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How does Hardy encourage us to sympathize with Gertrude and Rhoda? Do you sympathize with one more than the other?

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How does Hardy encourage us to sympathize with Gertrude and Rhoda? Do you sympathize with one more than the other? Thomas Hardy encourages you to sympathize with Rhoda, "A Lorn Milkmaid", from his description of her and the situation that she is in. At the beginning of the story Hardy introduces her as "a thin, fading woman of thirty". This makes you sympathize with her because her beauty and health are fading at an early age. Hardy describes how the radiance of the fire, "made her dark eyes, that had once been handsome, seem handsome anew." The woman that "milked somewhat apart from the rest" seems to be left out from the others like an outcast, a situation that no one likes to be in. We also find out a little later in the story that she lived somewhat apart from the rest too, "Their course lay apart from that of the others, to a lonely spot high above the water mead". The other milkmaids talk about Rhoda and her circumstance in her presence as if the "thin worn milkmaid" wasn't there. You get the sense that she is talked about badly behind her back, "She knew that she had been slily called a witch since her fall." Here you feel sympathy for her because she is not accepted by the other milkmaids and villagers. Even the others admit that it is hard for her, "'Tis hard for she," and the fact that she has a young son adds to the ...read more.


Also, Rhoda does not care about the effect on Gertrude as shown by her thoughts the afternoon before they journeyed to Conjuror Trendle. "There was a horrid fascination at times in becoming instrumental in throwing such possible light on her own character as would reveal her to be something greater in the occult world than she had ever suspected." She thinks she can use this opportunity to find out whether she is a sorceress. This makes the reader less sympathetic towards Rhoda, because she is using Gertrude to satisfy her curiosity about her supernatural powers, whilst Gertrude is suffering with the withered arm. The final point against Rhoda is that her deep underlying resentment against Gertrude is revealed in the final chapter of the story, when she attacks her and shouts, "Hussy - to come between us and our child now!" Then she expresses a sense of righteousness by saying, "This is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! You are like her at last!" forgetting that it was she that was responsible for the withered arm that had brought Gertrude to the jail to cure her disease. However, she did not consciously intend to harm Gertrude. The affliction was carried out by a power (the unconscious hatred she feels towards the younger woman who replaced her) over which she had no control and although she perhaps should have confessed when she became aware of what she had done, she was afraid of the consequences for a woman in her situation. ...read more.


This perhaps makes the reader sympathize with her even more, because it is a mark of desperation. Thomas Hardy switches the focus of your sympathy throughout this story. At first you feel sympathy for Rhoda and her situation of poverty and isolation. Then the sympathy switches to Gertrude, because the jealousy of Rhoda seemed to have caused the withering of Gertrude's arm. It turns back to Rhoda again, when she moves away from the neighbourhood, and Gertrude turns into an irritable and superstitious woman. We sympathize with both Rhoda and Gertrude towards the end - the mental and emotional pain Gertrude has and Rhoda's son is unjustly executed. Also at the end Gertrude dies, and Rhoda returns to the same dairy and lodging. I sympathize more with Gertrude overall, because she had the withered arm through no fault of her own and she was completely helpless against it. Her young age adds to the sympathy, because she has her whole life ahead of her and it is shattered by the withered arm. Even when you don't feel as sorry for her in the story, it is understandable because of the mental/emotional pain she feels from having lost her beauty and the love of her husband. On the other hand, whilst Rhoda suffers rejection from the villagers and does not consciously set out to curse Gertrude, she does not do enough to try and help Gertrude with her problem; neither do I feel that she is sorry enough for the harm she has caused. ...read more.

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