Penelope Lively is a well known author who has written many books for both adults and children. She was born in 1933 Cairo but moved to england when she was twelve. She still lives in England and has two grown up children. Penelope’s books are short deceptively simple and often end unexpectedly.
This story ‘the Darkness out there’ was published in 1984. it is about two young people who go to help an old lady but leave shocked after several chilling revelations.
The children are members of a neighbourhood help club that around the neighbourhood doing menial jobs for old people. The significance of the title and the ambiguity of the title is that literally ”the darkness” can mean the darkness of Packers End but metaphorically it could refer to evil of Mrs. Rutter. To aid this theme of ambiguity ”out there” is used as it is unspecified and could literally mean out there in the world or metaphorically inside everyone’s mind.
The story begins with Sandra on her way to Mrs. Rutter’s cottage. She walks through lovely beautiful meadows, everything is lush and glorious until Sandra approaches Packers End now suddenly the mood changes. The atmosphere becomes spooky and eerie. As she begins to describe Packers end with elements of the supernatural e.g. ”You can still hear voices” and the word ”darkness” is used to add a streak of evil.
Lively also uses language to make Packers End seem bedraggled, filthy, overgrown and unpleasant by using words to depict a squalid image e.g. ”Nasty, dark, crumbling, rusty, scraps and creepy.” Lively also uses short sentences on purpose e.g. ”Then it was the German plane. And other things too.” this is used to add dramatic tension, which is useful for creating an impact on the audience. Myths and rumours also add to the spooky atmosphere e.g. “Then it was the German plane.” And “Girl Attacked on lonely road.”
This description of Packers End is in sharp contrast with the description of Sandra walking through the plush and beautiful meadows. Day dreaming in the sunshine. Penelope Lively uses this on purpose to add dramatic tension to the story. Thus making the reader want to read on. She further adds tension by using long descriptive sentences e.g. “Crumbling, rusty scraps of metal and cloth and…bones ?” This is used By Penelope Lively to further prolong the audiences anxiety.
This constant building of tension of Sandra’s fears, the rumours and myths all build up and come to a climax as Kerry jumps out and frightens Sandra. e.g. “He rose from behind the hedge” and “she screamed” is a sign of how the reader feels how Sandra feels. The extract “he rose” is used by Penelope Lively to immediately, automatically and subconsciously make the reader think of the two rapist Gypsies. This petryfyingly terrorises her e.g. “you gave me the fright of my life” this is cleverly used by Lively to show how naï¿½ve, nervous, but most importantly, how much of a fragile human being Sandra is inside.
As Sandra walks down the path we have further evidence that she lives in a pretentious world, as we hear about her dream of a country house we can see how conceited she is, how she longs for a perfect life that may never be true. We also get another insight into Sandra’s naï¿½ve perspective on life, as she mentions the fact that “boys matured later” when Kerry was being far more mature and perceptive. We can see that Sandra is really nave.
In ‘The Darkness out There’, Penelope Lively uses third person narrative. She tells the story from a neutral point of view, and through mainly one character mostly through Sandra. She thus portrays a clear image of the scene in the reader’s mind, and makes the reader imagine and feel the situation, as if the reader is a part of the story which indirectly involves the reader. The purpose of Sandra and Kerry’s visit to Mrs Rutter’s cottage is because both are members of a good neighbour’s club and their job is to go to the elderly to help them and look after them. The narrative opens by observing Sandra from the outside by describing her actions and giving a clear image of Sandra’s attitude. “The would walk like this through the silken grass with the wind seething the corn and the secret invisible life of birds beside her in the hedge.” The observation of Sandra from outside and the way the writer describes her makes the reader feels as if he or she knows Sandra or has met her before. She also tells us what Sandra is thinking. “She would fall in love and she would get a good job and she would have one of those new singers”, as a result of this style of writing, is that it the reader is afraid of the same things as Sandra and they also have the same impression of people Sandra meets.
This means we therefore know that Sandra’s first impression of Kerry is based largely on appearance, which is of a scruffy little teen e.g. “His chin was explosive with acne”. At first “None of our lot reckoned much of,” This shows that she and many of her peers don’t even class him as a man. But as the story unravels, in her eyes Kerry matures into a man e.g. “He had grown. He had got older and larger.” I think Lively uses this to reiterate that things are not always how they seem to be or how you may see things.
Penelope Lively also uses some second person narrative e.g. “You couldn’t quite see into” and “But after lying on your stomach at home on the hearth rug watching telly with the curtains drawn and the dark shut out , it was cosy to think of Packers End, where you weren’t.” these evidences we can clearly see that the word “you” is repeated several times. Penelope lively uses “you” to involve the reader further but this time directly as now they are no longer just empathising with the characters.
