Thomas Hardy: The Withered Arm
From reading the above, what do you learn of Hardy’s use of vivid description, dramatic incident and reference to Nineteenth century customs and traditions? Which of the three pieces was your favourite and why? From reading the two extracts and the story, I can see that the main difference in the book is how life is in the book compared to our modern 21st century. People in the 19th century depended very heavily on agriculture and farming especially in ‘Wessex’, where nearly all of Hardy’s novels were set. Wages for agricultural labourers were the lowest in the country in Dorset, averaging out at the equivalent of 37p a week in 1840.
Magic and superstition was rife in the 19th century, and many people believedin dark powers. Every village in Wessex was supposed to have their own witch. Magic play a big role in two of the stories which I am studying, ‘The Withered Arm’, and ‘The Return of the Native’. People who committed crimes in the 19th century were severely punished. Poachers were transported to Australia to do ‘hard labour’, night burglary was punishable by death. Hangings were still very popular in the 19th century and any hanging was an excuse for a ‘holiday’.
Class systems in the 19th century were very rigid – not many people succeeded in moving up to a higher class, but Thomas Hardy was one of the few people who managed to do this. Thomas Hardy uses vivid description in all of his novels and short stories, including the novels which I am studying, in particular ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. At the beginning of the chapter, we have an almost cinematic view, as if a camera is zooming in on the three travellers, describing them from afar at first, then in more detail as we begin to see them from closer up.
We can almost feel the tension between the two adults, when Hardy says: “What was really peculiar… was the perfect silence they preserved. ” In ‘The Withered Arm’, Hardy uses vivid description very effectively when description Rhoda Brook’s vision. He uses words such as: “… peered cruelly” and “… shockingy distorted” to imply that Gertrude is mocking her for being cast aside and then Gertrude taking her place as Farmer Lodge’s wife.
This vivid description is also linked to dramatic incident as it is a key chapter in the story, and Hardy uses adjectives to describe Rhoda’s ‘dream’, it makes us feel as though we are actually there, watching this distorted version of Gertrude attacking Rhoda, so Hardy’s descriptions are very effective in this chapter of the book. Also, at the beginning of the story, we learn a lot from the dairy workers in the farm, who gossip. They gossip about Farmer Lodge’s new wife and they try to guess how old Farmer Lodge is, all the while ignoring Rhoda Brook, Farmer Lodge’s ex-wife.
In ‘The Return of the Native’, when the superstitious Susan creates a ‘voodoo’ doll resembling Eustacia, Hardy’s use of vivid description is effective when Susan thrusts pins in the doll, and then puts it in the firem murmuring the Lord’s Prayer backwards – which was a proceed which called for help against an enemy. Magic played a key part in this story; Susan believed that Eustacia was making her son ill, because at the exact moment that he said he was feeling unwell, Eustacia’s dark shadow crossed the light from her house, but this was just a coincidence.
Also, in ‘The Return of the Native’, when Eustacia falls into the pool of water near weir, Hardy uses pathetic fallacy, which is when events in the natural world mirror what is going on in the human world. In this case, Eustacia is very depressed and unhappy, so the weather is atrochiously stormy, raining and windy. Because, it has rained so much, the pool has created a whirlpool, and Eustacia falls in. To describe the scene more effectively, Hardy uses metaphors such as: ‘Boiling cauldron’, referring to the whirpool, the current, and emphasising the amount of water in the pool.
Hardy’s use of dramatic incident in all three of his stories manage to shape the whole story, especially in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. In think amin the dramatic incident in the extract is when Michael Henchard sells his wife at auction when he becomes drunk. The day after, Michael realises how stupid he has been and vows never to touch another drop of alcohol for however many years as his age. I think this is very effective because the day after Michael sells his wife and baby, he realises that alcohol changed him into something he doesn’t want to be.
In ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, when Hardy uses dramatic incident, we learn that Hardy builds up suspension before the dramatic climax. When Michael Henchard is trying to sell his wife and baby at auction, nobody will bid the price that he is looking for, then just as Michael is going to withdraw: “‘Yes. ‘ said a voice from the doorway. ‘ The man in the doorway was in fact, a sailor. He bought Michael’s wife for five guineas, and she left, leaving us with the impression that she is glad that she has got away from her husband at last.
Hardy uses lots of dialect to show exactly how Michael Henchard feels about his current state of affairs: “The woman is no good to me. Who will have her? ” When Michael is trying to sell his wife, Hardy describes Michael’s distaste for her effectively, and when he finally does sell her, even the rough country people in the tent are surprised that he let his wife and child go without a second glance. In ‘The Withered Arm’, I think there are two main dramatic incidents: Rhoda Brook’s ‘dream’, and Gertrude’s turning of her blood, when she sees that the young man who has been hanged is, in fact, Rhoda’s son.
When Rhoda has a dream that Gertrude visits her to mock her, Gertrude looks ugly and old. Hardy used use of vivid description works effectively in making us understand that Gertrude has come to mock her because Rhoda has been replaced by her in Farmer Lodge’s affections. Hardy’s use of verbs work well in this incident, using words such as ‘thrust’, ‘swung’, and ‘peered cruelly’ to create a feeling of hate between Rhoda and the figure come to visit her at night.
The other dramatic incident in ‘The Withered Arm’ is when Gertrude travels to get her arm cured by holding her arm against a newly hanged man’s neck, who is in fact Rhoda’s son. Hardy’s use of dialect again gives and extra depth to the story, when Rhoda walks in when Gertrude’s blood is in the process of being ‘turned’: “This is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! ” Rhoda shouts. Hardy’s use of the word ‘Satan’, emphasizes the hatred Rhoda has for Gertrude and perhaps jealousy, for ‘stealing’ her husband – although Gertrude’s character is kind and gentle.
In ‘The Return of the Native’, the main dramatic incident is when Eustacia falls into the whirlpool and Clym Yeobright and Wildeve try to save her, but fail. Three bodies are pulled out, and only one, Clym, survives. Referring again to pathetic fallacy, the weather is awful when Eustacia falls into the ‘boiling cauldron’. The slow realisation that Wildeve was actually holding on to Clym when Diggory Venn was seemingly just pulling Clym out creates images of horror. My favourite story is ‘The Withered Arm’, because I like Hardy’s use of magic in Rhoda’s vision, how Gertrude’s arm became deformed because of this.
Gertrude obviously has no idea how this happened. Hardy’s use of vivid description in the book is very effective throughout, but especially in Rhoda’s vision. Rhoda is obsessed with the idea of Farmer Lodge being with another woman, and sends her son to look at Gertrude and report back to her. When he says that Gertrude is shorter that Rhoda, she seems pleased and smug about herself. I like the way how Hardy has interlinked everything, e. g. Rhoda’s son’s father is Farmer Lodge, the young man who was hanged was Rhoda’s son.
I think it is a very clever story, and at the end, Gertrude dies at the fright of seeing Rhoda’s son dead, lying limp in the coffin. I think that the story shows that Rhoda is perhaps so obsessed about Farmer Lodge and Gertrude it is almost unhealthy, and because of this, maybe this is why she had the vision in the first place. I learn that Gertrude is forgiving, even though when she went to see Conjuror Trendle and he created the concoction of egg white and water, Rhoda’s image formed. Gertrude was surprised, but she doesn’t question it because she had no idea that Rhoda had anything to do with her arm.