‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are both short stories written in the nineteenth century and both discuss the interesting genre of the supernatural. The stories both base their theme on the ghostlike activities as it was a very popular aspect at the time which was highly speculated. Many people were open minded to the fact that ghosts did exist as this provided explanations for happenings which they had no answer to. Diseases that doctors couldn’t find a cure for was often blamed on the paranormal, for example the classic myth of witches. Both these stories delve into this insight in their own different methods.
The main themes of the two stories are about that of the supernatural. However, they attack the supernatural element in different sides of the spectrum. For example, Charles Dickens makes out the supernatural to be a full bodily formed ghost when on the other hand; Thomas Hardy identifies the supernatural element to be related to someone’s dreams and to do with curses. Though the stories are not similar in the way they interpret this genre, they both still capture the most popular conceptions the public had of the supernatural element. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ Dickens uses the ghost-like element to teach a moral. The moral is to demonstrate how self centered, solitary and insensitive people can be changed into charitable, caring, and socially conscious members of society. The tale follows the tradition of medieval morality plays and Aesop’s Fables. Conversely, Thomas Hardy applies the supernatural element as a way in representing the human emotion jealousy. Additionally, he uses it as a hook to keep the reader intrigued and to build suspense through the novel.
The setting of each of the short stories plays an important role on effecting how the story pans out. Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Withered Arm’ is set in the countryside in the rural and mythological area of Wessex. One of the important factors the setting plays is the character’s speech. Their speech is more colloquial and contains the West Country dialect and phrases. ‘He do bring’ is an example of West Country phrases used by Hardy to create a better image how it is actually like in the countryside during the nineteenth century. In contrast, Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ is set in the urban location of nineteenth century London. With the setting being London, an important aspect that comes with it is the social class system. During the nineteenth century this was highly evident and thus effected the views of people at the time. The higher class, which mainly consisted of business men or royalty, would look down upon citizens of lower class, which would included the poor. An illustration of this is the relationship shared between Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit where the clerk is made to work long hours with minimal pay.
This social class system is also present in ‘The Withered Arm’. An example of this is when the lower classed milk maids look upon Gertrude Lodge as ‘marks of a lady’. This phrase means that Gertrude comes from a high class and thus emphasizes the point of how social class was important in general in the nineteenth century.
Charles Dickens, in addition, uses the writing technique of pathetic fallacy to reflect the setting to Scrooge’s personality. ‘It was cold, bleak, biting weather; foggy withal’ reflects Scrooge’s solitary and cold character in the beginning of the novel. However, at end of the novel where Scrooge has undergone the change, the setting has ‘no fog, no mist; clear, bright’. Overall, the setting is important in both short stories.
In general, short stories tend to waste no time in introducing the story and normally cut straight into action. In ‘A Christmas Carol’, we are introduced to the fact that Scrooge’s partner, Marley, was dead, and thus follows the normal short story format. On the other hand, in ‘The Withered Arm’, we are introduced to the fact that Farmer Lodge is due to bring his bride home after their honeymoon, again, following this format but in more loosely. In ‘A Christmas Carol’, we are immediately introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Scrooge. However, in ‘The Withered Arm’, we are introduced to less important characters of the story, like the milkmaids. ‘The Withered Arm’ does not reveal much of the main theme in the introduction. Hardy does this in order to build up more tension. Alternatively, a lot of information is disclosed in the introduction of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Dickens gives a vivid description of Scrooge and his character which gives us a vague idea of the main thesis of the short story.
Short stories usually require an economy of words and focuses on only a few characters. Even though there are only a few characters, the main protagonists are normally described in detail as the short stories normally base their idea around this individual. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ the main protagonist is Ebenezer Scrooge. The whole story is revolved around him and how he changes from an old, greedy sinner to a generous, considerate and jovial man. Other important characters include the three spirits of his past, present and future as they cause the change in Scrooge. We are introduced to Scrooge as ‘hard and sharp as flint’ and ‘solitary as an oyster’ giving the impression that he was a very lonely and hard person. He despised the poor, any charities and especially Christmas. As the story progresses, the protagonist is visited by the three spirits and after each visit, he undergoes a slight change in his personality and his perception of the world. By the end of the story, he is a changed man and is described as being ‘as good a friend and as good a man as the old city knew’ to mark this metamorphosis.
On the other hand, in ‘The Withered Arm’, there are a lot more characters we are introduced to, many of them not that important to the story. The main characters of the story are Gertrude and Rhoda. Other less significant characters include Rhoda’s son, Farmer Lodge and the Conjuror Trendle. The main focus of the story is the relationship between the two protagonists, Rhoda and Gertrude. At first, Rhoda is very envious of Gertrude and feels neglected that Farmer Lodge married her instead herself. Hardy describes Rhoda as a ‘fading woman’ while he describes Gertrude as being ‘soft and evanescent’, contrasting their appearance. Rhoda is so jealous that she even gets her son to go spy on her. ‘You can give her a look, and tell me what she’s like’ is just one of the examples showing how jealous Rhoda is of the protagonist.
As her jealousy grew, Rhoda had a vision that an old, ugly Gertrude comes and mocks her. Gertrude’s apparition almost suffocates Rhoda but she manages to grab the apparition’s left arm and hurls her to the floor. However, when they met together, Rhoda begins to grow fond of her and they started to develop a good relationship, as she ‘became her’ and realised that she is a nice woman. To Rhoda’s horror, the same imprint is on Gertrude’s arm the next morning. This is where Hardy uses the supernatural. Gertrude’s arm becomes worse and worse. She eventually found that Rhoda caused her arm to become like this and started to grow further and further apart. Their relationship finally ended as Rhoda and her son ‘disappeared from the neighbourhood’.
The language in both stories are very different from each other although coming both having being set in the nineteenth century. In ‘The Withered Arm’, Hardy captures the spirit of the West Country by the language he uses in his descriptions and his dialogue. The author uses many phrases which are typical of the West Country dialect. Some of the characters’ speeches contain words which are incomplete to depict the colloquialism of language. ‘He do bring’ is just one of the few West Country phrases Hardy uses in creating this image. On the contrary, ‘A Christmas Carol’ uses language that is much more formal.
‘There are many things from which I might have derived good’ is just one example showing how the language is more formal. The descriptions are normally extensive and complex, using the language to create a vivid picture in the readers’ mind. The choice of words tend to be more intricate. This is typical of Dickensian style writing. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is written in the third person using a narrator. Even though it is written in the third person, Dickens still makes us feel close to the characters by making the narrator like another person that is part of the story. In ‘The Withered Arm’, the sentence and paragraph length vary throughout the story. The longer paragraphs tend to fill in the gaps of time between each event, or are instead used as description. In this short story, Hardy uses a narrator and writes in the third person; almost he is distancing the reader away from the characters.
The structure of both ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ are very straight forward. ‘The Withered Arm’ is split into chapters, each chapter representing a new event that is about to occur in the story. Similarly, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is split into chapters, but instead, they are called staves, like in music, hence the novel being titled as a carol. The staves signify each of the main events of the story, which in this case is the appearances of the spirits. The climax of the ‘The Withered Arm’ is right towards the end of the book where all the unsolved issues are resolved. Likewise, the climax is near the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’ where Scrooge completes his metamorphosis and relinquishes the darkness in his heart.