• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Explain how Hardy combines elements of social realism and an interest in the occult in this short story, and how he directs the reader's sympathies to show the unfairness of existence "The Withered Arm" is a tragedy of fate and is a story

Extracts from this document...


Explain how Hardy combines elements of social realism and an interest in the occult in this short story, and how he directs the reader's sympathies to show the unfairness of existence "The Withered Arm" is a tragedy of fate and is a story of two women linked to one man. The nature of the tragedy is that the suffering is always a punishment that is disproportionate to the 'offence'. In this story it is the innocent who are punished for the sins of others (Rhoda's son, Gertrude). They exemplify the unfairness of existence. The story begins with a group of milkmaids gossiping about the farmer's new, young wife. It is, perhaps, a comical scene, but it is quickly apparent that the humour of these sharp tongued, common folk is a bare veil over the hardship of rural life that Hardy finds everywhere. One milkmaid, Rhoda, is quickly established as a former lover of the farmer. She is separated from the others, physically, and by their alienating chatter. At the end of Chapter One, Rhoda's cottage is a painful, if obvious, metaphor for her worn-down existence. ...read more.


Interestingly, when Gertrude departs for the executioner's, she looks at her arm and blames it, not Rhoda, "'Ah!' she said to it, 'if it had not been for you this terrible ordeal would have been saved me!'" It is the first time Hardy explicitly points to the withered arm as the central cause of all the problems, and the first time that we begin to suspect him of social satire rather than of occultist storytelling. Well-bred Gertrude does not believe in the supernatural until she was becomes half-mad with her illness. Her early attitude: - " 'O, how could my people be so superstitious as to recommend a man of that sort! I thought they meant some medical man. I shall think no more of him '" - eventually gives way to "apothecary messes and witch mixtures" as her desperation takes over. Rhoda never believes the rumours about herself being a witch until, completely overcome by guilt she believes what she did to Gertrude in her nightmare: 'Oh can it be...that I exercise a malignant power over people against my own will?' ...read more.


She is an innocent who has been drawn into an effective trap. She therefore has the majority of our sympathy when she falls victim to Rhoda's 'malignant power'. Rhoda becomes the more repellent as she remains silent in Gertrude's suffering and takes a cruel satisfaction in her triumph after the visit to Conjuror Trendle: "For the first time a sense of triumph possessed her and she did not altogether deplore that the young thing at her side should learn that their lives had been antagonised by other influences than their own." Gertrude is a pathetic victim of 'other influences' but Rhoda, in spite of being confirmed as a sorceress, takes on an almost tragic quality. She attracts the sympathy that any jilted woman left with a child might attract. Her jealousy is understandable, her 'malignity' is subconscious rather than conscious and she suffers from a sense of guilt as she witnesses Gertrude's decline. Finally, her agony and anger over her son's corpse are, if not exactly justified, excusable. And the body over which she wails is the victim not only of law's harshness but also of his parents' negligence. Nothing could better illustrate the unfairness of existence. ?? ?? ?? ?? Anuradha Patel English Literature Coursework ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Thomas Hardy section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Thomas Hardy essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Tess says, Once victim, always victim thats the law. In the light ...

    3 star(s)

    However I strongly disagree with this statement as Tess doesn't love Alec and therefore, even though he has the power to take away her virginity, she will not marry him.

  2. Discuss Hardy's use of the supernatural element in The Withered Arm. To what extent ...

    The time in which the story was set and also the location of the story is another reason why Hardy would have added the supernatural theme to the story, in the 19th century procedures such as hangings and witchcraft would be a common occurrence and anyone who was thought to have been a witch would have been dealt with harshly.

  1. 'Father and Son' by Bernard McLaverty - short story review

    This is a huge contrast to the relationship that the pair enjoyed in the past. Both of them reminisce about the past. The setting that is described is also important in showing the conflict - we see just how much the relationship has been destroyed.

  2. How Thomas Hardy portrays women in his stories, the withered arm, the distracted preacher ...

    This means Lizzy and Rhoda are both very different to Phyllis because she is timid and shy, she can be manipulated easily unlike Lizzy and Rhoda who manipulate other people. Phyllis's character is very dependent as she does as she is told, conforming to society's expectations.

  1. Who suffers most in 'The Withered Arm'?

    Suffering does not end there for Rhoda, after her son's depressing death and Gertrude's painful death, Rhoda lives on feeling isolated with no affectionate relationship. Gertrude's physical suffering leads to her emotional suffering as she feels that Farmer Lodge slowly becomes less attracted towards her.

  2. Analysing The First Two Chapters of 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and How They Act ...

    When a more important scene is written in 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge', Hardy uses very long paragraphs to create a significant flow in the action. Apart from the narrator's language, there is the language used by the characters. The characters' language varies from their class, but is quite similar.

  1. How does Thomas Hardy create and maintain a sense of mystery and malignant, uncontrollable ...

    But the mystery really begins when she has her vision and next day Gertrude shows her the mark from the vision which is on her arm. The vision is an important part of the story as it is the start of everything and caused everything.

  2. The characterization and lives led by Gertrude Lodge and Rhoda Brook in Hardy's The ...

    appearance and as a result one may say this intimate moment was taken away. Both women are deceived, which shows naivety and arrogance, as Farmer Lodge never told Gertrude Lodge of his previous relationship with Rhoda Brook and attends the court case.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work