The Good Neighbours - Sample Essay

“The Darkness Out There” is a short story set around three main characters. It begins with a girl called Sandra who is on her way to go and help the old Mrs Rutter with her housework. On her way, she comes across Kerry, a young lad who also, is on his way to visit the old woman to help out around the garden. They are both in a club known as the Good Neighbours, which is run to help elderly people in the community with their household work. The two ask her whether she knows about the local wood, which looked ghostly, and was well known by all the locals to be haunted.

The friendly atmosphere soon changes towards the end when Mrs Rutter tells the Kerry and Sandra what she experienced in the war. The tale shocked the two into getting up and leaving a little quicker than they would have done normally. “Half-Brothers” is the second story we looked at. It starts by someone telling a tale of his mother. It is told how her husband and first daughter died and tells of the grief she suffered, but it does this in a very detached way and the reader is unable to feel any real pity towards the characters.

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The story is told in a basic way and moves along without any real description or scenery. This is very unlike “The Darkness Out There”, which has sections filled with detailed descriptions about the narrators surroundings. Sandra describes the house and its location, and the scenery inside the cottage. This is different compared to the way in which the “Half-Brothers” story is narrated, with only events being talked about. The main couple in this story, Helen and William, have a marriage of convenience.

Helen married William Preston despite the fact that he was much older than her, because he was a “descent man to see after him”, meaning her son Gregory would be ok and have someone to take care of him if anything should ever happen to her. It is made clear that she did not love William, but that she desperately needed him, and this meant that he had a lot of say in what happened. In “The Darkness Out There” the reader does not find out about what the relationship between Mrs Rutter and her husband was like because although she talks about the past, she doesn’t talk about her married days.

In the story, “The darkness is out there” by Penelope Lively, tension is built in a range of several different ways. The title already makes us distraught, as it is so indistinct. The readers ‘mind’s eye’ automatically focuses on the ‘darkness’ in the title, causing us to feel uneasy at the possibilities as to what this mysterious darkness symbolises. The story then leads us into a sense of false security. Soon after they arrive at the cottage Kerry sets off to work around the garden and Sandra works inside. Her and Mrs Rutter talk away and the conversation leads to a photo of Mrs Rutter’s husband who was killed in the war.

This puts us in such a relaxed state of mind that we are easily taken aback to sudden truths, which become known later in the story. Penelope Lively describes Mrs Rutter as a ‘cottage loaf of a women’, which gives us the image of a warm comforting lady… The reader may also notice her use of friendly language and her kind gestures when she offers her two young visitors a ‘chocky’, as she always ‘keeps a few choices by for visitors’ and she calls them ‘Ducks’. There is also a great deal of description about the scenery inside the cottage, like the ornaments.

“Big-eyed flop-eared rabbits and beribboned kittens And flowery milkmaids and a pair of naked Chubby children wearing daisy chains. ” All these actions are those of a kind person, and we begin to like Mrs. Rutter. She comes across as one of the typical little old ladies who spend hours of the day baking treats and fancies. When ‘Packers End’ is mentioned at the beginning and the stories and tales that are attached to it come about, the tale tenses up and makes the reader feel anxious as to why this is brought up. We are worried when it is described by Sandra as a place that is ‘nasty, creepy’.

The fact that at the time we never get the full story about this place, just adds more unease. With this mixture of fear and calmness, we are at this stage constantly on the edge of our seats. The images of sweet old Mrs Rutter contrasts with those of Packers Wood, subtly suggesting that we must be prepared for what happens next. When the odd jobs are done and everyone sits down to have a ‘friendly chat’ we find out that during the war, Mrs Rutter let a German Airman die when his plane crashed in Packers End, and how she and her sister left a young person to die in a broken up plane.

The fact that they checked on him several times during the two days before he died, and didn’t help him, or even tell anyone else because ‘it was raining cats and dogs, foggy too’, the reader was totally unprepared for. We are immediately shocked at how someone who we thought of as ‘nice’ had such evil in them, and so are the teens. Sandra already knows how her husband died in the war, but the way Mrs. Rutter tells the story, so matter-of-factly and with no shame or regret, increases the tension between them all, and Kerry couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

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