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Compare and Contrast "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens and "The Withered Arm" by Thomas Hardy assessing, the authors' use of various elements of the mystery story tradition.

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Josh F Keeler December 5th 2001 English Literature Essay on Pre 1914 Prose (Literacy Tradition) Compare and Contrast "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens and "The Withered Arm" by Thomas Hardy assessing; a) the authors' use of various elements of the mystery story tradition including narrative structure, characterisation, theme, atmosphere and setting. b) the authors' success or otherwise in writing effectively within the tradition. The tradition of the mystery story begins with Gothic writing, around 1810. From the Gothic story sub-categories were then created through a progression of stories. These further categories were ghost story, horror and detective. Each different category has some common key features which help to distinguish them and some other, now well known, stereotypical characteristics. For instance, the ghost story can often be associated with the haunted house or such like. However, these are not set boundaries and can be manipulated by the author to whatever extent they feel is necessary. The first Gothic (horror) story that started the tradition was "The Castle of Otranto" by Horace Walpole in 1765. This style of writing is therefore relatively new in comparison to other literacy styles. It paved the way for some of the timeless classics that we are so familiar with such as the Sherlock Holmes series, probably the most famous detective series. The style became very popular and some of the most famous stories that fall under these categories were written in the mid 1800's. Some of the world's greatest authors soon adopted this style and altered it to their needs, as it left a lot of scope and open boundaries. ...read more.


When he goes to find out what has happened, he learns that a train has killed the signalman earlier that morning. The man in the dark dress says that when he came round the curve in the tunnel the signalman didn't seem to take heed of the whistle and he shouted to him as loud as he could. The narrator is quick to ask what exactly he called and he replies 'Below there! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!'. The narrator finishes the story by explaining that these are the very words that the signalman had told the narrator were haunting him and that the narrator had called to the signalman when they first met. The ending is short and tragic, and, although we have learnt why most of the events took place, there is still that idea of mystery as to why the signalman and the narrator were brought together in the first place and why both men became so involved with what now seems was a warning of what was later to come. This is one of the features that can often make a mystery story so much better, by the author still leaving some element of doubt or some unanswered questions. It is a short story, but one that is certainly full of mystery and Dickens uses the characters, setting, the supernatural and the unexplained superbly well in creating an excellent story for this book. There is no doubt that Dickens stuck to the mystery story tradition, while adding his own personal touch and creating what some would argue is the best ghost story ever written. ...read more.


A scream from Rhoda confirms this as she watches Gertrude try to heal her arm. The turning of the blood goes horribly wrong and Gertrude dies as a result. This is an unexpected ending with a huge twist which is largely unforeseen by the reader. Hardy has ended the story with a climax, which does not disappoint the readers. A long line of deceptions led to this final act, all stemming from Farmer Lodge. It is he who has a relationship with Rhoda and a resulting child out of wedlock. Even after this he decides to marry another women, angering Rhoda. Once Gertude's arm begins to deteriorate, his love for her is greatly diminished, causing her to deceive him to try and heal the arm. The tension and suspense gradually increases as the tale unfolds and the reader is once again left with some unanswered questions at the end of the story. Both "The Withered Arm" and "The Signalman" are exceptional short stories that comply with the mystery story tradition. "The Signalman" has more obvious and direct connections to the ghost story, with elements of the detective story, both of which are fundamental to the success of this story within the mystery tradition. "The Withered Arm", on the other hand, mixes elements of the supernatural into a drama type situation to produce a thoroughly enjoyable and enticing story. It does not directly fall into any of the main categories of the mystery stories that are briefly explained in the introduction, but uses broader boundaries to achieve its sense of mystery. Both were written around the same time and each is renowned in its own way for being some of the best in the mystery story tradition. 1 ...read more.

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