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How Far Would You Consider Rhoda and Gertrude a Villain or a Victim

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In The Withered Arm, we see two sides to Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge’s personalities. During the story, each of them can be portrayed as a victim or villain. I intend to examine how they could be seen as either a villain or a victim at different parts of this novel.

Rhoda can be seen as victim of isolation poverty and loneliness. She lived in an isolated area, in a small cottage away from Farmer Lodge and the farm and worked away from the other workers, so not to cause conflict, she is gossiped about even when she is present. This makes us automatically sympathetic towards Rhoda. We see this in the first chapter, where the head milkman at the dairy has to go as far as to tell the others to be quiet.

Rhoda also feels as though she is a victim due to her age, as she is 30 years old she is described as ‘thin and fading’ Compared to Gertrude who was a lot younger at only 19. She single handily brought up a boy, who is 12 with little money and no support from the father. The father of her son is her boss and old flame, Farmer Lodge, who is obviously not poor. Which adds to our sympathy for Rhoda by implying that he could of easily of helped financially at least in the upbringing of his son.

Rhoda can also be perceived as a victim when Farmer Lodge marries, 19 year old Gertrude. We think this as Rhoda tells her son to go and spy on Lodge’s new bride. When her son returns he praises Gertrude saying she is, ‘as comely as a live doll’, ‘soft and evanescent’, ‘a lady complete’. These compliments make Rhoda extremely jealous, and she orders her son to repeat this duty. Again he returns with nothing but praises, ‘very pretty’ ‘in fact she’s lovely’ he reports. Rhoda had one advantage over Gertrude though, this was that Gertrude was shorter than she was, this made Rhoda feel good about herself. All these enable us to build up a picture of Gertrude and enable us to see how Rhoda is a victim of jealousy. She is jealous of Gertrude not only because of her youth and good looks, but also because Rhoda may now be to old to ever marry again.

Rhoda is also perceived as a villain in the eyes of the local community and more importantly the church as she had a son out of wedlock. This is considered a sin in the eyes of the church.

After we have built up a strong enough image of Gertrude, we see Rhoda dreaming of the young Gertrude and in her sleep. She has a vision that she grabs Gertrude’s arm. This could reflect her true feelings which are seen to be that she is in competition with Gertrude and the only way she could possible win is by taking Gertudes those good looks away. The dream causes the arm to become withered in reality. This makes us presume Rhoda to be a villain.

Rhoda does not confide in Gertrude about the vision. Therefore, she is dishonest to her friend. She caused the arm to wither by using black magic; this is confirmed in chapter 5 by Conjurer Trendle and is also clarified by the gossip by the other workers on the farm about her being a witch. This makes us believe that she is a villain, as witches are considered evil.

Gertrude can also be recognised as a victim for a number of reasons. The first being she has to live up to the standards set on her by society. These were that women were supposed to be very well mannered in the way they acted and care about what they looked like. This image would have been very hard to portray with her now withered arm.

She is also deeply saddened by the fact she is childless. I know this when farmer lodge is shows his frustration that Gertrude and him have not had a child. This is best shown when he says ” once I thought of adopting a boy, but he is to old now”. Gertrude knows he is speaking of his child with Rhoda. This makes us sympathetic towards Gertrude making us think of her as a victim maybe of infertility.

She is also a victim of jealousy, as Rhoda is jealous, as she still loves Farmer Lodge. This plays its role in emphasising our sympathy for Gertrude making it easier for us to perceive her as a victim.

Gertrudes arm caused her relationship with Farmer Lodge to deteriorate, he starts to become less attracted to her. Gives her no comfort, he just tells her to cover it before they go out, so that people are oblivious which makes us feel that she is a victim of her husband’s vanity. This is best described in the quote ‘six years of marriage and only a few months of love’

Gertrude can also be seen as a victim of circumstance as ironically the corps that she has to touch is the son of her friend Rhoda and her husband Farmer lodge. This gruesome task makes us feel sympathetic and the fact that it was Rhoda’s son adds to our sympathy.

We feel sympathy for Gertrude because of her of belief for the supernatural. It was unseen in those days that a woman of her social standing to visit a magician. These were the actions of a poor and ignorant woman. The desperation, which had led her to think irrationally and see a conjurer was much to do with the fact that her husband farmer lodge, had stopped loving her due to the spoilt beauty the withered arm had caused. This view of her husband’s attitude adds to our sympathy for Gertrude causing her recognition as a victim.

She also makes friends with Rhoda oblivious to the fact that she had inflicted the physical and mental pain on her. This also makes her a victim, as she does not know that her newfound friend is the cause of her sadness.

Gertrude is also a villain. She is married to Farmer Lodge, which makes her a villain in Rhoda’s eyes this fact is what separates the two friends so in turn makes us sympathetic to both parties.

Gertrude does not confide in Rhoda by asking her if Trendle was correct in his prediction that it was Rhoda who caused the arm to wither. This causes us to believe that she is a villain.

Gertrude is not faithful as she lies to Lodge about the cure and does not confide in Rhoda either. This portrays her, as a villain by making us perceive her as unloyal.

Gertrude is a villain as she prays for someone to be hanged so that she could be cured, which coincidentally happened to be Rhoda and Farmer Lodge’s son. This is an act of selfishness.

As a last resort, she turns to Conjurer Trendle, although she does not believe in witchcraft and superstition. He says Rhoda is the cause of her disfigurement. So Gertrude cannot trust the only friend she has. On the second visit, Trendle says she has to touch the neck of a corpse, so her blood turns making her a victim as she has to carry out this gruesome task.

In conclusion, both women are villains. Rhoda inflicted pain on Gertrude through jealousy. Even when the women became friends Rhoda decided it wise not to tell Gertrude of the incident, which caused the withering of the arm. Gertrude is a villain because although having a dismissive husband and having a disfigured arm she still prayed for the death of another human being. Although we cannot really say who is the bigger victim or villain as different people have a different interpretation of their morals, so there is no collective sense of right and wrong.

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