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Hardy and Hill both present the reader with female characters who are isolated and ostracized by society. Compare and contrast the ways in which both writers deal with these themes.

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Introduction

Jennifer Hardie. 11H. Hardy and Hill both present the reader with female characters who are isolated and ostracized by society. Compare and contrast the ways in which both writers deal with these themes. Susan Hill and Thomas Hardy are clearly both interested in the role of women and their position in society. The female protagonists, in `I'm the King of the Castle and `The Withered Arm', are insecure as they lack a man to provide them with social status and respect. As a consequence of their troubled pasts, they are rejected from society, and are both left vulnerable and desperate. Helena Kingshaw represents a certain class of women in post-war England, the setting for Susan Hill's novel, who found themselves lacking the emotional and financial support of a man. The superstition in those days left these genteel, unskilled women in a shameful position. Society rejected those spurned by men and many became objects of gossip of a malicious nature. Similar nonsensical teachings in Victorian times, the setting for `The Withered Arm', also left abandoned women, such as Rhoda Brook, viewed as social outcasts. Thomas Hardy is clearly sympathetic to such women, especially those reaching the stages of their lives where he suggests, through a careful adjective selection "worn", they may be becoming desperate for a husband. He seems to consider them as isolated victims of the stereotypical image of women as a possession, classed by looks and fortune, and his novel exposes the hypocrisy in society. ...read more.

Middle

In `I'm the King of the Castle' it is frowned upon for a woman, with the status of housekeeper, to wear make-up and dress up. As in `The Withered Arm' this is because a woman's dress sense reflected their position in society. We see how the Farmer Lodge's pretty wife's wealth gives her the right to wear, "a silver coloured gown". On the other hand, the affect a woman's appearance on the male protagonists of each novel is different in that Hooper's opinion of her looks seems relatively insignificant to how he had been "impressed by the graceful letters of Mrs. Helena Kingshaw." Whereas, Gertrude was worried about her disfigurement because in `The Withered Arm', "men think so much of personal appearance." Both writers also convey to the reader how lack of status generates a fear within the women to change from their set principles. We notice this in Kingshaw's displays of stereotypical motherly affection and more subtly in Brook, through her indignancy when her son suggests she goes to see her successor; "I, go to see her!" The two women are forced into these ways of dealing with their isolation by their shared insecurity. Their two different ways of coping both have their drawbacks: Kingshaw is so busy trying a good impression and secure her future with Kingshaw that she cannot form a proper relationship with her son. ...read more.

Conclusion

On the other hand, 'The Withered Arm' is set over a much longer period of time and informs the reader of ill-feeling towards Rhoda from outside the immediate circle of protagonists. Through these very different structures, Hardy and Hill both create an increasing sense of doom for the two female protagonists. The absence of love in both characters' lives undermines their confidence and relationships, resulting in isolation. Warings reinforces the theme of isolation as it is completely set apart from events in the normal world and, as in `The Withered Arm', the accumulation of hostile imagery of the surrounding countryside further emphasises their loneliness and vulnerability. In both novels the main requirement of women was dynasties, so those rejected by men were despised and ostracized from society. This put both Brook and Kingshaw lacking status and in a very pitiable position. Nevertheless, due to the way the two writers deal with the themes of isolation and ostracization of the female protagonists, as a reader I never felt for Kingshaw quite the sympathy I did for Brook. As Hill presents Helena Kingshaw as so shallow a character, we feel so much anger at her dismissive attitude to her son that it is almost as though she deserves anything. By contrast, Hardy deliberately presents Rhoda Brook, "her red eyes weeping", as a more pitiful character who seems much more the victim of her bad luck. ...read more.

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