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Who or what do you think is to blame for the tragic events at the end of three or four of the short stories that you have read

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In considering the question, I found that it applied very well to “The Black Veil”, and “The Signalman”, both by Charles Dickens, “The Monkey’s Paw”, by W. W. Jacobs and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The stories all have their own tragic endings. These short stories reflected the times, a time where religious and supernatural beliefs were a lot stronger than they are today. Therefore, stories involving supernatural activity were especially popular.

I think the Victorian writers took advantage of short stories to leave the reader asking many questions, adding a degree of mystery and freedom for the reader to believe different endings. “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens is a story of isolation and loneliness, with the visitor acting as the narrator. The signalman was “educated above his station”, but he had to spend “many long and lonely hours”, trapped “in between high stone walls”. I think there is a particular importance of the setting of story. He is “trapped”, in his own “world”, beneath ground level. He knows nothing else.

He is almost doomed to die in the noisy grave before seeing the “angry sunset”. The place is carved out of “clammy stone which became oozier and wetter”, as it gets deeper. Because of his loneliness, one of his only activities was being prepared for the ring of his electric bell and “listening for it with redoubled anxiety”. The bell is his life and his object of safety, when it does not ring he feels that something is wrong, as he has experienced accidents on the line and has probably been traumatised by them. The narrator says that he thought “he was a spirit, not a man”.

This raised all sorts of interesting, unanswerable questions in my mind. For example, was the signalman a real person, or was he a symbol? Was Dickens trying to imply that what man makes, in this case the train will one day turn on him and cause death and destruction. There are two very different characters in this story; the visitor, who seems to take a very scientific approach; and the signalman who takes a very spiritual perspective. They are both anonymous, so maybe Dickens meant it to be a more general topic. Did the railway represent the path one’s life takes? “The Signalman” also has a lot to do with fate and the supernatural.

The signalman was doomed from the beginning of the story to die in the way he did; he was experiencing warnings from the spectre. There is a strong sense of foreboding, the whole story is about him seeing visions and premonitions of his own death, giving us an insight into what will occur later in the story. No matter what he or anyone else did or tried to do, his life, like the railtrack, had only one destination, and there was no way that he could escape it. It was about fate. So, I do not think anyone was really to blame as nothing could be done to change what happened. “The Black Veil” concerns a lady who has problems, and a doctor.

The lady had an “unusual meeting” with the doctor at the surgery, and after she left, the doctor decided “that the woman’s intellects were disordered”, and “recurred”. Also, the doctor has only heard of people experiencing forebodings of their own death, but this lady, “spoke of another person”. Why couldn’t the person come by themselves rather than having a messenger? I think the purpose of the story was to highlight the poverty in villages. The author does this by making the victim of the story, the woman’s son, be executed. What is of particular importance, is that he is not hanged for any crime, it is stealing as a result of poverty.

Even worse for the mother is the fact that she sacrificed everything she had. She denied herself of all luxuries for him to stand a good chance of having a normal life and that was how he repaid her. I think his death was mostly his own fault but society may have been slightly to blame for not helping the poor financially.. There could not be a stronger sense of foreboding in the story. The woman is wearing “a black veil”. The title alone gives the connotation of death and mourning. There is almost no supernatural sense in it, except maybe at the end; because of his “pecuniary donations”, he was repaid “a thousand-fold”.

This was because of the lady’s prayer “which flew to heaven, and was heard”. Her prayer was for his “welfare and protection”. In “The Monkey’s Paw”, I think the community, like Mr White, pretend not to believe in “fancies” like the monkey’s paw but deep down they are curious and wish to try it. That is why Mr White rescued it from the fire. Women are portrayed as being quiet and insignificant; they only speak when it is necessary. For example; when father and son were playing chess, the father played an unnecessarily perilous move which “even provoked comment from the lady knitting placidly by the fire”.

The word “even” indicates that she is not really involved in chess, and is preoccupied. “Placidly” implies that she is quiet, which could also indicate that she is doing a chore which she has to do a lot of, possibly suggesting poverty. She is also there as a keeper of the peace as she talks “soothingly” to her husband when he gets unnecessarily annoyed. But, on the arrival of the monkey’s paw she becomes demanding and is able to boss Mr White around; “Go and get it and wish”, she cried. I think she also went a bit mad as a result of trauma from her son’s death, and being so used to him being there, was expecting him back.

The surname; “White”, is a very common name and I think the author used the name to make the story more general and focused upon real life. I think fate and the supernatural play a big part in this story; the first wish was made because of poverty, and the next wish was made because they practically forced to make it as a result of the previous one. I think that, like “The Signalman”, it was down to fate, and maybe Mr White was also a little to blame for retrieving the monkey’s paw from the fire.

In the “Yellow Wallpaper”, women were treated as inferior to men. Their opinions were not taken into consideration. You could say that they were treated like children. Her room was a “nursery”, then a “playroom” and “the windows were barred for little children”; there is no “escape”. Her husband, John refers to her as a “blessed little goose”, which implies the saying “silly little goose”. And even though she is his wife, he calls her “a little girl”, which shows that she is not taken seriously at all.

I think her position in the relationship is summed up by the “great, immovable bed – it is nailed down” She is “trapped” in her relationship and has to obey John. This is depicted by a time in the story when she says that she “must not let him” find her. She is his partner but not his other half. But at the very end there is a role-reversal and she tells him that he is too late and calls him a “young man”. The main character in the “Yellow Wallpaper” has had to suffer from isolation and loneliness, if she was suffering from “temporary hysteria”, I think her prison played a big part in making it worse.

She had no friends, just the pattern to keep her “quiet by the hour”. There is a lot of supernatural activity occurring, and one of the questions that I was left to think about, was whether the room had the ability to record past events and let later generations experience them. But, on the other hand it is possible that the lady was mad, “the bars on the wallpaper”, are probably the shadows of the light coming through her window, but on the other hand they could be symbolic.

Very few Victorian writers were female, but Charlotte Perkins Gilman was quite a feminist and she seems to reflect this in her text. She describes well how poor and miserable women’s quality of life was. I think that John was to blame, for neglecting her and leaving her starved for attention. I think John maybe did it accidentally, but I think that if she was “allowed” to walk around the house, and do things, including nursing the “dear baby”, her condition would be far better.

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