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For this assignment, we have studied two texts; “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury and “The Adventure of The Speckled Band” By Arthur Conan Doyle, to see what makes an effective short story. To do this I will explore and compare elements such as structure, techniques, characterisation and authorial purpose in order to assess the relative success of each. “The Veldt” is a science fiction story written in the 1950’s and set in the future in a world where people’s lives have been eased by invention.
“The Adventure of The Speckled Band” is a classic detective story, with the hero, Sherlock Holmes ably assisted by his friend Watson, fighting evil in the form of Dr Roylott and of course the narrative includes a red herring in the form of the gypsies. The Conan Doyle story takes place in middle class Victorian England. Holmes and Watson travel by train from their apartments in London, then by trap “for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey lanes,” to the decaying country home of the Roylotts called Stoke Moran.
This familiar setting would clearly have appealed to readers of the day. Descriptions of houses, methods of transport such as dogcarts and lighting with candles are appropriate to the period. The 19th century audience could relate to these, for 20th century readers, it shows them that the story was set in the past. London is referred to as the Metropolis showing that it was the major urban centre of England. The popular prejudice against gypsies is openly expressed although at the time that it was written, there were different moral standards so they might not have seen it as prejudice.
The story concerns people of the middle and upper classes. This is important because the readership of the time, who read this genre of books, either would have been the middle or upper classes or at least they aspired to be so. In contrast, Bradbury’s story is focused on one room in the Hadley’s futuristic home, the Nursery. It expands to become a whole new world of imagination, primarily the African Veldt. The many details of imagined high technology would have been readily accepted by the readership of the 1950’s.
This was the beginning of the technological revolution where all seemed possible. While reading, it may not be so obvious that the main setting of the story, the Nursery, is pure science fiction. This demonstrates the writer’s skill. For a story to be effective, the reader must always have to accept the setting and not be questioning whether or not it is “real” to the imagination. We can also summarise that the story was not written recently through reference to the text itself, for example the story tells us that the house cost $30,000.
This was obviously a considerable sum at the time of writing, but now seems relatively insubstantial if we were buying a home. The opening sentences of “The Veldt”, in the form of brief dialogue, immediately suggests a serious problem, thereby securing the readers attention. Characters are not described but the key setting of the story is introduced. The suggested need for a psychologist opens the reader’s mind to consider numerous possibilities. At this stage, murder is not one of them.
In sharp contrast, “The Speckled Band” opens with a ponderous lengthy first paragraph, constructed from only five sentences. The character of Sherlock Holmes would be well known to regular readers, having been created five years previously, in a story called “A Study in Scarlet” published in 1887. The reader is prepared to enjoy a tricky problem as the narrator, Dr Watson, explains that Holmes “refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual or even the fantastic.
” “The Speckled Band” continues to use lengthy description and long monologues which act as a narrative to build the typical case for Holmes to solve. These clues and facts which are pieced together are gathered and identified first by Sherlock Holmes and then revealed to the reader, who can enjoy the plot. It is known that Sherlock Holmes never fails but the death of Dr Grimsby Roylott comes as a shock, even to the detective. Only then can Holmes finally solve the mystery.
He remains an untainted heroic figure because the guilty man brought about his own death. For Conan Doyle, part of the story’s effectiveness lies in the comfortable predictability of the outcome. A reader can expect a clean-cut ending, knowing they will never be disappointed. The structure of “The Veldt” is far more complex. The reader gradually becomes aware of the possibility of the illusion within the nursery walls coming to life. Another layer of suspense is built up as the link between the nursery walls and the children’s “telepathic emanations” is made.
The reader begins to anticipate the fate of the parents long before they are finally killed. Unlike the Sherlock Holmes story, there is no neat ending or clear resolution. The final outcome is not resolved; there are no solutions. Instead the reader must wonder what awful events might follow next. While Dr Roylott is obviously a criminal, the reader remains ambiguous about Peter and Wendy Hadley. Are they completely to blame for the death of their parents?
This raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions about child culpability, these questions our own society wrestled with over the James Bulger case some years ago. There is a heavy moral element to “The Veldt”. Ray Bradbury wants us to consider the consequences of new technology. He describes what might happen if parents used technology to look after their children in order that they might free themselves and enjoy a social life. This changes the role of parents within the family structure and can decrease a parent’s love for a child and a child’s love for a parent.
In this way Bradbury raises questions of love over material possessions. Although the story is set in the future, there are lessons for the present day. The author leaves the story open-ended, forcing the reader to think about the consequences of the children’s upbringing and their act of parenticide. Bradbury may also be criticising an over-dependence on theories to bring up children rather than using human instincts and common sense. The character of McClean is possibly being used as a way of criticising psychologists.