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Compare and contrast the ways in which atmosphere is built up in the short story ‘The Red Room’ by H.G. Wells and Stevenson’s novel, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.

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Introduction

Compare and contrast the ways in which atmosphere is built up in the short story 'The Red Room' by H.G. Wells and Stevenson's novel, 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. 'The Red Room' and 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' were both written in the late 19th century. They were part of a large collection of Gothic novels written during that period. Before that time, Gothic stories had been set in the remote past, normally in mediaeval times. They were often located in castles with dungeons, lighted by candles and haunted by ghosts. The Gothic novels were written to evoke a sense of mystery, terror and the supernatural. By the 19th century, less emphasis was placed upon the setting but the characteristic of something inexplicable was maintained. Both 'The Red Room' and 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' have a Gothic feel to them but the atmosphere is built up in different ways due to the length and style of the writing. Throughout the stories, a sensation of mystery, fear and horror is conveyed through an event defying scientific reasoning. Both stories feature sombre, cynical and rational characters to make the story seem more reliable and truly beyond reason. By the end, the stories are partially resolved but the reader still left questioning. 'The Red Room' is a short story but 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' is a short novel. Due to this, the pace of the stories differ and so the creation of atmosphere differs. Being a short story, 'The Red Room' needs to be condensed and so the story has to unfold very quickly. To speed up the pace, H.G. Wells has only used a few characters so that less time is spent introducing them to the reader. The story is told through one narrator who also experiences the terrifying event. The reader is launched straight into the story by starting in the middle of a conversation. ...read more.

Middle

The woman keeps on repeating 'This night of all nights', but what is the significance of 'this night'? Many questions arise but are soon resolved as the narrator leaves the elderly people to examine the haunted room. He leaves the fireplace lit room and enters a 'chilly, echoing passage', leaving the relative safety of the room to travel along this cold and isolated hallway. This contrast emphasizes to the reader that something terrible is about to happen. A sense of isolation and impending doom is expressed through a detailed description of the journey to the room. As the narrator progresses along the journey, the setting seems to get more and more menacing. First, the reader is given an impression of confinement by the 'subterranean passage' where 'echoes rang'. The narrator describes an 'absolute silence', signalling an impending doom, as in Gothic novels, there is often a period of silence before the major event of the story. At this point, the narrator still seems to quite confident as he says that a shadow 'fled before [him] into the darkness overhead'. He then enters a hall of some description, bathed in moonlight and deserted. This is a scene of stillness in silence when he spots a shadow on the panelling. The narrator immediately assumes it a person by feeling for his gun. This shows that at this point, he was still rationalising scientifically. Throughout his journey, the narrator explains about the history of the castle and role of the old people. Upon entering the room, he solves part of the mystery by informing the reader why the room is believed to haunted. He says that while 'looking around that large sombre room ... one could well understand the legends that had sprouted in its black corners.' This suggests his susceptibility to fear and superstition. He feels the fear and unease in the atmosphere of the room. ...read more.

Conclusion

The blind panic where all rational thought goes out of the head and you are controlled by your primitive, survival-programmed brain. Stevenson has to rely on a vivid description so that the reader can recreate the scene and picture the horror of the scene. In terms of the supernatural, 'The Red Room' was more traditional but there was also an inexplicable element to 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. The stories were similar in the way that the suspense in the atmosphere is built up through a description of the surroundings and settings. To create a sense of foreboding, they use the technique of removing other characters so that one or two characters are left. This is effective as it suggests to the reader that the denouement is near. This is used in 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' when Mr Utterson and Poole are walking down the empty London streets and in 'The Red Room' when the narrator ventures to the Red Room alone. They both rely on an atmosphere of fear and mystery. In 'The Red Room' there is a strong sense of fear and mystery because the reader is unclear of what made all the candles go out in the room. Stevenson, on the other hand, makes us fear Mr Hyde by the detailed and graphic descriptions of his evil deeds. An example of this is the murder of Danvers Carew. Mr Hyde is described as 'trampling his victim [Danvers Carew] under foot ... under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway'. A sense of mystery is created by the secrecy of all the characters. We are left wondering throughout the book until the last two chapters, when the story is resolved through the letters by Dr Lanyon and Henry Jekyll. The two stories are also similar in the respect that they share a similar theme. They both seem to stress the significance of a more primitive side of human nature, and that it is present in everyone. ...read more.

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