‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ by Ray Bradbury and ‘The Red Room’ by H G Wells

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Although both these stories are based around the theme of fear, the types of fear that the characters in each story experience are quite different.

‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ is the more modern of the two stories. It was written in 1950, just after the Second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War. The story was written by Ray Bradbury, who was questioned and imprisoned during the McCarthy Trials. It is set in a small town, in the north of America.

These towns are typically quiet and friendly, with everybody knowing each other and nothing unusual happening. It is a short story about three women, Lavinia Nebbs, Helen Greer and Francine who all live in this town and, whilst walking through the ravine (which divides the town into two parts) to the cinema, discover a dead body. It is made obvious that this is one more victim of the local serial killer, ‘The Lonely One’.

H G Wells wrote ‘The Red Room’ much earlier, in the 19th century. This is made obvious by his use of 19th century English. H G Wells was a socialist and also very interested in technology, much like the main character in the story who is portrayed as a modern man who is quite sceptical about the idea of a ghost.

It is a story about a young man, who goes to stay in a haunted room for a night. The reader is never told what the mans name is or why he is staying in the room, but you can gather from the text that he is there to conduct some sort of experiment or write some kind of report.

Both stories are true to their genres, but they have different genres. ‘The Red Room’, with its old isolated house, occupied by strange housekeepers and a typically vulnerable main character is a classical ghost story, whereas ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ is a psychological thriller. The reader is kept in suspense all the way through the story until right at the end when there is a dramatic cliff-hanger. We are never told who the killer actually is, which is generally more thought provoking for the reader and therefore makes them feel slightly insecure.

The setting plays an important part in portraying the genre of the story. ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ is set in a small town in the north of America, containing a ‘tight-knit’ community. I think it is a good place to set a psychological murder thriller as it is a place where everyone knows each other and so a stranger would have been noticed. This suggests that it is likely that the killer is someone that the victim already knows, making the story scarier.

There is a ravine separating the town and it is here that the three main characters discover a murder victim. It is a dark valley, with steep steps leading down into it. It is described by the writer as being like a ‘dynamo’ (electricity generator) that hums and attracts fireflies at the bottom. I think this is because it is like the ravine is always alive. Like a dynamo, always humming, always there, buzzing with wildlife.

‘Deepness, moistness, fireflies and dark’

This is how the ravine is described. The writer makes comparisons of the ravine and its surrounding area. When he does this, he is showing that the ravine is cut off from civilisation. He is comparing isolated nature with friendly civilisation.

I think that the writer is trying to give the feel that superficially the town is very quaint and nice, but underneath there is a dark side.

‘slowly rising in a vanilla whiteness’

‘cool as mint ice-cream’

There is an ice-cream theme throughout the story. This is a metaphor suggesting that the place is quite cool, friendly and sunny; ice cream is sticky and sweet, and makes the reader think happy, sunny thoughts. However, underlying this is the storyline, which is murder, death and something altogether more sinister. There is also a colour theme running through the story. The writer describes most things as being white or some other pale colour. I think this is because it is in keeping with the ice-cream theme, and also as dead bodies are cold and pale.

‘There were candles in the sockets of the sconces and whatever dust had gathered on the carpets had been distributed so evenly’

‘The Red Room’, is more direct with its descriptions. It goes into a lot of detail when describing the people and his surroundings. This helps as it is written in the 1st person narration, allowing the reader to see the main characters’ thoughts and emotions. However, the reader is never told any of the characters names, which makes it harder for the reader to be directly involved.

It is made clear from the start that the place in which he is staying isn’t a particularly pleasant place. It has creaking doors, ‘queer mirrors’ and flickering shadows. The shadows play a major part of the ‘haunting’. They move and dance, due to the firelight and the writer uses personification regularly to describe them.

‘A monstrous shadow of him crouched upon the wall’

‘My candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver’

‘…and a shadow came sweeping up after me and one fled before me into the darkness overhead.’

‘…but its shadow fell with marvellous distinctness upon the white panelling and gave me the impression of some one crouching to waylay me.’

The shadows are personified, making them seem much scarier as the main character thinks that it is possible for a human to harm him, but not for shadows and ghosts. Even at the beginning of the story, when the main character is fearless and unafraid, the shadows start to worry him slightly.

In ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’, the three women have to go through a dark, scary ravine, whereas the character in this story has to go through a series of complicated passageways. These are stylistic techniques intended to show isolation. In ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ while the women are in the ravine they are cut of from civilisation. In ‘The Red Room’, the character has to remember his way to the haunted room, with only a candle to guide him. The writer also tells the reader that there is ‘baize’ covering one of the doors. This is a soundproof material. This is the author telling the reader that even if he tried to scream or shout, no one would hear him. He is all alone.

The two main characters in the stories, Lavinia Nebbs in ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ and a modern young man of who we are never given a name in ‘The Red Room’, are quite alike. They are both independent and sceptical. The man in ‘The Red Room’ is sceptical about the idea of a ghost. He takes a pistol with him that shows that he thinks it is a person and not a ghost, as you can’t shoot a ghost. He begins his story with:

‘I can assure you, that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me.’

Tangible is something that you can touch and so in saying this, he is saying that he doesn’t believe it could be a ghost, it must be a person trying to scare people. He can touch and shoot a human.

‘I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the terror of their house…’

He is saying that he thinks it may all be a hoax and there isn’t a ghost there.

At first I think he finds the idea of a ghost quite amusing. He calls the old people at the beginning of the story ‘pensioners’. This gives a comical element to the story and it shows that he finds their attempts at trying to scare him rather amusing.

When he is actually in the room itself, he locks himself in. This shows that he fears what is outside the room more than he fears what is inside it. At first he is quite confident about his stay, but it doesn’t take long for him to start getting scared. He is all right when the room is lit with candles, he gathers as many as he can and lights them all. The room is full of light and he is not scared, but as the night goes on, he gets more scared as the candles start going out.

The candles were what stopped him from being scared, but now they start to go out of their own accord and he doesn’t know what to do. He re-lights them, but they just carry on going out. This is when he panics and gets scared. He still thinks that he can fight the supernatural. He continues trying to re-light the candles but the ‘ghost’ is too quick for him and he has soon lost the battle and is scared. He tries to escape, but he is panicking too much. He is hysterical and can’t remember where the door is. It ends with him hitting his head and passing out.

Lavinia Nebbs from ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ is also very sceptical. When Lavinia and Francine find the body of Eliza Ramsell in the ravine, they are both in shock, but Lavinia realises that she needs to be strong for Francine and try and make them both forget about it. Francine wasn’t even thinking about carrying on to the cinema, but Lavinia decides that they should, as it will take their minds off it.

The film they are going to see is ‘Welcome, Danger!’ a film that was made long before this story is set. I think the writer used this film as the title makes the reader begin thinking about danger and starts to worry slightly.

When Lavinia and Francine finally get to their friend Helen Greer’s house an hour late, Francine is about to tell Helen that they found the body, when Lavinia cuts in and says that someone found the body, but they don’t know who. She did this to stop their night from being ruined, as she knew that if Helen found out she wouldn’t want to go to the cinema. I think that Helen is strong-minded like Lavinia and if she didn’t want to go, Francine wouldn’t have gone and so Lavinia wouldn’t have been able to go either.

They make a series of mistakes throughout the story. Lavinia, instead of staying at one of her friends’ houses, decides to walk home alone, in the dark, through the ravine. Luckily, nothing happens to her but it was a bit risky. This is typical of the story’s genre as the characters in psychological thrillers always take stupid risks, making the reader worry prematurely that something is going to happen to the person.

When Lavinia is in the ravine, she starts to panic and get scared as she thinks she is being followed. This turns out to be another false alarm, but it shows that she is, deep down, a bit worried.

Another thing that occurs that may be a false alarm, is when the drugstore owner says that someone came into the store asking about Lavinia. They wanted to know where she lived and what she was called. This is a bit suspicious but Lavinia, being ever sceptical, ignores it and carries on as usual. Her friends are more worried than she is as I think she is still trying to be strong for them. Lavinia is the main character in this story. I think her two friends play big parts in the story, but their parts aren’t as major as the background characters in ‘The Red Room’.

The minor characters in ‘The Red Room’ are only at the beginning and the end of the story. At the beginning, their job is to try and add creepiness, set the scene and tell the background story. They are not normal people and this is emphasised by the way in which the writer refers to them, ‘The man with the withered arm’, ‘The old woman’ and ‘The man with the shade’. ‘The old woman’ keeps trying to warn the man not to go and stay in the room by repeating ‘This night of all nights!’ twice.

