The Monkeys Paw, by WW Jacobs, The Body Snatchers, by Robert Louis Stevenson and also The Signal Man, by Charles Dickens
I am going to discuss how three Gothic stories written by authors in the19th century create fear and atmosphere. The three stories which I will be considering are The Monkeys Paw, by WW Jacobs, The Body Snatchers, by Robert Louis Stevenson and also The Signal Man, by Charles Dickens. The gothic genre was very popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries and was a very fashionable aspect of lives in that era. Almost all gothic stories included similar aspects which made the atmosphere spooky and scary. Most gothic stories included elements such as grave yards and dead bodies creating a sense of death and killing of people.
The weather in gothic stories is often the kind that scares you for example thunderstorms, fog and almost all gothic stories are set in the dark of the night. Some gothic stories may include a supernatural aspect, curses, spells, wishes, ghosts , this was very popular in this era because the Victorians were very in touch with the supernatural side of their lives and believed strongly in the presence of ghosts and life after death. Gothic stories would usually include elements of surprise and realism to make the story more believable.
A gothic story will always be full of suspense and tension to make the reader tenser and frightened as to what is going to come next. The setting of a gothic story was always very important, the setting would usually be in a remote, exotic or isolated setting for example the original story of Frankenstein which was written in the late 18th century by Mary Shelly was set in the Italian alps, a very remote setting which at that time was known to be haunted. Violence, bloodshed and goriness was always included in the gothic genre and was always a large aspect of the story.
Gothic stories never included very many characters, this was a way of keeping the story not only short but also more frightening as it is always scarier when you are on your own or in groups of two or three rather than a large group. The Victorian era is famous for its fascination with death and the gruesome. The Victorians believed that people had a “good” death surrounded by their families, having made their peace with god and resigned themselves to their “fate” or a “bad” death, which was sudden. The Victorians also created a huge business around funerals.
A grand funeral was a way of showing their wealth and respect. People even had jewellery made with the hair of their loved ones who had died as way of remembering them and to show that they would always be with them. In the late18th and earl 19th centuries medical science made huge advances. However, doctors in training needed corpses to learn from. Often the bodies of hanged criminals were used for this purpose. Despite hanging being a relatively frequent event, the number of bodies available was always too little and the demand for bodies was large.
The “resurrectionists” found a way to make money here, by digging up fresh corpses and selling them to medical schools. This made the rate of bodies for medical use increase; however in 1832 the Autonomy act was passed which meant that any poor who died in the workhouses, and whose bodies remained unclaimed, could also be used for medical use. Until this act was passed people who could afford it would double or triple line their coffins or have strange devices to prevent the lid of the coffins being taken off.
The 19th century saw an increase of death rate which meant that there was limited space in the graveyards particularly in the large cities. The church yards became over crowded as a result of this many people began building private walled cemeteries for their families and close friends. The Victorians were all very interested in the supernatural beings. Si?? ances became very popular and mediums developed increasingly outrageous techniques to dazzle and confuse their clients.
In Victorian England, alongside the developing scientific principles of research and exploration, accusations of witchcraft were still routine and still taken very seriously. As we become more able to make sense of the physical and the touchable, the supernatural – and indefinable – becomes even more mysterious. One of the Gothic stories I am studying is The Monkeys Paw written by W. W. Jacobs demonstrates elements of the gothic genre. The Monkey’s Paw” is W. W. Jacobs’ most famous story and is considered to be a classic of horror fiction.
The story opens with the White family spending a cozy evening together around the hearth. An old friend of Mr. White’s comes to visit them. Sergeant-Major Morris, home after more than twenty years in India, entertains his hosts with exotic stories of life abroad. He also sells to Mr. White a mummified monkey’s paw, said to have had a spell put on it by a holy man that will grant its owner three wishes. Morris warns the Whites not to wish on it at all-but of course they do, with horrible consequences.
Jacobs uses foreshadowing, imagery and symbolism in this story to explore the consequences of tempting fate. His careful, economical creation of setting and atmosphere add suspense to the tale, while his use of dialogue and slang (one of Jacobs’s trademark) help readers to feel that the characters are genuine. The setting of the story is the type which is considered in the elements of the gothic genre. The story is set when there is bad weather and when the wind is blowing very strongly “THE NIGHT was cold and wet,” showing us the weather is wet and cold, one of the main elements of gothic story writing.
