Thomas Hardy and Penelope Lively - Sample Essay
“You could get people wrong,” Sandra realises in ‘The Darkness Out There’. Assess how effectively Thomas Hardy and Penelope Lively explore this theme in their characterisation techniques. “The Withered Arm” and “The Darkness Out There” are two different stories with a common theme. Both include main characters that change even though they are from different centuries and backgrounds. “The Darkness Out There” is told through the eyes of Sandra, a girl going to help at the home of Mrs Rutter. Her views and ideas are immature and undeveloped, she only sees the surface of things and is quite naive.
Towards the end of the story she realises these views are not realistic and her opinions change. One of the best ways to learn about a character is found in the way they live. Mrs Rutter’s environment gives the overriding impression of a harmless old lady. Her house is homely, “filled with china ornaments” of safe, nice characters like “big flop-eared rabbits and beribboned kittens. ” There are numerous mentions of flowers, which she likes, for example – “She brought out a flowered tin… ‘Look at the little cornflowers. And the daisies. ‘” These features are typical of a stereotyped old lady, who is deemed safe and trusted.
However, in amongst the safe, innocent atmosphere, Penelope Lively briefly mentions “there was a smell of cabbage,” which hints there may be something more dark and sinister about the place. In the earlier stages of the story, Lively depicts Mrs Rutter as a generous, welcoming “sweet” old woman. As Sandra and Kerry arrive at her house she offers them tea and puts them to work in a friendly way without ordering – “I daresay you’d like to… ” She affectionately calls one of them, “my duck. ” This is a very conventional way of showing her outside, explicit character.
Mrs Rutter has a suspiciously inquisitive nature. We can tell this because she asks both Sandra and Kerry a lot of questions about themselves, for example – “Still at school, are you?… I expect you’ve got lots of boyfriends, though, haven’t you? ” This factor could just mean she is politely interested, but she asks too many quite personal questions and seems quite lonely. It appears she has not had children of her own here, as she strongly stereotypes both Kerry and Sandra.
She sends Kerry outside to work quite early on – “I expect you’re a nice strong boy, aren’t you?- to enable her to chat to Sandra, who does traditionally female jobs such as cleaning and dusting. Whilst chatting to Sandra, she appears quite lonely as she asks a lot of questions and makes personal remarks. As when describing her environment, Lively inserts one slightly disconcerting point to Mrs Rutter’s speech and actions – “Mind your pretty skirt, pull it up a bit, there’s only me to see if you’re showing a bit of bum. ” Although this could be a harmless comment, it is rather full on to say it to a stranger. Lively also describes Mrs Rutter’s “darting” eyes.
Some of her comments embarrass or maybe worry Sandra. This is all part of the way Lively gradually reveals parts of the darker side of Mrs Rutter. During the latter stages of the story, Lively reveals more about Mrs Rutter as she allows her to speak for herself. It should be noted that the character is more honest about herself when under pressure, as most people are. The stress of talking about her husband and reliving the trauma of the war make her less “on-guard” and more liable to say what she really thinks, without dulling it down for the sake of Sandra and Kerry.
The second half of the story backs up the negative aspects found in the first half. The sinister, mean woman was there all along, one realises at the end, but this was very implicit whereas it is shown more obviously in the second half where Mrs Rutter tells her story. Lively has thought about the different mentality of the war years from when the story was written so Mrs Rutter is not entirely blamed for being bitter about the Germans during the war, yet it is realised as unacceptable to leave one to die.
There is also the minor point about her husband being killed early on in the war, which would leave someone with a lot more hatred towards the country. Lively also writes about Mrs Rutter having a lot of old things in her house – “The walls were cluttered with old calendars and pictures torn from magazines. ” She has shown the character doesn’t like to move on and is living in the past, which explains why she feels no remorse for what she did to the German and also why she stereotyped Kerry and Sandra.
Penelope Lively’s use of figurative language helps characterise Mrs Rutter from the moment she enters the story. “She seemed composed of circles, a cottage loaf of a woman. ” Whilst explicitly stating she is fat, the “cottage loaf” metaphor depicts a homely, traditional woman which is greatly reflected in what she says and does in the first half of the story. “… Chins collapsed one into another,” This explicitly reflects on her size, yet hints implicitly that as she has many chins it could also mean she has many sides to her personality.
