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"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.

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Introduction

Wider Reading Unit "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..." ...read more.

Middle

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. ...read more.

Conclusion

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. ...read more.

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