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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

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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.

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