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19th Century Short Stories Coursework Essay

In the short stories the Signal man and Red room, fear and suspense are built in a variety of ways. Some ways the authors achieve fear and suspense are through the environment, character description and linguistic devices. In Red Room, one of the methods used to create fear and suspense is the description of the elderly inhabitants of the house. Wells manages to make the reader fearful and suspicious of the elderly man, by describing him as having a ‘withered arm’. Those with disabilities, at the time the story was written, were seen as inferior, and were feared.

By giving the elderly man a disability the author creates an air of suspense and mystery around the character. By making the inhabitants of the supposedly haunted house old, the author could be trying to create a ghostly atmosphere. Wells describes them in a ghostly manner ‘The old woman sat staring hard into the fire, her pale eyes wide open’ and ‘His lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink for his decaying yellow teeth’. The word decaying has connotations of death, which relates to the main idea of a ghost.

The protagonist also describes them as being ‘spectral’; this could be suggesting the elderly people are the ghosts. Old women are commonly associated with witches, which relates to the supernatural. This builds fear and suspense for the reader. As the protagonist sets off for the red room, the elderly woman repeats ‘This night of all nights? ‘ The use of this device heightens the sense of suspense felt by the reader, is also encourages the reader to empathise with the protagonist and fear the ‘red room’.

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As the protagonist leaves the room filled with the elderly inhabitants of the house, he left ‘the door wide open, until the candle was well alight’. This suggests the protagonist is fearful of the ‘red room’, although he does not admit to it. Because the story is written in the first person perspective, this makes the reader empathise with the protagonist and fear the ‘red room’ as the protagonist does. This is because the reader is constantly reading that it is ‘I’ doing the action, and this therefore makes the reader believe that they are the protagonists.

The author also describes the house to have haunting features such as ‘echoing passages’, and ‘old fashioned furniture’ this helps to create an eerie environment, which encourages the reader to believe in the ghosts. The passage to the ‘red room’ is described as ‘subterranean’ this means underground. This has connotations of hell and could be a metaphor for the passage to hell. The ‘steps’ and ‘door to the red room’ are in a shadowy corner. This shadowy cloud over this part of the house differentiates it from the rest of the house.

People often fear things they are not familiar with and therefore, this builds fear and suspense for the ‘red room’. The protagonists ‘candle’ ‘failed to pierce’ the darkness ‘of the opposite end of the room’ this created ‘an ocean of mystery’. The protagonist can’t see into the other side of the room, and therefore cannot see what is or is not there. This creates fear and suspense as to what is in the room. The protagonist ‘resolves to make a systematic inspection’ of the room. This is an example of the idea of rationalism. This was a theory popular in the 19th century.

It stated that everything could be explained through rational thought, and science. Great philosophers such as Eleatics, Pythagoreans, and Plato practised the ideal. The protagonist notices an ‘indefinable quality of a presence’ in corner of the room. This suggests that there is something supernatural about the room, this builds fear and suspense as there is quite obviously something out of the ordinary about the room. This also contrasts with the idea of rationalism because it is an ‘indefinable quality’ that he notices, which cannot be explained by science or rational thought.

The protagonist reassures himself ‘that nothing supernatural could happen’. This tells that he is a fearful frame of mind, and in turn, forces the reader into a fearful state of mind. Wells uses the contrast of light and dark to build fear. Darkness has connotations of evil and death and should therefore be feared, whilst light represents rational thought and safety to the protagonist. The protagonist comes to the conclusion that the room is fear personified; this could be the author suggesting that the greatest evil is fear itself.

The signalman also uses many different methods to create fear and suspense, some of which are the same as in the red room and some which differ. When the signalman hears the call ‘Hallo, down there’ from the protagonist, he ‘looked down the line’ as opposed to where the voice is coming from, above him. This makes the reader suspicious of the signalman because of his strange behaviour. As this the first event in the story, it encourages the reader to assume it holds some significance to the conclusion of the story. In the 19th century these mystery stories were enormously popular and wee often published episodically in the newspapers.

To encourage the readers to buy the next issue, there are many cliffhangers throughout out the story to try and inspire people to read on. The strange reaction to the call ‘Hallo, down there’, could have been the end of the first episode, and as the signalman’s reaction was suspicions, it would inspire readers to but the next issue. The signalman also does other things, which are seemingly unexplainable to the protagonist such as hearing a bell ring twice, without the protagonist being able to hear. This inexplicable behaviour builds suspense and fear for the reader because if people do not understand something, they are fearful of it.

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