it’s happening. Something . . . breaks away from them. And what I can’t stop thinking is—I keep thinking back to those telephone calls. Suppose it’s Roddie, all of it?’

Related Characters: Caroline Ayers (speaker), Faraday , Roderick Ayers
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:

I shook my head. ‘This is a weirder thing even than hysteria. It’s as if—well, as if something’s slowly sucking the life out of the whole family.’

‘Something is,’ he said, with another bark of laughter. ‘It’s called a Labour Government. The Ayreses’ problem—don’t you think?—is that they can’t, or won’t, adapt. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve a lot of sympathy for them. But what’s left for an old family like that in England nowadays? Class-wise, they’ve had their chips. Nerve-wise, perhaps they’ve run their course.’

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Dr. Seeley     (speaker)
Page Number: 387
Explanation and Analysis:

‘The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop – to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps a Caliban, a Mr. Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, and malice, and frustration . . .’

Related Characters: Dr. Seeley     (speaker), Faraday , Caroline Ayers , Mrs. Ayers , Roderick Ayers
Page Number: 389
Explanation and Analysis:

But I barely heard it. He’d started me thinking, and the beat of my thoughts, like the ticking arm of a metronome, would not be stilled. It was all nonsense; I knew it was nonsense. Every ordinary thing around me worked against it. The fire was crackling in the grate. The children still thundered on the staircase. The whisky was fragrant in the glass . . . But the night was dark at the window, too, and a few miles away through the wintry darkness stood Hundreds Hall, where things were different. Could what he had suggested have any truth to it? Could there be something loose in that house, some sort of ravenous frustrated energy, with Caroline at its heart?

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Caroline Ayers , Dr. Seeley    
Page Number: 391
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

‘Oh, no, I haven’t seen her yet. I feel her.’

‘You feel her.’

‘I feel her, watching. I feel her eyes. They must be her eyes, mustn’t they? Her gaze is so strong, her eyes are like fingers; they can touch. They can press and pinch.’

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Mrs. Ayers (speaker), Caroline Ayers , Roderick Ayers , Susan Ayers
Page Number: 402
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

She was like a stranger to me. I said, ‘How can you say these terrible things? After all I’ve done, for you, for your family?’

‘You think I should repay you, by marrying you? Is that what you think marriage is—a kind of payment?’

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Caroline Ayers (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 459
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

And in the slumber I seemed to leave the car, and to press on to Hundreds: I saw myself doing it, with all the hectic, unnatural clarity with which I’d been recalling the dash to the hospital a little while before. I saw myself cross the silvered landscape and pass like smoke through the Hundreds gate. I saw myself start along the Hundreds drive.

But there I grew panicked and confused—for the drive was changed, was queer and wrong, was impossibly lengthy and tangled with, at the end of it, nothing but darkness.

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Caroline Ayers
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 484
Explanation and Analysis:

She had called out: ‘You.’ […] She called it as if she had seen someone she knew, sir, but as though she was afraid of them. Mortal afraid. And after that I heard her running. She came running back towards the stairs. I got out of bed, and went over to the door, and quickly opened it. And that’s when I saw her falling.

Related Characters: Betty (speaker), Faraday , Caroline Ayers , Mrs. Ayers
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 494
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

I’ve never attempted to remind Seeley of his other, odder theory: that Hundreds was consumed by some dark germ, some ravenous shadow-creature, some ‘little stranger’, spawned from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house itself. But on my solitary visits, I find myself growing watchful. Every so often I’ll sense a presence, or catch a movement at the corner of my eye, and my heart will give a jolt of fear and expectation: I’ll imagine that the secret is about to be revealed to me at last; that I will see what Caroline saw, and recognise it, as she did.

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker), Caroline Ayers , Mrs. Ayers , Roderick Ayers , Dr. Seeley     , Susan Ayers
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 509-510
Explanation and Analysis:

If Hundreds Hall is haunted, however, its ghost doesn’t show itself to me. For I’ll turn, and am disappointed – realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.

Related Characters: Faraday (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hundreds Hall
Page Number: 510
Explanation and Analysis: