Charles Dickens And Thomas Hardy Essay, Research Paper
In order to compare the literary styles of Dickens and Hardy I will use ‘The Signalman´ by Charles Dickens and ‘The Withering Arm´ by Thomas Hardy. ‘The Signalman´ features a lonely train signalman who works in signal box by a railway cutting. He has been visited by a “spectre” which appears just before a fatal accident takes place. The other main character, who is also the narrator, meets the signalman and is told of his sightings. They try to interpret the warnings of the ghostly figure. As the two develop a friendship, the narrator returns to the railway cutting to visit the signalman but finds that he has been killed in an accident that the ghost had warned about. ‘The Withered Arm´ features a milkmaid named Rhoda Brook whose ex-husband, Mr Lodge, remarries a young lady called Gertrude. Even before meeting Gertrude, Rhoda is jealous of her and begins to hate her. Without seeing Gertrude, Rhoda dreams that Gertrude is sitting on top of her, trying to suffocate her. Rhoda reaches out and grabs her arm, pushing her to the floor. Rhoda wakes up but believes that her encounter with Gertrude was too vivid and real to be a dream. She meets Gertrude for the first time and she looks exactly the same in person as she did in the dream. They become good friends and Gertrude shows Rhoda the mark on her arm, it clearly resembles the hold that Rhoda had on Gertrude´s arm and so Rhoda becomes worried that she was the cause of Gertrude´s withered arm. Rhoda leaves the village as gossip about the reason for Gertrude´s skin complaint spreads. The condition on Gertrude´s arm worsens, applying more stress to Gertrude and Mr Lodge´s relationship and so Gertrude is desperate to find a cure to rekindle the love that Mr Lodge felt for her in the earlier stages of their marriage. Rhoda and Gertrude are reunited at the end.
In a way, the two stories are similar as their themes are based on the same topics: mystery, supernatural and the unknown. They both involve premonitions of fate and the future. In ‘The Signalman´, the narrator attracts the attention of the signalman by shouting “Halloa! Below there!” These were the words recited by the ghost who warned him of an accident that would happen in the near future. Also, these were the words shouted by the train driver as he alerted the signalman of the speeding train heading towards him. Also, In ‘The Withered Arm´, Rhoda dreamt that she had grabbed Gertrude´s arm. It was later discovered that Gertrude woke up with a painful arm on the exact same night and at the exact same time that Rhoda had the dream. Also, Rhoda knew exactly what Gertrude looked like before she had even seen her. In both of the stories some of the characters experience loneliness and isolation. Although both Dickens and Hardy express this through their characters, Dickens does so in a more intense manner, as more sympathy is felt for the signalman than for Rhoda or Gertrude. In ‘The Signalman´, the signalman inhabits a small, “solitary and dismal” signal box. He stays in the “dripping-wet dungeon” for hours each day with nothing to do except to occasionally “change that signal, trim those lights, and turn his iron handle”. Dickens may have created this character to express his sympathy for those who are lonely. He may have wanted us to pity the signalman, as he is a “well educated” man constrained by a primitive occupation. This sympathy was heightened because of the death of the signalman. Possibly the fact that Dickens does not give the signalman a name shows that he is deemed unimportant to most people. Dickens may want us to counter this view and to think that all human beings are important. In ‘The Withered Arm´, Rhoda´s best friend is Gertrude and so she is terrified that Gertrude will discover that she was the cause of the skin complaint. This shows Rhoda´s former loneliness as she only just met Gertrude and previously hated her, but Gertrude instantaneously became her best friend. Gertrude´s loneliness is shown when her relationship with Mr Lodge deteriorates and also when Rhoda leaves the village. At this stage in the story, Gertrude cannot talk to her only friend, Rhoda, and she is detached from her husband due to her withered arm. Gertrude feels isolated and I think this is a situation that Hardy sympathises with. Hardy may also have views about rejection. This is shown where Gertrude sees Rhoda and Mr Lodge´s son walking along the road and asks Mr Lodge who he is. Mr Lodge just says the boy is “one of the neighbourhood,” and goes onto say that he thinks the boy “lives with his mother a mile or two off”. He does not even communicate with the boy and does not feel the need to tell Gertrude that he is his son. Another similarity is that when mysterious events take place, none of the characters from either of the stories believe in coincidences. In ‘The Signalman´ the narrator says, “men of common sense did not allow much for coincidences”. The narrator of ‘The Withered Arm´ says Rhoda “did not reason on the freaks of coincidence.” This may have been due to the nature of the people of the time the stories were written or just the opinions of Dickens and Hardy.
Previously, similarities between the two writers were discussed, but there are also many differences between them. ‘The Withered Arm´ is much longer than ‘The Signalman´ and the two stories are structured very differently. Dickens´ writing flows throughout the story, whereas Hardy chooses to use headed chapters. The difference in structures may be connected to the time spans involved in the stories. In ‘The Withered Arm´ it is clear that the plot is spread out through a number of years and often inbetween chapters a large amount of time has passed. This is shown at the beginning of chapter 6 as it reads, “Half a dozen years passed away…”. This allows Hardy to create a more elaborate story line and use several characters. Whereas, ‘The Signalman´ ranges over a period of only three days. Dickens concentrates on the main characters and is more succinct in telling the story and putting his views across. As the plot concludes quickly, when we read of the signalman´s death it is more shocking. The two authors also introduce the stories in different ways. Dickens opens the story with speech, the narrator shouts, “halloa! Below there!” This starts the story off quickly. Hardy introduces the story by setting the scene. This starts the story gently before introducing characters and using dialogue.