Elderly people are widely stereotyped as nice, kind and cheerful. From the physical description of Mrs Rutter. She seems to fit well with the stereotype e.g. “Composed of circles”, “Cottage loaf of a woman.” These metaphors are used to signal that she is a large woman. Lively also describes Mrs Rutter as “A face below which chins collapse into one another” and “A creamy smiling pool of a face.” Even though Mrs Rutter is smiling, the description of her is not very pleasant. e.g. “Her eyes snapped and darted” this reminds me of a reptile, like a lizard, which are cold blooded animals by nature. I believe Lively may be cleverly using this to send out subliminal and subconscious messages to the reader of a sinister side of Mrs Rutter’s personality.
Lively has also given her a west country accent which makes her sound rural. This makes her seem more naï¿½ve to the modern town society the story is set in.
If we look past this cosy exterior, we are able to contemplate the darker aspect of her personality and character. Firstly if we examine Mrs. Rutters surroundings such as her home which is described as “Stuffy, gaudy, pattern rubbed away, cluttered and cabbage smell.” This is a pathetic fallacy of her tacky, public personality and the dark descriptions of Packers End are pathetic fallacies of Mrs. Rutters sinister alter ego, I believe this is a classic case of the DR Jekyll and Hyde syndrome but in this case the potion is a combination of the death of a loved one and the xenophobic anti German propaganda that was being spread during the war of which the result is Mrs Rutter.
We already start to see that Mrs. Rutter is far more clever and perceptive than she seems, she sees that by complementing Sandra she can get her to do what she wants, “Like bees round a honey pot, they’ll be”
“The girl blushed” Mrs. Rutter makes several distasteful comments like this. We can see that Mrs. Rutter’s compliment hit the spot because Sandra then admires her young body. But Mrs. Rutter also understands that she cannot do this to Kerry, so she puts him in the garden and does not warm to him as she has done so with Sandra in fact she behaves in a patronising and rude manner towards him.
From this we can see that she is prejudiced towards people she cannot manipulate. Another prejudice, other than the xenophobia she exhibits, is that she is also sexist towards them by giving Sandra traditional women’s housework such as ”cleaning and dusting” and gives Kerry a tradional strong man’s job in the garden such as “taking the bin out and weeding the garden.”
As the references to the Second World War begin, the story begins to unfold itself, when we discover that Mrs. Rutter’s husband was killed in the war. Sandra is troubled by this news, she lives in a perfect world, where nothing like death occurs, this is why she is so genuinely scared. As Mrs. Rutter talks about the tragedies of the war she says she has “a sympathy with young people” this is laced with extreme irony as it shows that she is trying to manipulate both Sandra and Kerry, but also that she didn’t have a sympathy with the young German she allowed to be killed, she obviously didn’t see him as a person just a German lowlife, this may be due to the massive anti German propaganda produced by the Anglo-American allies coupled with widespread xenophobia and prejudice that existed in wartime Britain.
As they sat drinking tea, Mrs. Rutter begins talking about the war, as elderly people usually do. She starts describing the events, Kerry interrupts and says “The plane must have blown up into flames”, but Mrs. Rutter rebuffs him and says “no there were no flames, but it doesn’t matter what happened” this tells me how remorseless she is. She tries to describe the story most beneficial to her side of the story e.g. “It was a filthy wet night, and fog too”, this shows me she was trying to make excuses for herself as she leaves a young man to freeze death in excruciating pain. Meanwhile Kerry inquires ”But either way.” This is when Mrs. Rutter’s bloodcurdling nature comes to the fore. ”We knew it was one of theirs. We cheered, i can tell you, Good riddance to bad rubbish. ”
Bloodcurdling shock. To Kerry and Sandra’s horror she is absolutely remorseless, infact she is jubilant that a three young men had lost their lives of which one may have been preventable due to her action or inaction as is the case here.
I believe that what Mrs. Rutter and her sister Dot did is evil. She was anxious for revenge following the death of her husband e.g. ”Tit for tat,” she forgot the basic human instinct to help others and she wanted someone else to feel her pain. However due to the combination of war time Britain, mass propaganda, a xenophobic society and the pure hatred she felt towards the people who had taken away her loved one, I feel that if i was ever in that situation I would have done the same but with remorse afterward for my inaction so I am in no place to judge, but I feel her remorselessness is just inhumane.
Sandra and Kerry are sickened by Mrs. Rutter’s account of the event e.g. ”Two bloody nights. Christ ! It makes u want to throw up.” Here Kerry uses strong language to emphasize how disgusted he is.
Sandra is vastly changed by this event in her life. She loses her nave sense of reality and and her idea of a perfect world is shattered as she learns the darkness within the tamest of people. e.g. ”You could get people all wrong.” this also shows that she has learnt that you shouldn’t judge people by appearance but by the content of their character.