Comparison Of Thomas Hardy
’s “Old Mrs Chundle” And Penelope Lively’s “The Darkness Out There” Essay, Research Paper
The two short stories ?The Darkness Out There? and ?Old Mrs Chundle? both deal with similar relationships, whilst at the same time having many differences. The most pronounced similarity of the two stories is that both deal with younger people?s relationships with an older person. Another marked theme is that Hardy?s story concerns itself with the curate?s deception (unconsciously) of Mrs Chundle, while in the Lively one it?s the younger people who are deceived by appearances.
Kerry Stevens and Sandra in ?The Darkness Out There? (from Sandra?s point of view) have an interesting relationship, which develops throughout the story; at the beginning, Kerry is seen to be quite immature and is looked down upon by Sandra:
?Kerry Stevens that none of?(Sandra?s) lot reckoned much on ? some people you only have to look at to know they?re not up to much.? This is quite a harsh view from Sandra, taking into consideration the fact that she doesn?t really know him. Sandra believes that she is much more mature than Kerry, ?she considered him, over a chasm, Mum said boys matured later, in many ways,? and this shows how ironic Penelope Lively is being concerning the relationship. For, throughout the story, it?s Kerry who acts more maturely than Sandra. He offered her some chocolate when she?d been yelling at him for jumping out of the bush as she?s walking to Mrs Rutter?s, and he?s the first to realise the old lady is not all she appears to be (? ?I don?t go much on her.? ?)
Sandra bases her opinions a lot on appearances, and this is why at first she sees nothing out of the ordinary with Mrs Rutter. This is also the way she is with Kerry; while all the time we are led by Sandra to believe that she?s the adult one (although all the time the reader knows this isn?t true) this illusion is in fact shattered at the ending, when we see Kerry (from Sandra?s point of view) in a different light.
?Are people who help other people not always very nice looking?? This shows how shallow Sandra is, with her immature dreams and fantasies (?One day she?d have a place in the country? a little white house peeping over a hill.?) Lively, while all the time telling the reader ironically that Sandra is the more adult, nevertheless through her writing shows the reader the true scale of things (that Kerry is much more mature than Sandra all along). Lively, by reporting the way Kerry acts and speaks in the eyes of Sandra, shows how false the circumstances are regarding the youngster?s relationship and the way the girl perceives it. This is similar to in ?Old Mrs Chundle,? the way relationships are sometimes misinterpreted by those involved with it.
Sandra sees the relationship as her being superior to him at the start, while all along it?s Kerry who has the guts to face up to the stark reality of Mrs Rutter?s hidden past. The relationship between Mrs Chundle and the curate in Hardy?s story is a misunderstood and uneven one too; Mrs Chundle, after befriending the curate while he was out painting (a past-time she could never do due to her social class and financial circumstances), believes she?s found a ?real friend? in the younger man; whereas the curate views Mrs Chundle, rather coldly, as a charity case. For example, when the curate goes to the rector to ask about the old woman he?d just received dinner from he refers to her as ?a curious old soul?, which is a rather emotionally detached way of speaking about her, almost as if she?s some sort of foreign being! Another point why I feel the curate to be so apathetic is the way he?s so quick to judge Mrs Chundle after hearing from his rector that she told him a small lie about going to church. Only after a few seconds of conversation, the curate passes judgement when he doesn?t know the full story; that she wants to save herself the embarrassment of not hearing a word at church due to her deafness. This is an insight into how the curate?s mind works. We must judge the Hardy characters more by the way they act and speak rather than into any past flashbacks or mental workings revealed to the reader like in ?The Darkness Out There.? This is because there are less insights into what the characters are thinking in ?Old Mrs Chundle? ? we must rely upon Hardy?s descriptions and their actions to form an opinion, whereas in the Lively tale Sandra reveals her hopes and dreams and aspirations to the reader and Mrs Rutter tells intimately of her past using flashbacks in the writing.
I don?t think the curate knows how one-sided the relationship is himself ? he seems to be unaware of the chasm that separates the two. He seems so umempathetic, so totally not able to perceive what the old woman?s life is like, that he just plunges into the situation without fully perceiving the consequences of his actions.
? ?You don?t know this parish as well as I (the rector). You should have left the old woman alone.? ? This is the voice of experience ? it shows how the curate didn?t know anything about what he was getting involved in and how the older rector wouldn?t have done something as reckless.
It?s not that he is consciously a bad person ? he?s just so wrapped up in his middle-class viewpoints, that he?s blinded to other people?s way of life. In this way, the curate never fully understands the relationship he has with Chundle even though he?s trying to help her. In fact, Mrs Chundle seems to run in circles around him when he is offended about the lie about going to church; she knows the conversation?s balance with her traditionally uneducated mind while he, the middle-class scholar sent into the church, doesn?t:
? ?Now, I wonder what I did that for? ? Well, you could ha? guessed that I didn?t come to any service? Your own commonsense ought to have told ?ee that ?t was a figure o? speech.? This shows how much more astute Mrs Chundle is than the curate.
