This essay will look at the way that five different themes create suspense in three gothic fiction stories, from the late 19th century and early 20th century. These are “The Monkey’s Paw” written by W.W. Jacobs, “The Red Room” written by H.G. Wells and “The Signal Man” written by Charles Dickens.
The first theme is darkness. In the three stories of darkness appears in the two main aspects; the use of candles and the use of night. Candles are used to create suspense in two of the three stories. In “The Monkey’s Paw” candles are used near the end of the story when Mr White wishes his son alive again, “the china candlestick, was throwing pulsating … larger than the rest.” This uses the pulsating shadows and flickers of the candles to create suspense by making the reader wonder if there is something lurking in the shadows. Similarly, in the “The Red Room”, the candles keep flickering and going out, creating darkness, which creates suspense by making the reader feel the man is being surrounded. However in “The Signal Man” there is no use of candles to create suspense but the story is set at night and huge cliffs block out the horizon, creating darkness and a feeling of claustrophobia.
The second theme is that of the supernatural. In all three stories supernatural things appear to create suspense for the reader. For example, in “The Monkey’s Paw” Mr and Mrs White use the power of the monkey’s paw to wish their mangled son alive again- “He raised his hand. I wish my son alive again.” This supernatural event was used to create suspense so the reader will want to read on to see if the wish has worked. The monkey’s paw itself is also very supernatural because it moves when you wish- “it moved he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor”.
In “The Red Room”, the candles keep mysteriously dying out with no cause to do so- “By Jove! Said I aloud……made two steps towards the grate, and incontinently the flames dwindled and vanished.” This creates suspense through fear as the reader expects something scary to happen when the candles go out. In “The Signal Man” there is a supernatural being, the Spectre that appears and vanishes in a blink of an eye. He appears often in to the signal man to warn him of his death, seen in the quote – “but for the circumstances that while he was speaking to me ……when we so far asunder.” This supernatural being creates suspense by making us try to understand his warnings.
The third theme is far-off places. In all three stories there is some isolation. In “The Monkey’s Paw” Mr White complains “that’s the worst of living so far out.” This shows that they can’t get to help and help can’t get to them. In “The Red Room” the narrator has to walk to the other side of the castle to reach the room – “you go along the passage for a bit ……. the Red Room is on your left up the steps”. With only old feeble people in the castle he is isolated from worthwhile help. In “The Signal Man”, the signal man is all alone is the signal booth at the bottom of the steep railway cutting which blocks out the horizon, keeping him the darkness of hell. “I found a rough zigzag descending path …. that became easier and wetter as I went down.” These situations create suspense by making us wonder if help will ever arrive in time or if evil lurks hidden from civilisation in these isolated places.
The fourth theme is that of the macabre. In all three stories there are versions the macabre. In “The Monkey’s Paw” the son was mangled by a machine and died- “He was caught in the machinery said the visitor at length, in a lo0w voice.” Similarly in “The Red Room” the hero is thinking about the way the young Duke died as he walks into the Red Room- “In which the young duke had died…….to conquer the ghostly tradition of the place.” In “The Signal Man”, the man in the booth gets run over and crushed by a train- “He was cut down by a engine, sir if you knew him.”
The final theme is that of madness. In “The Monkey’s Paw” the wife goes made trying to bring her son alive the night after the funeral – “‘wish’ she cried franticly … I wish my son alive again.” This shows madness by showing us she would have her son alive even though he is mangled and shredded. In “The Red Room” the man goes mad from the oppressing darkness. However in “The Signal Man” the signal man fears he is going mad and the narrator suspects that he is mad.
My conclusion is that all five themes; darkness, supernatural, far-off places, macabre and madness are used by the writers of the three Gothic horror stories to create suspense by making the reader confused, scared, intrigued and relating themselves to the situations in hand. I think that there is no most effective theme but they all create suspense in their own significant ways and it would not be a true horror story without one.