“W.S” is a short story written by Leslie Poles Hartley taken from Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories. Hartley tells the story of the novelist Walter Streeter and how he starts receiving postcards from an unknown sender with no return address. The only thing identifying the author of the postcards were the initials – W.S.. As more postcards come in, Streeter becomes more self-aware of his writing as W.S. critiques him on how he is failing to “get to grips with his characters”. Walter rejects the idea of him writing the postcards to himself, thinking it may be a female admirer since he wants to reassure oneself that he is not a lunatic. The postcards began to control his life in a way; he begins to notice a number of things: the style and handwriting resemble his, W.S. are his own initials, each time the postcards come from a place closer to him. As Streeter develops a paranoia, he tells the police about this situation only it to be dismissed as a hoax. At the same time, he realized that the initials of W.S. come from his own story “The Outcast” whose main character is William Stainforth. Suddenly Walter Streeter is confronted by his own character in real life, a scapegoat for his fears, anger and, sins. Stainforth wants to be redeemed, given a kind thought but Streeter only sees evil in him and unconsciously in himself as well. Streeter does not grant forgiveness and the story ends with Stainforth “killing” him. In truth, this is an act of suicide by Walter. It appears that William Stainforth is the embodiment of the bad, dark side of his narrator. Although Walter Streeter is portrayed as the good, virtuous protagonist, as a matter of fact, he is the “bad” character.
When the reader is first introduced to the short story, which starts with a passage from the postcard signed with the initials W.S., a clear indicator that Walter Streeter is connected to the anonymous letters on a deeper scale. As the story progresses we can observe clear ignorance on Walter’s behalf, not wanting to admit to the fact that he could have written those letters. We can see this when Streeter quickly excluded the option: about the initials “Anyone might have them. Yet now it seemed to him an odd coincidence: an idea came into his mind – suppose I have been writing postcards to myself? People did such things especially people with split personalities. Not that he was one of them, of course” (23). This quote refers to the fact that Streeter is oblivious to his insanity, his Walter ego rejects the thought that he may be the crazy one. But later on, he thinks: “Supposing those postcards are a lunatic’s, and you are writing them to yourself, doesn’t it follow that you are a lunatic too?” (24). The quote indicates that Walter himself is beginning to realize something is up, but he decides to ignore that uneasy feeling and the postcards themselves. It portrays that Walter Streeter is not the innocent character and clearly has faults.
At the beginning of the story, Walter Streeter explains how he himself is aware that most of his characters were either projections of his own personality or the antithesis of them, “the Me and the Not Me” (21). When it comes to throwing one of the postcards away, Streeter struggles to do so: “But something in him wanted to preserve it. It has become a piece of him, he felt” (24). The quote indicates how it could be the fact that Walter is indeed writing these postcards himself and he cannot get rid of them because throwing it away would mean to throw away a small piece of him too. The alter ego in the form of Stainforth is someone who was written about in an extreme vindictive manner, just as if he was a real person trying to get out from the personality of Streeter. The postcards written by Stainforth are a symbol of Streeter’s own “demons” haunting him in real life. Notice here how Walter fails to make a connection between him and William as two parts of a whole person which leads to self-harm at the end.
Walter Streeter in the past was inclined to see the world in black and white and when writing, he would let go completely, drowning his sorrows, anger, frustration into words, and later on in stories, as we already know, William Stainforth in one of those stories, “The Outcast”. The story would help him escape reality and he put all of this bad traits and qualities onto Stainforth, him being the “stain” of Streeter’s personality. For instance, when Stainforth came face to face with the writer, he proceeds how he was described in Streeter’s story as a “Thief, pimp, blackmailer, not to mention murderer” (30). In addition, he elaborates: “You made me nasty as you could” (30). This shows that while making William the worst possible character, he is simultaneously making himself black-hearted and wicked. Walter wanted to cast out that part of him, hence the title: “The Outcast”, but in the end, the bad side won. All those times when Stainforth mentions giving Streeter a “handshake”, was a symbolic way of forecasting the ending, the strangling, an inevitable event – his death.
Throughout the story, Walter Streeter struggles with both the battle between him and Stainforth and the battle within himself, dealing with his madness. Streeter is shown as the positive character, but he is the one who is the combines the dark entity of Stainforth in himself, therefore, is the “bad” protagonist. Considering that fact, there is also the viewpoint where William Stainforth was in a way writing to Walter Streeter to save him, to put in another way, give him a second chance. Stainforth wanted to be redeemed so that Streeter can live a normal, sane life but that does not happen because Streeter is blinded but his own lunacy. The is also a different side that if William was someone who is portrayed with traits of kindness then Walter would not be confronted by his dark side. This shows how underlying issues that reveal themselves in an unexpected way that could lead to an irreversible, sometimes deathly, consequences.