The house in which the story is set is in the middle of nowhere “of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. ” Telling us that the story is set in a remote and isolated setting with no one else around, they are alone in the dark of the night with the wind howling, Jacobs had set the story well and with detail to the weather and setting of the story, this immediately makes the reader feel as though there is something superstitious going on or is going to happen.
When the man arrives at the door, the readers wonder who it is for a while, but that thought is soon put aside when the Monkeys Paw is introduced and we wonder why the man is so unsure about passing it on to anyone, is there something bad about the Monkeys paw? Does it bring bad luck? We never know until the monkeys paw is actually used and we are kept in suspense, not knowing what to expect, the element of suspense in gothic writing is portrayed well in this story. We are told that the monkeys paw must bring something bad when the sergeant major says “but I warn you of the consequences”.
This shows that the monkey’s paw must bring some sort of bad luck, some of the suspense is taken away but we are still wondering what these consequences are and what the monkeys paw will bring. Later in the story we hear of what the consequences are and of course they all as gory as each other and all include elements of the Gothic genre which Jacobs has included, Jacobs demonstrates all of the elements of the gothic genre in his story, shows a typical horror and all its elements.
The Body Snatchers and The Signal Man are two other gothic stories which also portray the gothic genre and an insight into the history of the Victorians and the way that they treated the dead. The Body snatchers, written by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a story which is set very much around the Victorian era, it is based on body snatching which was largely “popular” in the 19th Century, and was in great need for medical reasons and research. Stevenson begins by setting the seen and introducing characters.
The first paragraph of the story seems very cozy and a regular evening in the pub with the usual four men sitting down having a drink, it is an ordinary occurrence and those four men would always be there every night ” but blow high , blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would each be planted in his own particular armchair” Stevenson begins the story on a very ordinary point which seems to be nothing out of the ordinary and the reader doesn’t feel like anything suspicious is going on.
The characters are introduced in detail, especially Fettes so presumably he is a key character in the story. He is described in a lot of detail and seems to be a man who everyone knows and is a necessity to the village and the pub, everyone knows who he is however we could be superstitious of him when the story states “we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents” this shows that many people knew of the man but not many people knew how he thought and his history.
The only facts known about fettes are random ones e. he has doctor knowledge, however they know nothing about his history. He doesn’t seem trustworthy, he drinks, vices, infidelities. His special knowledge is vague this cold be dangerous. The characters in the story know each other in strange ways- for instance what they drink and how the drink it. What was happening is the pub was a cycle- it happened everyday. The setting in the first paragraph seems too normal – something is going to happen. But the beginning of paragraph two – “One dark winter night … sets the familiar Gothic scene, cold, lonely, winter , dark , scary, this builds up tension and we can tell that the story is about to be told and things will begin to become more irregular.
There is a break in the routine of the usual nights ” it was the first time … ” this suggests that something out of the ordinary is going to happen , we don’t know exactly what this is but we know that there is a character that the men are unsure of in the pub “sick man in the George” however when the mans named is mentioned Fettes, who is drunk, suddenly wakes up after hearing it “… ut at the last word he seemed to awaken” Fettes and the man are linked how? – shows panic , recognition of the name, the other characters and the reader do not know why which shows that fettes will be an important character, Fettes and the man are linked how? Fettes suddenly becomes sober and has sudden movements – this shows that fettes is shocked, it is unusual for him to pay so much attention, and the name must have triggered some sort of memory or feeling in him.
There is such a change in Fettes character “as if a man had risen from the dead” this is spooky and makes a connection with the supernatural, things which should no be talked about, this introduces death and fear and is the first part of the story which links to the title. Fettes wants to meet him so he obviously has some sort of connection with him apart from the fact that they are both doctors ” Doctor has an unknown past” this shows that there are many thing which we don’t know about Fettes.