The writer again in this paragraph inserts a negative point in amongst many positive, stating, “her eyes snapped and darted,” as if the character was suspicious. The description of her eyes appears again later in the text – “Her eyes investigated, quick as mice. ” Mice also came up later on, the cupboard “smelled of damp and mouse. ” The ongoing simile of the mouse shows she is alert and investigative. Lively made the connection between the mouse and Mrs Rutter’s actions but added strong contrast to her appearance, making Mrs Rutter mouse-like in character but the opposite in physique.
This is to prevent too many connections being made with such a timid creature before finding out what she is really like. Only when Lively allows Mrs Rutter to speak for herself fully in the second half does her true character show. “The Withered Arm” by Thomas Hardy is another story in which characters can be misjudged. One of these characters is Farmer Lodge, a yeoman farmer from a rural village in 19th Century England. As in “The Darkness Out There,” Hardy uses environment effectively to convey aspects of Farmer Lodge’s character.
It plays a bigger part in outlining Farmer Lodge than in the previous story, because there was more social order at the time “The Withered Arm” was written. Knowing the fact that Farmer Lodge was very near the top of the social hierarchy, certainly above dairymen and other peasants, Hardy clearly enforces his higher status with the way he acts and others act around him. Farmer Lodge obviously knows he shouldn’t mix with the lower classes, as this is backed up with the fact he had a son with Rhoda (a peasant) and saw it as a mistake which Rhoda and Jamie realised -“‘What did he say or do? ‘ ‘Just the same as usual.
‘ ‘Took no notice of you? ‘ ‘None. ‘” As he would have been brought up in the higher class and probably inherited his estate, he seems knowledgeable on what should and shouldn’t happen in his environment. The reader can see he was right, he mixed with the lower classes and was punished with a son. Therefore he had good reason to be wary when he implied Gertrude shouldn’t talk to the people of the village yet she did, and was hurt.
It is possible to think most people in Farmer Lodge’s position would have warned their new wives off, it is an intelligent thing to do because he learnt from his mistake. Hardy uses this to implicitly give background and meaning to why Gertrude shouldn’t go to the village. Hardy also conveys Farmer Lodge’s intelligence through his difference from the peasants. They believe in witchcraft and the ‘powers’ of Conjuror Trendle, not products of a learned background, and strongly stereotype Rhoda thinking she is a witch.
His new wife, Gertrude, believes the kind of things they do and Farmer Lodge, in a rather condescending fashion, is disgusted at the fact she chose to mix with them – “Damned if you won’t poison yourself with these apothecary messes and witch mixtures some time or other. ” He also orders her to see a real doctor and doesn’t recommend the conjuror. After setting this scene, Hardy goes against his previous comments, Gertrude commenting – “My husband says it is as if some witch, or the devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and blasted the flesh. ”
If Farmer Lodge was not supposed to believe in magic it is rather confusing that he himself should suggest this. Although he doesn’t show it, Farmer Lodge is probably feeling threatened that Gertrude is taking matters into her own (withered) hands. He is used to being the dominant character, in those days always the man, and having his partner do what he tell her, yet she goes against his will which was unheard of. Hardy is deliberately contrasting her strong will with his obsession with appearances, a situation guaranteed to draw the reader in expecting a great event.
As his status will allow, Hardy shows Farmer Lodge realises the importance of appearances. He knows it is important to be seen with his “pretty” wife beside him, attending church and not sleeping around in the village. We can tell this from his new marriage, he is trying desperately to make up for his mistake with Rhoda by getting it right the second time. However, as mentioned earlier, Gertrude is a strong character and doesn’t like to be drawn attention to, as was expected of her. Hardy shows she notices something of her husband’s trait – “Men think so much of personal appearance. ”
We can also see this part of his character in the church scene, Farmer Lodge has a designated seat for himself and one for his wife, again showing his higher status and knowledge of the fact. As in ‘The Darkness Out There’, what Farmer Lodge says and does is important in characterisation. There is also a difference in the character in each half of the story. In the first half of ‘The Withered Arm’, Farmer Lodge is put across as a stern, heartless, high status yeoman farmer who only cares for appearances. This is the opposite of Mrs Rutter, as Lively depicts her as a nice, kind old lady and Hardy shows Farmer Lodge to be harsh and uncaring.
The second half of the story is also like that of ‘The Darkness Out There’, in that Farmer Lodge’s caring side shows through when he finally accepts responsibility for his son. In the early stages of the story Farmer Lodge’s aloofness shows when he advises Gertrude not to mix with the lower classes. He appears to have no apparent responsibility, however some more favourable early hints show a final good side in the end, for example – “I once thought of adopting a boy; but he is too old now. And he is gone away I don’t know where. ” This suggests he was starting to accept responsibility, but still didn’t.