Both Dickens and Hardy extensively describe settings and characters, but they use different methods. Dickens concentrates more on the description of characters´ body language and movement and the setting of the story. Whereas, Hardy better describes the appearance of the characters. Hardy uses more dialogue in ‘The Withered Arm´ than Dickens does in ‘The Signalman´ as Hardy´s story is much longer than Dickens´. Dickens uses dialogue to develop the relationship of the two characters, convey the characters´ personalities and carry the plot forward. Hardy uses dialogue in these ways as well, but he also uses it to describe characters. For example, he uses a conversation between Rhoda and her son, where Rhoda wishes to know what Gertrude looks like and Rhoda´s son describes her. He says, “her hair is lightish, and her face as comely as a live doll´s”. This allows us to construct a mental picture of Gertrude. Dickens uses his narrative style to set the scene and describe the movement of characters. The narrator describes the railway cutting signal box as a “solitary and dismal place,” with “dripping wet walls of jagged stone,” and appeals to our senses by saying that that the tunnel has “an earthy, deadly smell”. The narrator also observes the signalman attentively and describes his movement. The following quotes from ‘The Signalman´ show this well, “He was several times interrupted by the little bell, and had to read off messages and send replies,” he continues, “I observed him to be remarkably exact and vigilant, breaking off his disclosure at a syllable, and remaining silent until what he had to do was finished.” This allows us to imagine that we are in the room with the signalman, watching him as he works, noting every detail of his movement and actions.
The narrative styles of the two authors are very important in their descriptions. Dickens uses a first person narrative style, while Hardy uses a third person narrative style. Dickens´ style guides us through the plot as if we are there, closely spectating the events of the story. The following quote describes the cutting and demonstrates the effects of Dickens´ narrative style well, “it was made through a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down”. This allows us to feel as if we, ourselves, are descending down the “zigzag path”. Although this is very realistic, this style has constraints; the narrator is unable to know what the other characters are feeling, he can only give his thoughts and feelings. This also adds to the mysterious atmosphere. Hardy´s narrative style means that ‘The Withered Arm´ is possibly not as vivid as ‘The Signalman´, but the narrator is able to state what the characters are thinking and feeling.
Dickens and Hardy use characters and their relationships very differently. Dickens uses two main characters, the narrator and the signalman, and two very minor characters who were only created to conclude the story. The story is based on the signalman, but the narrator is very nearly as important as the signalman. The relationship between the signalman and the narrator develops very quickly due to the length of the story. At the beginning of the story, the signalman is weary of the narrator but quickly begins to trust him. Soon after this they become good friends and enjoy talking to each other, but their friendship ends abruptly as on the third day of their acquaintance the signalman was killed in an accident. Hardy also uses two main characters, Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge, but has many other minor characters who continue the plot. The opening scene of ‘The Withered Arm´ was set in a dairy where “a troop of milkers” talk about Mr Lodge´s new marriage. These characters are only used to set the scene and then introduce Rhoda. They are unimportant to the story as Hardy felt it was more important to name one of the cows than to mention the names of the milkers. Rhoda´s son is mainly used to describe Gertrude and to reunite Rhoda and Gertrude at the end of the story. Again, he is not very important as he is not given a name. Conjurer Trendle, the young man outside the jail and Davies the hangman are used to continue the plot. Mr Lodge is fairly important as he is the connection between Rhoda and Gertrude and he is instrumental in Gertrude´s sadness and detachment. I also think that Hardy uses Mr Lodge to show his disgust at people like Mr Lodge. Mr Lodge ignores his son and his ex-wife, Rhoda. Rhoda works in his dairy as he remarries a younger, more beautiful wife. In ‘The Withered Arm´, Hardy changes the main character from Rhoda to Gertrude. Their relationship develops and changes quite slowly. At the beginning, Rhoda hates Gertrude, but as they see each other more often they become good friends. At the end, Rhoda hates Gertrude again.
Dickens and Hardy use settings for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different ways. Dickens sets ‘The Signalman´ in one location, the railway cutting. He uses the setting to evoke our feelings and also calls the signal box a “dungeon”. This makes us feel sorry for the lonely signalman as he has a poor standard of living. Hardy sets the story in a variety of settings as the plot follows Gertrude´s journey while she tries to cure her unattractive and useless arm. The settings reflect the feelings and situations of the characters. For instance, ‘The Withered Arm´ is set in a small village and large empty fields. These settings are isolated like some of the characters.
Another difference between the two authors´ literary styles is Dickens´ use of brackets and rhetorical questions. Dickens puts some text in brackets to further explain the plot and his opinions. He also asks rhetorical questions. This involves us in the story as he effectively asks us to answer the questions in our own head and think about what we have read. There are both similarities and differences between the literary styles of Dickens and Hardy, but overall there are more differences than similarities. The stories have similar themes and both authors use characters to convey their feelings about certain issues, especially loneliness and isolation. But, many differences between the two stories and the two authors emerge and can be clearly identified. Chiefly, Dickens and Hardy make use of characters, relationships, dialogue, settings, time spans and narrative styles in very different ways. They are different authors with similar morals and have their own unique styles and techniques.