Fettes knows the doctor well enough to know that he is older than himself however he has led a good life with a good conscience and digestion. Fettes says himself that he has led a life of sin which makes him sound suspicious “rum and sin” we wonder what life fettes has led, we don’t know much about him and nor do the characters, this makes the reader want to read on and find out fettes’ history and how he know this “doctor” who has just arrived in the village.
The Signal Man’s beginning is similar to the beginning of the body snatchers in the way that we are very supersticous of a certain character, the character being the signal man. The story begins in a pleasant way, again with nothing out of the usual happening or anything which could be portrayed as “spooky”. The location of where the story is set is slightly remote but apart from that there is no other elements of the gothic genre. However the behaviour of the signal man when he is politely question is slightly mysterious.
When the narrator calls to him from above the signal man looks in the opposite direction from where the shout of the narrator are coming from “instead of looking up ……… looked down the line” does this mean that the signal man is expecting a call similar to that of the narrator to come from the direction of the tunnel down the line, the behaviour of the signal mad is odd and makes the reader want to read on in order to find out why.
There is a very detailed description of a train which passes, would this mean that part of the story is revolved around trains, how and when they pass the signalman? When the narrator walks down towards the signal man he describes it as “unusually precipitate…. Clammy stone, that became oozier and wetter as I went down” this suggests that it is out of the ordinary and not what was expected it creates and atmosphere of superstition and makes us question what is going to happen next. Is the path created that way for a reason? Or is it just coincidence?
The setting is set well and makes the reader intrigued as to why the signal man acted so oddly in front of the narrator, why did the signal man act as thought he expected something to happen, why was he so sacred of the narrator and why did he think the narrator was going to do something to him. Did he have some kind of experience that was similar to this one before? In the Body Snatchers the narrator is a regular in the pub, he knows everyone in the story apart from doctor MacFarlane. The narrators story is one sided, he could have exaggerated the story.
He is also a character in the story and has been drinking which could affect the truthfulness of the story being told. The narrator is probably an old man, an alcoholic, who has lived in Debenham most of his life. He looks up to Fettes but is very curious and claims to be good at “worming out a story” and is also interested in Fettes past and tries to tell the story of Fettes past himself. The narrator doesn’t seem to interact with the characters much, he sits and listens attentively, the story being told could be based on his opinion and we don’t know his background.
He has an over – reactive imagination, we assume he is a man. Suspense at the end of the story builds up rapidly until it is released on the last word, but we find that the narrator jumps to conclusions by judging characters however he is quite well educated. The narrator in The Signal man is very much a main character in the story and is found slightly mysterious as well, to the point that no one knows why he was looking down on the signal man in the first place.
The narrator seems to be a very curious character, he leads us to think that he had something to find out when asking the signal man questions because he is so interested and almost intrigued into the signal mans life story. The narrator seems to have some kind of supernatural connection with the signal man especially towards the end of the book when he some how knows that the train is coming and that the signal man has to get out of the way of the incoming train. We don’t know why or how the narrator gets to talk to the signal man and we don’t know any of his background apart from the fact that he has studied medicines and is well educated.
He is a mystery to the audience. The characters featured in the body snatchers are slightly mysterious we don’t find out much about each character, especially their backgrounds, we don’t know whether we can trust them. One of the most mysterious characters in the Body Snatchers would have to be Fettes. We don’t find out much about fettes’ character aren’t cant be sure whether we trust him or not. We are not given any background knowledge about him, although we find that he is known in Debenham as Doctor because he had “some special knowledge in medicine”.
We find out that he drinks a lot and is known well in the pub, mainly for the amount that he did drink, most people knew what he drank and knew that the arm chair in the corner of the George was his spot. Although we know these small things about him he is still a mystery, as the narrator says “beyond these slight particulars we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents”, he is a mysterious character.
He becomes even more mysterious when Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane enters the scenes we begin to think that there is a lot more to know about him than he lets on “….. ou would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no, not I;” this shows us that there is in fact a lot more to be known about Fettes than we think and he is a very mysterious character we are led to think that he has some kind of deep secret that is maybe very sinful. We think that the secret could be sinful because he says people think he is a good Christian, followed by “But no, not I;” Fettes expresses little emotion throughout the first couple of paragraphs until he hears Macfarlane’s name, when he suddenly becomes sober and shocked this shows that he has obviously got some hidden facts about him.
