A comparison between “The Withered Arm” and “the Darkness Out There”

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This assignment will be comparing “The Withered Arm”, a pre twentieth century story set in 1819 – 1825 but written in 1888 with “The Darkness Out There”, a Penelope Lively short story, written in the middle of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as the prime minister of Great Britain in 1986.

“The Withered Arm” is set in the deep countryside of Wessex (Wiltshire and Dorset). Mr Lodge’s new wife Gertrude sparks jealousy from Rhoda Brook (Mr Lodge’s ex-partner) and results in regret for Rhoda. Hardy’s ironic twists throughout the story result in yet more tragedy for Rhoda and Mr Lodge. Is the mind really so powerful?

“The Darkness Out There” is set in Clacton in Essex, with the attention focused on the evil of a nearby wood “Packers End”. From the outset the “darkness” of the wood is present as Kerry and Sandra make their way to the home of Mrs Rutter, “Nether Cottage”. The two gain experience during the story, inevitably helping them to grow up. They now see everything isn’t as it seems; the darkness is out there. The darkness of the mind.

The social and historical difference between the two stories greatly affects the comparisons.

The fact that there is a difference of ninety eight years in which the stories were written instantly creates a difference between the two stories, simply because lifestyles change over the years; fashions and beliefs, are much different in more modern years due to the lack of superstition that is strongly thought of in pre twentieth century years.

The situation in which Rhoda Brook finds herself by Mr Lodge, being left to parent a child on her own without any financial support, would not be an issue in “The Darkness Out There” due to a change in law, meaning a financial responsibility would be placed on the father.

As “The Withered Arm” is set in rural England and “The Darkness Out There” is set in urban England there is a difference in the lifestyles of the two communities. In urban environment more crime is present, causing Sandra to be fearful of Packer’s End. Although fear is present in her life she still has freedom unlike the women living in a rural environment. Women like Rhoda Brook have their lives dedicated to working, or to their husbands, overall women had few rights and therefore little freedom.

Sandra, from “The Darkness Out There” and Gertrude from “The Withered Arm” are very similar characters. This is presented to us in the first meeting of the women in the stories. Both women are displayed in pleasant environments. We find Sandra strolling through “summer grass that glinted in the sun”, and Gertrude travelling with her new husband in a “Bright… new gig”.

When being introduced to the women both are also described as being young and very pretty. Sandra is a sixteen-year-old lower middle class girl. Her beauty is conveyed by the embarrassing compliments received from Mrs Rutter. She is made to “blush” when told boys will be “like bees round the honey pot”. Similarly Gertrude is a nineteen-year-old middle class gentlewoman. Her beauty is conveyed by the na�ve complementary descriptions of her by Rhoda’s son for the knowledge of Rhoda. He tells his mother “her face… comely as a live doll’s”, “her mouth… very nice and red”.

More evidence to show the similarities between the two characters is the actual character of the women. Both of who are of a kind, charitable nature. Gertrude Lodge shows her generosity and care for others in need. She helps Rhoda Brook by giving her son “some better boots”. Her charity isn’t only focused on Rhoda and her son; “she gives away things to other folks in the meads”. Likewise Sandra shows kindness and charity through her helping of Mrs Rutter for “The Good Neighbours Club”. Her helpful deeds such as giving “the corners a brush” are said to be “ever so kind” by Mrs Rutter.

Another manner of character that displays similarities between the two women is the squeamish attitudes. Gertrude’s squeamishness is conveyed when the idea of touching her arm on the neck of a hanged man to “turn the blood” is suggested by Conjuror Trendle.

She is against this method of discarding the deformity on her arm and is “started a little at the image he had raised”. Correspondingly Sandra squeamish about Packer’s End and doesn’t like to talk about it, due to the evil of death and rape associated with it. She avoids conversation about it with Mrs Rutter; she explains to Mrs Rutter that it “gives me the willies”.

Gertrude is a na�ve is innocent woman; this is shown from her belief that Rhoda’s son is looking at them “in the hope we might relieve him of his heavy load, rather than curiosity”. This is also displayed through the description of her being young looking. On the contrary Sandra is prejudiced and even though she does not know what Kerry is like as a person she turns against and decides she doesn’t like him simply through his “black licked down hair and slitty eyes”.

At the end of the story we see that Gertrude has gained the experience that you cannot trust people, however it is too late for her to put this knowledge into practice. This is due to her ironic death; caused by the shock of realisation of whose neck (Farmer Lodge and Rhoda Brook’s son) she touches with her arm when finally plucking up the courage to carry out Conjuror Trendle’s method of turning the blood. In contrast to this Sandra gains the experience that “the darkness” is “out there”, not as obvious as in the woods but in the minds of other people. Although she gains experience in good time and is able to use it in the future.

The comparison between the two younger women in the story consists mainly of similarities, whereas the comparisons between the older women in the stories, Rhoda Brook from “The Withered Arm” and Mrs Rutter from “The Darkness Out There” consists mostly of differences despite the similarity of both women being “worn” and wise through old age.

Rhoda Brook’s description in the story isn’t complimentary. She is constantly described as “thin ” and “worn” although she “had once been handsome”. Mrs Rutter is also old, however she is described in a much more pleasant way. The thought of a woman “composed of circles, a cottage-loaf of a woman” display a cosy image, which belies her true character as we discover later in the story.

In addition to this both women have suffered unpleasant experiences in their life times, the result being the motive to their actions. Rhoda Brook’s lost of partner to another woman resulted in jealousy which mentally caused revenge. Similarly Mrs Rutter justifies her actions by the lost of her husband in the war. She feels when she let the Germans die it was “tit for tat”.

Rhoda Brook is full of regret and guilt after her subconscious harming of Gertrude. This harming develops after a vivid nightmare in which Gertrude entered the bedroom of Rhoda and sat on her chest as if to taunt her, in the struggle Rhoda stuck out grabbing what felt like an arm, resulting in Rhoda waking up. This is after she realises Gertrude is a nice woman and the two become friends. Her reaction when first seeing the disfigurement on Gertrude’s arm, a resemblance to a hand mark, is of shock, she had not intended to harm Gertrude and so felt “a guilty thing”. Mrs Rutter however is quite the opposite. She doesn’t regret what she did and feels as though she was not in the wrong. Ironically she persists to tell Sandra and Kerry, “I have lot of sympathy for young people”. She is unaware of her hypocritical view as she left three young men to die in pain.

Both of these older characters in the story spark reactions from other characters. Ironically it is other people in the story that influence their feelings and actions. Mrs Rutter sought revenge for her husband’s death and so intentionally saw the injured Germans as an opportunity to do so. When realising the nationality of the men they “cheered. I can tell you”. Although questioning whether to acquire help for the men or not her selfishness came through, turning her against the idea, “it was bucketing down”, she felt her being warm and dry was more important than other people’s lives. Whereas Rhoda Brook’s revenge was apparent, yet wasn’t intentional. When realising what she has done she is not experiencing satisfaction, shocked she thinks, “O, can it be”.

The two stories I have studied seemed to be completely different when first reading. Although, after looking at them in depth we are able to see how similar they actually are. Even though I have only identified thoughts and actions of the two main female characters in the story, it is the other characters that determine how we perceive the studied characters. Reactions to other characters in the story do this.

I personally did not enjoy studying the two stories for the first time. However when re-reading them and realising their morals I am able to see how the morals are displayed and can appreciate the stories more.

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