This is similar to ?The Darkness Out There? ? Sandra is also so self-involved like the curate that she doesn?t see into the deeper layers of what she?s gotten into. She takes things at face value, such as the way the old woman looks (?she seemed composed of circles, a cottage-loaf of a woman?), and automatically places Rutter into some kind, old dear stereotype she has built in her mind. The girl is only helping in the Good Neighbour?s Club because it had become ?thing to do?, she isn?t helping others out of kindness, she?s doing it because everyone else is.
The curate, too, doesn?t see Chundle for what she really is ? he views her as another way he can do his job, by helping her: ?Her soul required a special machinery to save it? this was decidedly a case for his ministrations.? This passage underlines the running tones of the story ? this is his JOB to help Chundle, he isn?t doing it out of personal compassion (exactly the same as Sandra). The ?friendly conversation? he engages her with when he leaves is not genuine. Yet, Kerry, the boy with the ?explosion of acne on his chin? is the only genuine article in the show; he doesn?t go to help Mrs Rutter because it?s ?in? at that moment, because he isn?t ?in? with Sandra?s crowd. HE is the only one who helps out of the pure kindness of wanting to help; the two other helpers (Sandra and the curate) aren?t.
Actually, there?s a certain amount of irony to the relationship with Mrs Chundle; the curate?s referred to by Hardy as ?the kind-hearted curate? when in fact what I?ve mentioned earlier is closer to the truth. Again, this is the same as in ?The Darkness Out There?, using irony. What?s mocking about the story?s relationships is the way Kerry is seen as the immature one throughout, Sandra the more adult (from the latter?s point of view.) These perceptions are only revealed to be false to Sandra at the end, even though we are given clues throughout the story. Also, the way Rutter has ?sympathy for young people? is ironic; clearly a lie, seeing as she let a young German boy die over a period of two days in the war, an act of inhuman cruelty which contradicts what she tells the two young house helpers.
Although in ?The Darkness Out There,? we?re not given an insight into what Kerry is thinking, we can see a much more impersonal (unbiased) account of the relationship between Chundle and the curate due to the writing style; far more simple in its structure than the Lively story even though the old-fashioned dialogue isn?t written in our modern train of thought, because it?s written pre-twentieth century. The relationships in ?The Darkness Out There? are also far more complex in the way the writers portray them. Another insight into the ?Old Mrs Chundle? tale is given by the way Hardy reveals the characters to the reader using the speech patterns of his characters (for there are lots less physical descriptions here than in the other story, which is one main difference ? the ?Darkness Out There? focuses much on imagery and not, until the end, speech, because this then sets the reader up for the climax of an ending which destroys all the first, visual, impressions).
Hardy?s sentimental tale (in comparison to ?The Darkness Out There?) uses dialect to reinforce the idea of social difference in the curate?s and Chundle?s relationship. The old woman speaks in a common, everyday, regional dialect, while the curate refrains from colloquial speech altogether and uses standard English. ???Tis all my own growing? a bit o? victuals? I tell ?ee ?tis twopence??? This shows the social gap again with the two; she is seen as lower class, working class, while he has middle-class opinions and habits first revealed in the beginning sentences. For example, Chundle knows that she can never have the comfort of painting because she hasn?t the money or the time, and she also sees the ?snack? the curate wants for his light lunch as a luxury. She wouldn?t, in real life, have been able to afford the bread and cheese he?d like and seems a bit contemptuous of his liking of it (?a sour look crossed her face?). She also dismisses his painting, aware of the gulf between them while he?s oblivious; ?Sure, ?tis well some folk have nothing better to do with their time?? This is the writer?s voice coming through the text; this is Hardy?s opinion while Mrs Chundle is saying it. He probably wrote the story for a magazine for money but it?s obvious that he?s sending an important message in his eyes to the readers. He?s putting across to the readers that he?s a little contemptuous of the meddling of middle-class people or just people in general getting involved in something they can?t ever comprehend.
However, Mrs Chundle is also respectful to the curate. She doesn?t even sit at the table with him when she prepares their meal: ?I don?t want to eat with my betters.? This shows that she?s more aware of the relationship?s true scale more than he ever will. Mrs Chundle is far more perceptive to the balance of things than him. At the end she believes in him as a person and thinks that he?s not just another do-gooder, which is wrong, even though the curate may not know it himself. All these combining factors, that show the true balance of the relationship, tell me that the relationship, in the eyes of Hardy, is doomed from the start. The couple can never be true friends; the social classes and upbringings and perceptions won?t allow it.
When the curate is in the least bit repulsed by her he abandons her and takes flight; after the tube incident he casts her away, almost as if she?s not a person, just ?another charity case,? as I mentioned earlier. He doesn?t value their friendship much to put in the amount of effort he has and then just abandon her when he?s achieved his goal. A fine example of this self-involvement is when the curate can?t even speak to Chundle after the ear-pipe solution to her deafness didn?t work, ?the curate could not speak to her that morning.?
In ?The Darkness Out There,? the relationship between the old woman and the youths is interesting; while the more mature Kerry is not deceived by appearances and doesn?t trust her from the start, Sandra, basing her opinions purely on visual input, thinks of her as harmless. Sandra is quite shallow in this regard; helping the older people had become ?the thing to do? in her school and it?s obvious that she takes into account what everyone else thinks before she decides an opinion for herself. Look how she treats Kerry, for a start. Because of his ?lardy midriff? (his) chin? explosive with acne? she forms an opinion without even knowing him; when she finally does at the end, she realises that she?s misjudged people such as Kerry and Mrs Rutter until now. Kerry and Mrs Rutter have a rocky relationship from the first few introductions; while Kerry is sent outside to do ?men?s? work? and Sandra sent to do cleaning and dusting etc., Rutter chats to Sandra about herself. What reveals the Kerry-Rutter relationship is the way she can?t even remember the boy?s name!
?See if what?s-?s-name would like (a biscuit).?
Mrs Rutter and Kerry do not get along from the start. Mrs Rutter seems to be watching him a lot, taking his measure. She seems to know right away that he doesn?t really ?go much on her.?
?She glittered at them? her eyes examined (Kerry)? Mrs Rutter watched her come in.? This shows how Mrs Rutter is much more than just another dear old lady, that behind her stereotypical exterior she?s something more to be looked at. I, personally, feel that the writer knows traditionally eyes are supposed to be the ?windows to the soul? ? the view to a person?s true colours. It could be that through these descriptions Lively is saying that Mrs Rutter is cold and calculating, watchful, not dear and sweet, as we would first believe from her inviting soft-toned greetings to the children:
? ?Just give it a push, the door. It sticks, see, that?s it?? her voice flowed softly one.?
The writer uses eyes a lot in her descriptions in Mrs Rutter and they seem to be important to the development of the character; while all the time she seems to be harmless her eyes reveal the true Rutter, it?s just that Sandra and, to a lesser extent, Kerry, don?t realise it.
Another important factor in ?The Darkness Out There? is the use in descriptions of darkness and light. While in ?Old Mrs Chundle? it?s the message of being deceived by your own actions and the actions of others (shown through the curate and Mrs Chundle?s actions), in the Lively story the writer uses the handles of darkness and light contrasting as another literary technique to display the underlying meaning to her writing. There are lots of instances where Lively uses the sun and the shadows to get across an idea, such as when Sandra is watching the sun on her legs (?neat and slim and brown? she saw the neat print of the strap-marks against her sunburn? it was all right out here in the sunshine?) and then fears the darkness of the area she calls ?Packer?s End.? In Sandra?s self-involved world, she fears the woods because (again, stereotypically) they are seen to be a place of evil and bad men (?gypsy types?) because the light doesn?t enter it at all and she?s associated the darkness with bad things since she was young.
?She wouldn?t go in there for a thousand pounds? witches and wolves and tigers? police hunt rapist, girl attacked on a lonely road.?
When, however, her character has developed and matured at the end (after the truth about Mrs Rutter is revealed), Sandra realises that there?s nothing to be feared about a German plane or witches or wolves in the woods, because it?s not the ?darkness of tree shadows? that?s to be feared but the ?(darkness) in your head?, the capacity for evil inside your own minds, and that appearances aren?t all what they seem in ?a world grown unreliable.? This shows the maturing and realisation of Sandra that she?s not been practical before, with all the childish shallow fantasies of houses in the country. The relationship tilts and shifts as Sandra realises Kerry has been in full control of his senses all along and wasn?t deceived by Mrs Rutter ? that he?s a deeper person than she is and isn?t as easily fooled. At the closing of ?The Darkness Out There? Sandra ends with a growing maturity on the opinion of the world around her and Lively makes Sandra see that it isn?t the literal things that are to be feared, rather the mental and deceptive qualities of others.
Overall, I?d say that the stories have one main similarity; that while all of the relationships in the two stories are clouded in misconceptions and misinterpretations at the start (the ?kind-hearted? curate ?helping? Mrs Chundle, the rosy picture of Mrs Rutter Sandra builds up while Kerry isn?t deceived) all of them develop so at their close the true scale of them are shown to the readers and the characters. Throughout in both, the readers are given clues as to what the situations truly are and in both endings these clues lead up to what the stories? characters have been indicating all along. Both stories deal with the way we judge ourselves and how this affects the world around us; Sandra believes she?s mature and the more adult out of the two youngsters while the curate at the end of Hardy?s tale has a revelation and realises his lack of compassion fully. The curate believed he was trying to help Mrs Chundle and then realises that although this is true, he wasn?t as noble in his intentions as he thought. However, in the two stories it?s too late to alter the course of things; Mrs Chundle is already dead and the teens have already been deceived by Mrs Rutter?s appearance helping her. Perhaps the authors are saying that some things can?t be helped; i.e. the curate?s and Mrs Chundle?s relationship was never going to last (see above for the reasons) and Sandra, because of the way she is, was never going to see past Mrs Rutter?s face and visual values, while Kerry all along was doomed to not get along with Mrs Rutter because of his maturity and lack of trust on purely false exteriors.