He shows us that he is full of emotion when he is shown as getting very worried and anxious when he doesn’t drink his usual five glasses of rum and couldn’t even finish his third he proves be very serious. Fettes also turns out to be less wicked than Macfarlane, which is unexpected, when he begins to feel guilty about people being killed for their bodies, he finds himself feeling regretful and scared.
He also shows horrified and panic feelings when he sees the corpse of some one he knew, this shows to us that he does have feeling and can show his emotions and express them, he seems to be more respectable person than we first imagined when the narrator begins to make us feel sorry for him, the narrator does this by talking about how fettes didn’t realise what he was doing and what was happening and when he did find out, he was horrified and shocked.
He also becomes offended when Wolfe offers him money this emphasised the fact that he’s a very proud person and doesn’t like to be pity and also the fact of how much he disliked Wolfe. We as the readers learn to trust fettes because he doesn’t seem like a particularly bad person and he reacts t o events that happen in the way that we’d expect a good trustworthy person to react. The undertaker in the story is a mysterious character as not much is told about him and he isn’t talked about much, only in the beginning.
He shows emotion (shock) when he hears that Fettes knows the doctor “do you know him doctor” asked the undertaker with a gasp. ” we know here that the undertaker is shocked and slightly taken back because it says that the undertaker gasped, showing that he was shocked to hear this and wanted to find out how and why fettes knew this man. We cannot completely trust the undertaker as we don’t know anything about him; he could be anyone with any background, good or bad.
Macfarlane is also a particularly mysterious character a snot much is said about him at the start and not much is said about his past, for this reason he also seems Un- trustful and when he is described as being “bald, dirty, pimpled” and wearing an old cloak he doesn’t seem the sort of man who you could rust him seems like a bit of a freak and is probably seen as a bit of a threat to other characters in the story.
He also portrays many of the characteristics of an evil man in the gothic genre which encourages us, the readers to feel that he is a threat and has come into the story to create a spooky atmosphere and prepare for what is ahead, he obviously lets us know that Fettes’ secrets would soon be reviled and the mysteries haunting the characters and questioning the readers would no longer be secrets or mysteries any longer.
At the beginning when Dr MacFarlane first enters the pub Fettes reaction this leads us to believe that Macfarlane is not a good person and is probably going to ring bad happenings, Fettes’ reaction gives us a reason not to trust him and also brings more mystery about him into the story because he is obviously here for reason and this reason is most likely to be about Fettes as Fettes is the only person in the George who actually recognises him name.
The doctor shows a lot of emotion when he first sees fettes but also acts in a weird way “… in a startled whisper,…. ” as though he is trying to hide from someone because he keeps whispering and checking behind his shoulder, acting as thought he doesn’t want anyone to know who he is, but is also happy to see fettes “I am overjoyed, overjoyed to have this opportunity”. He shows that he is offended when Fettes doesn’t take the money which is offered “a horrible, ugly look came ….. this shows he was offended and gave Fettes a dirty look which he slowly got over and made the best of the situation by almost apologising but keeping the offer of money still open to Fettes “I will leave you my address however… ” did he says this in case fettes would need money later on? Therefore still leaving the offer open. The Narrator also affects our views on Macfarlane by making the reader dislike him even more by his “sneering and growling” like these were evil things to do also the way in which he is described makes us think that he is evil and just around to cause trouble.
When fettes says “that man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have done so already have repented it too late” this makes the audience feel that Macfarlane is a very dangerous person and that people should stay away from him. He is not trustworthy and doesn’t seem like a nice person. Gray or the stranger is a mysterious character as he is described as strange all we know as the audience is that he is one of MacFarlane’s friends, we cant trust him as he is described as ” course, vulgar and stupid” which is an affect that the narrator has on the audience view of this character.
He shows his emotion by being bossy and nasty to Wolfe which encourages Wolfe to be more angry and threatening than he is originally. The narrator describes him as a very loathsome rogue, making readers think he again is not trustworthy and not a nice or good person. In the Signal man there are only two main characters, the signal man and the narrator , the signal man and the narrator are both main characters in the story and both of there characteristics can be considered.