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The Withered Arm

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In the opening chapters of The Withered Arm, Thomas Hardy tends to elicit sympathy for Rhoda Brook, rather than Farmer Lodge and his wife, who come into the story later. For example, even the title of chapter one suggests that Rhoda has been miserable. When we are introduced to the character of ‘the boy’ he is not a very bright and inspired child, after his rough upbringing it is not a pleasant sight to see when Rhoda is telling him to go and spy on his future stepmother. Rhoda has never fully gotten over her ex lover, when the boy does spy on Gertrude he begins to become her friend.

Rhoda does not know about her son and Gertrude’s relationship as friends, as they become friends a tragedy occurs. The first part begins at the dairy, and the milkmaids discuss Farmer Lodge and his recent marriage. At this point, we know nothing of the relationship between Rhoda and Farmer Lodge, the only hints we have are the occasional glances that the workers give to Rhoda. Our first impression of the maid is this: “.. where a thin, fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest” Hardy uses his language very carefully.

He uses ‘thin’ and ‘fading’ and also explains that Rhoda milks her cows away from the rest; she is a very old and delicate woman. Rhoda has her moments in the story where she is seen as the fragile, innocent character but she is not all she appears to be, she has a very evil bitter streak in her which we see later in the story. In the story there are four main characters: Rhoda who is a milkmaid, Farmer Lodge who owns the farmhouse, Gertrude who is Farmer Lodge’s new wife and the Son whose parents are Rhoda and Farmer Lodge. At the beginning of the story Rhoda becomes pregnant and soon after splits up with farmer Lodge.

She is an outcast because people think she is a witch. Then eight years have passed and Farmer Lodge brings back his new wife Gertrude Lodge. Rhoda is jealous of her and sends her son, who is now eight, to go and look at her. A few weeks later Rhoda has a dream in her sleep and curses Gertrude. The next day Gertrude and Rhoda meet for the first time and Rhoda finds that Gertrude has a withered arm (from the vision last night) which she didn’t have before. Rhoda and her son returned to their house, and further sympathy is elicited when we read about the state of their cottage.

Rhoda dreams in the next chapter that an apparition resembling her perception of Gertrude visits her in the night. Gertrude sees a face in egg-fluid, but we do not see it, of course. Both were once handsome, but now Rhoda has faded and so has her house. There is a link here between what happens to Gertrude and what happened to Rhoda. As both have been lovers of Farmer Lodge, it tends to suggest that his treatment of them is somewhat to blame, and again we are unsympathetic towards him. Another word used to describe Rhoda in this first section is ‘worn’, and ‘thin’ is used three times. Six years of marriage, but only a few months of love”.

The way he makes things happen and links things together shows us that Hardy successfully manages to elicit sympathy for his three main characters. Trundle explains to Gertrude how she can cure her arm. Rhoda feels guilty when we do not even know whether she was the cause of the problem. “I’ll come and bring you some better boots, and see your mother. ” “It was built of mud walls, the surface of which had been washed by many rains into channels and depressions… ” In a way, the house is a reflection of Rhoda herself.

His treatment of her conjures up an impression about his personality, although Hardy does not directly state what Lodge has done, he is subtler. Hardy shows in The Withered Arm there are incompatibilities between Farmer Lodge and Gertrude by telling us that they don’t spend a lot of time with each other etc. She is more concerned with her arm than she is with her husband. This proves that the marriage in the 19th Century was quite meaningless; it was just a way of the male partner getting a son to carry on the family business and family name.

As well, as it being a way to make the male partner more successful in his life and his career. Except, because of Gertrude’s obsession they never manage to have a child of their own, for Gertrude is so wrapped up in her world that consists of healing the poor withered arm. Mr. Lodge discovers that his wife has now become obsessive over healing her arm, when he discovered that his wife’s arm is disfigured he begins to stop loving her and their relationship begins to have cracks in it.

Later on in the story after Gertrude has tried everything for her arm, potions, creams, ointment pots and may other things, she thinks about Trundle and visits him once more, if he was alive. “.. In a last desperate effort at deliverance from this seeming curse, again seek out the man, if he yet lived” With these words we can see that Gertrude is beginning to get desperate with trying to cure her arm, six years on and her relationship with Mr. Lodge is still at its worst, She never conceived a child, but he thought carefully of adopting a boy but he had left the village now, so they could not adopt him.

Mr. Lodge realises that he hurts many people with his selfishness. E. g With his son that he has never met before, he passes him in the town and ignored him, this is very cruel as the boy has very high expectations of his father and wishes for him to love him desperately because Rhoda never loves him enough. E. g When Mr. Lodge leaves Rhoda when she is pregnant because of what the village thought of it as it was wrong in the time period to have relationships with someone who was lower class, because Mr. Lodge was very upper class.

This leaves Rhoda in a very awkward position: She is unmarried, pregnant and now a single mother, she was not very popular in the village. Rhoda struggled for a very long time without any support from Mr. Lodge. Thomas Hardy brings each character alive in a very individual way, he does not describe them but refers to them, this is a very useful way in describing characters in a different way. “Beside him sat a woman, many years his junior – almost indeed, a girl.

Her face too was fresh in colour, bit it was of a totally different quality – soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose petals” He uses third person narrative; Hardy has created the story in a way that makes you feel as if he is telling you the events of the story. The way Hardy has created each character makes the story individual in its own right. Conclusion The Withered Arm is a well crafted short story, written in the prose format and is a famous book. Thomas Hardy has written with strong passion and depicted great characters with outstanding surprise and tension throughout the entire story.

Although limited in the number of characters Hardy’s third person narrative provides great effect and brings each of the characters alive. Hardy brings each character ‘alive’ in a specific way, for example when we are first introduced to Rhoda Brook. Hardy describes her as a very poor, lonely old woman, and her outcast life is described in such a way that it evokes emotions from the reader. The Withered Arm also highlights the differentiation between social classes. This proves one of the many reasons why Rhoda is the creepy, lost character that you feel sorry for.

Hardy develops a lot of emotion from the story through the character of Rhoda. Rhoda Brook is a dark milkmaid who becomes obsessive over her lovers beautiful new wife, after her lover abandons her and their illegitimate son. Mr. Lodge is upper class and Rhoda is lower class. There is a very big connection her as to why Mr. Lodge left Rhoda and their son. He disowned his son because Lodge was having an affair with Rhoda at the time; he began to get bored of her. Rhoda is of a lower social class than he is so he doesn’t want people to know he was involved with her.

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