‘It is your own choosing.’

This is what ‘The man with the withered arm’ says to him at least three times. He is giving him a chance to get out of it, as well as making sure he knows that he is not happy with it, and if anything happens to him its not his fault. They give the man plenty of chances to decide not to do it, but he carries on regardless.

These characters are responsible for telling the back-story, but they never tell it all at once. It comes in little bits so we have to piece it together like a jigsaw. I think this makes it scarier as you are never directly told what to expect once inside the room.

The paces of the stories vary from bit to bit. In ‘The Red Room’, the pace quickens up when it gets dark. This is when the character gets scared and this is conveyed as a result of the quickening pace. I think the darkness, or the loss of light is a symbolic of his fear.

In ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’, there are quite a few places where the characters get scared and the pace quickens. These happen when there is a false alarm. When there is actually danger, at the end when the reader is told there is someone waiting for her inside her house, the pace is not quickened, as this is the when the pace slows down. It is just after the part of the story where the pace was fastest, when she thinks that she is being followed and gets the most scared. When Lavinia thinks that she is finally safe, she isn’t, she is at most risk, so this should be the part with the quickest pace, but it isn’t. Therefore, the contrast is noticeable.

When each of the characters are scared, they talk to themselves. I think this is to reassure them that it will be ok. Lavinia pleads to God, whereas the man in ‘The Red Room’ talks to himself and the ghost. Both of them are asking for it to stop.

‘I had scarce expected these grotesque custodians’

‘The Red Room’ was written earlier so the author wrote it in 19th Century archaic English. Archaic English gives the story a more gothic feel, and so works in the story’s favour. The writer also regularly says ‘said I’ which would not be used in a story today.

‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ was written much later so it is written in American English and the whole film has a much more modern feel to ‘The Red Room’.

The ending of ‘The Red Room’ isn’t left open and ambiguous as is stereotypical of many ghost stories. It ends with the man getting scared and passing out, then waking up with the strange people from the beginning and telling them that they were right and the room was haunted. The end of the story is strange though, it ends with a moral message. The writer is trying to tell his readers that it is not the ghost that people are afraid of, they are afraid of fear. It is the fear that makes people scared.

‘Fear that will not have light or sound, that will not bear with reason that deafens and darkens and overwhelms. It followed me through the corridor, it fought against me in the room -‘

The ending of ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ is intentionally left open. Lavinia, after being scared as she thinks she is being followed, gets into her house and thinks that she has reached safety, but she hasn’t.

‘I wasn’t running from anything except me.’

Like at the end of the ‘The Red Room’, Lavinia tells herself that there wasn’t actually anything there, except her own fear, but unlike ‘The Red Room’, she was wrong. She had something to be afraid of. There was something physical in the room with her that could harm her.

‘Behind her, in the black living-room, someone cleared his throat…’

That is how the story is finished. I don’t particularly like this ending as I am not a fan of open-ended stories. I like to know exactly what happens. There are a number of people it could be in that room but the obvious, and the person that the writer wants you to think it is, is a murderer or someone that will harm her. There are a number of suspects, but the reader is never told who it actually is.

By the end of the story, both characters’ opinions haven’t been changed since the beginning. Lavinia, even after being scared at the thought of being followed, is sure that she wasn’t followed and there was nothing to really out there to harm her. She thinks this because she doesn’t know that there is someone in the room with her.

The man in ‘The Red Room’ is just as sceptical about ghosts as he was in the beginning. He still doesn’t think that it was a ghost in the room that scared him. He has decided that it was, in fact , the fear.

‘Yes, the room is haunted.’

At first the reader believes that he has changed his mind and thinks that there is a ghost in the room, but then when the old people suggest which dead person it could be, he tells them that it is not haunted by a ghost, so he hasn’t actually changed his mind about ghosts.

‘There is neither ghost of earl, or ghost of countess in that room, this is no ghost there at all; but far worse, far worse -‘

I think that he has accepted that he can be scared by something, as his attitude at the beginning was a bit arrogant.

I enjoyed both stories, but I think that the ending of ‘The Whole Town Is Sleeping’ was slightly weak and I also thought that there were a few too many times when they took unnecessary risks which are unrealistic.

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