Mystery and Fear in The Withered Arm Essay - 2458 Words

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Mystery and Fear in The Withered Arm

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Text Preview How does Hardy create mystery and fear in ‘The Withered Arm’? How does the social/historical context ad to the fear and mystery created? In the Withered Arm, Hardy uses various literary techniques to create mystery and fear. Through crafting his characters’ personalities, forming events and setting a tone for his story, Hardy treats the reader as if they were one of the characters. Through the story, information is drip fed to us as well as the characters which creates mystery, because we experience the consequences of the characters actions along with them. With the additional background knowledge of historical and social context, the reader is already in the loop, so they can gain a deeper understanding of the story. The modern reader knows that this information could often cause much more fear and mystery back then, due to the superstitious personas of people living in the Victorian 1800’s. They would have been more easily influenced therefore, in a way, a better audience, as they would have interpreted Hardy’s writing exactly the way he wanted them to- with a feeling of fear and in an atmosphere of mystery. In the first pages of The Withered Arm Hardy sets the tone for his story. Hardy creates a dark tone in chapter one. The title ‘A Lorn Milkmaid’ means that the story will be sad about someone who lives an isolated life and seems to blend into the background. This is because in the 1800s it would be very common for women of a somewhat lower class to be milkmaids. The first sentence also creates mystery ‘It was an 80 cow dairy...troop of the milkers, regular...were all at work’, this seems like a very casual setting, very normal and plain. This is the factor, which creates mystery, as the reader thinks that it is almost too normal. The word ‘regular’ signifies no break from routine, as if these people have been working this way all their lives. Another quote is the title ‘The Withered Arm’ that coincides with pain, or a wound of some kind. This creates fear, as the person affected could be either dead or alive and it could be any of the characters. Hardy thus invites the reader to engage in his story. Although setting doesn’t play a strong part in the story, it is still important. Take the description of Rhoda’s house for example; ‘a rafter showed like a bone protruding through the skin’. The reference to the bone creates an ghostly feeling for the reader, as it is described in quite a graphic manner. It will also cause fear, as the connotations of ‘bone’ include other gory images, like blood. This description allows the reader to empathise with Rhoda’s situation. The description of her house then goes on to say the walls were made of mud, this shows the reader just how working class Rhoda is and how life must be a struggle for her. We now know that Farmer Lodge, whom she fell pregnant with, was of a higher class, and when he abandoned Rhoda, he clearly left her with very little possessions. In the 19th Century, no husband or an illegitimate child would immediately lower a woman’s social status, as would lack of expensive material objects. Hardy also uses various personalities in the Withered Arm, to add detail to the story. As each character arrives in the plot, some information is slowly revealed. He has designed them for the sole purpose of creating mystery and fear for the reader. Gertrude, as a female character would have been objectified in the Victorian times. She was young, pretty and the new ‘talk of the town’. Her relationship with other characters i.e. Farmer Lodge, causes us to consider what Gertrude’s purpose in Holmestoke is. What with the age difference between her and Lodge, they would have little to discuss and this leads us to think that Lodge only wants her for her looks. For example, ‘...married experience sank into prosiness and worse’, shows how through the decay of Gertrude’s... Show More

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