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Examine The Treatment Of Fate And The Supernatural In Aselection Of Prose Fiction written Before The 20th Century

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Robert Momber 15.07.2001 EXAMINE THE TREATMENT OF FATE AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN A SELECTION OF PROSE FICTION WRITTEN BEFORE THE 20TH CENTURY In the nineteenth century, people had much more belief in forces outside the ordinary laws of nature. People were not only more religious but they were also more superstitious and believed that some things were controlled by unknown forces from beyond human life. The two paranormal concepts they believed in were fate and the supernatural. The belief of these things scared people. Some people thought that their life and everything that happens in it was already predetermined from eternity, and that they could do nothing to change it because even if they tried to change something, that change was meant to happen. This scared people because the thought of not having control over one's life means the future cannot be predicted at all. For example, somebody may go out and get run over but if they had known, they would not have gone out in the first place, but it is impossible to tell before it happens. This example is of how people believed in fate and destiny. People were also scared of events occurring that defy the ordinary course of nature and cannot be explained scientifically; happenings that are abnormal or extraordinary. These events may alter or control things. Popular examples of this are strange sightings, ghosts or risings from the dead, or strange unknown creatures usually with an intent dangerous to humans. The belief that these things might happen made people scared because they did not know anything about them. This is how people believed in the supernatural. Many nineteenth century writers found the concepts of fate and the supernatural a very interesting and new thing to write about so writers such as Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins looked into different ideas to do with the concepts and what causes fear and wrote some very interesting and scary stories about it. ...read more.


The story begins with a family scene of a father, wife and son of the name White, inside their house with a fire and a storm outside. An expected visitor, Sergeant-Major Morris, then arrives and sits down. He talks about travels he had been on all around the world. Mr White asks about a monkey's paw that the sergeant had said something about to him before. The sergeant tries to brush it away but the family are interested so he gets out a monkey's paw and tells the family that a fakir had put a spell on it so that three separate men could have three separate wishes from it. He told how the man before him had wished for death and that was how he had got it. The sergeant had apparently had the wishes granted for him but he seemed to feel almost ill when he thought about this. The sergeant then threw the paw onto the fire but Mr White grabbed it up and kept it for himself. The sergeant tried to warn him of the consequences of using it but Mr White ignored him. After the sergeant had gone, Mr White wished for two hundred pounds. The paw twisted in his hand but the family thought nothing of the wish and did not expect it to be granted. The next day Herbert, the son went to work and got caught in the machinery and died. When the parents were told, the company their son worked for, as consolation money gave them two hundred pounds. Days passed then one night Mrs White realised they still had two wishes left so she almost forced the reluctant Mr White to wish that their son were alive. Again the paw twisted in his hand but nothing happened immediately. Later in the night there was knocking at the door. Mr White was scared and tried to ignore it but his wife went to answer it. ...read more.


Before the signalman tells the narrator about the spectre, one can feel a strange atmosphere from the way it has been written and from the peculiar behaviour of the signalman. For example, during the first conversation the signalman looks at his bell which does not seem to ring to anybody else but him. He then goes outside afterwards and looks at the red light. This shows that only he can see the spectre so it may just all be in his head, although it is odd that it seems to foretell a train crash every time. Unfortunately, the supernatural force that the ghost is, does not tell the signalman when or where a train crash will be, but it just marks that there will be one. This almost mentally kills the signalman, as he knows that there will be a crash yet he cannot do anything to prevent it. The spectre does not alter the progress of the story much until the end when the signalman dies. The experiences the signalman had of it and then a crash were in the past. It is however an essential feature of the story as it is what is driving the signalman insane until he eventually gets killed. There is a small element of fate in this story as the ghost can foretell a crash or death on a train. For the ghost to be able to foretell it, fate must have set out what was going to happen beforehand so it sent a supernatural force to the signalman unfortunately. This is a similarity to 'The Ostler' as fate in both of them foretells what is going to happen but the characters do not realise the consequences. The supernatural has been used to a huge extent in this story, as it is what the story is based around. In all these stories, fate or the supernatural or both have been used in a very important way that has certainly affected the outcome in a substantial way. ...read more.

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