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What can we learn about Victorian society from the story 'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy? Do you think that the story is relevant for today? Support your answer with relevant quotations from the story.

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Introduction

'The Withered Arm' GCSE Coursework What can we learn about Victorian society from the story 'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy? Do you think that the story is relevant for today? Support your answer with relevant quotations from the story. The short story, 'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy gives one a vivid insight of life of the rural working class during nineteenth century England and their involvement with the upper classes throughout the country. Both of the classes' hardship, superstitious beliefs and their attitudes towards women are displayed along with their lifestyle in the historical southern county of Wessex, allowing one to get different perspectives of the class and their personal prejudices against each other. During the Victorian era, there was a great social divide between the upper and lower classes, both financially and in the attitudes towards each other, which is seen all over England from the countryside of Wessex to the city of London. The only common relationship between the upper and lower classes was strictly business. Other relationships such as marriage and sexual affairs were clearly frowned upon, especially by the upper classes who were afraid of being mortified and degraded in the eyes of the gentlemen of England. ...read more.

Middle

The single women had to do all the work themselves. Women lacked economic independence because generally men had more education - even if little - and they possessed higher paying jobs. The underprivileged women probably wore dilapidated clothes, which were torn and filthy. We can presume this because on page three it says that Rhoda went up to the cottage made of mud parapet. The more fortunate women wore 'A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd', just how Rhoda's son described Gertrude. Throughout the story, Hardy gives us an idea of capital punishment in the nineteenth century. Rhoda's son gets executed for setting fire to a haystack 'only just eighteen, and only present by chance when the rick was fired' and Rhoda herself disappeared from the village because people thought of her as a witch and she fear from being punished by death 'in the spring she and her boy disappeared from the neighbourhood of Holmstoke'. This was all typical of the nineteenth century and people could be sentenced to death for what we would think of as minor offences. For example, capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, could be passed for picking pockets, stealing bread or cutting down a tree. ...read more.

Conclusion

This message is not only echoed throughout The Withered Arm but also in many other works of Hardy. Hardy analyses the flaws existing in a conformist society by showing how it destroys different people's lives. The short story even has significance to this day, since the sexism towards women survives and so do the complications of marriage. It can be argued that Hardy is successful as a writer and reflecting the characters so descriptively since he may have encountered people who influenced his characters, and the fact that he lived in Wessex where many of the characters are from. 'The Withered Arm' portrays the lifestyle and society of the Victorian era in great detail. Thomas Hardy's interpretation of the hardships such as discrimination faced by the working class and set by the upper classes allows one to get an insight of just some of the problems faced during this period. Hardy's attention to detail and writing skills allow the reader to vividly picture the green countryside, and most importantly the moral values of that time and Hardy's philosophical implications. Overall, the short story gives one the opportunity to get a clear understanding of Victorian society during the nineteenth century. ...read more.

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