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An Essay On The Withered Arm, By Thomas Hardy

2041 words - 8 pages

An Essay on The Withered Arm, by Thomas Hardy

‘The past is a foreign country. They did things differently there.’
‘The Go Between’ by L.P. Hartley.

Thomas Hardy, a Victorian novelist, based his stories on experience of
growing up in rural Dorset. Growing up there, he became familiar with
the language, customs, practises and stories of the country folk.
These stories draw up on his experiences enabling him to write ‘Wessex
Tales’. Among many pieces of work is ‘The Withered Arm’. ‘The Withered
Arm’ is a well-crafted short story written in the prose format. The
quote above portrays what pre-twentieth century literature should
embrace; good literature should be insightable, realistic and
significant to all people from any era. In this essay I am going to
describe the ways in which Thomas Hardy has made his short story, ‘The
Withered Arm’ interesting to the modern reader.

‘The Withered Arm’ is about Rhoda Brook, a dark milkmaid who
retaliates on her lovers beautiful new wife, Gertrude, after her
lover, Farmer Lodge abandons her and their illigimate son. Hardy has
carefully structured all the elements of a short story making ‘The
Withered Arm’ interesting and perennial to the modern reader. Farmer
Lodge’s denial of the affair with Rhoda and the neglection of his son
causes Rhoda’s plotting revenge. Employing the character, Conjuror
Trendle, brings the involvement of witchcraft and supernatural powers,
giving the plot a paranormal twist. The public execution of The Boy
immediately grasps the interest of the reader because we learn that in
the Victorian times, committing such a petty crime, there is a massive
penalty. We also learn that the lives of the people were so habitual,
that they thought of executions as great entertainment. As Hardy
skilfully mixes all of these ingredients to form the plot, he is
actually hinting to the reader a thrilling climax.

Rhoda’s jealousy plays an important role throughout the story. In her
desperation and curiosity to see her antagonist’s appearance, she
sends her son in search for Gertrude, asking him to report back on her
appearance. ‘I shall want to send to the market, and you’ll be pretty
sure meet her.’ ‘…You can giver her a look and tell me what she’s
like, if you do see her.’

Hardy uses the supernatural event of Rhoda speculating the ghost to
bring a sense of mystery and tension into the readers mind. At this
point we grasp a gruesome, witch image of Gertrude ‘ with features
shockingly disorted and wrinkled by the age.’ His use of words and
description brings the dream to reality; making the reader feel as
though they are experiencing it. When Gertrude reveals her ‘left limb’
to Rhoda, it forces Rhoda to make-believe that she is a witch. Our
belief to whether Rhoda really is a witch is then strongly influenced
as Gertrude says, “…my husband says it is as if some witch, or the
devil himself had taken hold of me there…” Gertrude’s desperation and
journey to...

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