Small comments like this which go against the general theme of the story, which are not often picked up on, are featured in “The Darkness Out There” aswell, like the cabbage smell for example. The two writers use this technique well to convey slightly different aspects of their characters. Towards the end of “The Withered Arm”, Hardy conveys Farmer Lodge’s caring side by him setting up a reformatory for boys. He has a sympathy for boys, solely because of Jamie but perhaps because he was one. He feels sorry for Jamie, his great appearance would be dented if he had adopted as it is a bit too charitable and nice for an aloof lord.
Hardy decides here that Farmer Lodge really is a genuine person, trapped in the social status that says he must be apart from everybody else and respected for his position, which also reflects the society of the times. As in real life, we learn a lot about people through how others react to them. There are two ways in which the other characters in the story react to Farmer Lodge, they refer to his role, for instance Jamie is fearful of him when he is collecting the hares and the people are deferential to his face, talking about him behind his back but leaving his place open in church.
They also refer to his actual person; they discuss his business behind his back and for example Rhoda is very bitter. As is often in good stories, particularly in “The Darkness Out There” and “The Withered Arm”, the authors’ use of language plays a large part in their characterisation techniques. Although Penelope Lively used more figurative language in “The Darkness Out There”, Farmer Lodge is described with two main methods.
“The driver was a yeoman in the prime of life, cleanly shaven like an actor,”This simple simile has more meaning than his smooth complexion. Although it merges in as a conventional introduction to the character, it implicitly suggests there may be something different about Farmer Lodge, as an actor often wears masks and pretends to be somebody else, rather like the description of Mrs Rutter’s face. The overriding impression is that he is not what he appears to be. The other factor in Hardy’s use of language is the use of imperatives by Farmer Lodge – “You must expect to be stared at…
damned if you won’t poison yourself with these apothecary messes and witch mixtures some time or other. ” Hardy chooses his language carefully to reveal certain aspects of Farmer Lodge, the imperatives showing his high status as both a man and a yeoman and the impression of a tough, intimidating lord. These add up to a man who speaks in orders, which although is partly accepted with his position in society is slightly more than that, perhaps as a defence mechanism to stop people knowing too much about him in mind of protecting his status.
“The Withered Arm” is told entirely in the third person, authorial voice. This is the most explicit and conventional way of telling a story, it distances the reader from the events and only when written very well can it engage the reader emotionally. The reader is treated as a distant, objective onlooker, remote from the action, and a lot is expected of them to understand the feelings of the characters instead of just reading them, which is why many people don’t try.
Each of his points is told so explicitly there is no point in looking into it. Only once does Hardy implicitly make a point, the simile about the actor, but he could have honestly meant it as a description with no hidden meaning. Although simple yet challenging to analyse, this approach all the way through the story conveys the message in a rather patronising, boring way. “The Darkness Out There” uses mixed narrative, a more sophisticated manner using both third and first person.
The story starts through the mind of Sandra, where it is easier to read between the lines and believe the dominant first person’s ideas. Many readers are taken in by what Sandra thinks and her opinions of Mrs Rutter, so that when later on in the story the authorial voice takes over it is more of a shock to find out how different she was. This helps the reader identify with the dominant character from the start, although some readers will automatically become wary when seeing the story is told in the first person, as their opinions may not be correct.
When the reader gets more involved in the story from the character’s point of view, their opinions change too. For example, all the description of Packers End is told through Sandra’s eyes so the reader’s impression of it would be that of Sandra. Kerry noticed Mrs Rutter’s traits earlier on in the story, so perhaps if “The Darkness Out There” was told entirely in the third person the reader would have noticed too but Sandra’s juvenile opinions overshadowed this. This is how many readers also “get people wrong”.
As we enter Sandra’s mind and become her, we make the same mistakes as her. Some of the points made in “The Darkness Out There” could easily have been made explicitly by the third person, but they weren’t and this is what makes it a better read than “The Withered Arm. ” It is a more challenging read if one wants to take the psychoanalytical approach to the characters and their actions, but overall by far the better story for getting the message across of “you could get people wrong.
” This is because the reader himself learns from experience the mistakes Sandra makes. All early views of Mrs Rutter are by Sandra and Lively cleverly prevents the reader from noticing until Mrs Rutter is allowed to speak for herself, by which time it is too late, they have already been taken in. This is by far the better story for getting the message across as it involves the reader, whereas “The Withered Arm” keeps them at (a withered) arm’s length.