This sample of an academic paper on The Withered Arm reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.
“The withered arm is a short story about two women who live in the English countryside. The two main women in the text are portrayed negatively by the author, Thomas Hardy. The story was written in the 19th century and thus it was acceptable to portray women negatively in this patriarchal society.
At the beginning of the text Hardy’s attitude towards women is made clear. The women are only given low paid menial jobs such as milking cows. The milkmaids are all working under the control of the dairyman.
The dairyman has to stop the women from gossiping when he says “get on with your work or ’twill be dark afore we have done”. His authority over the women brought an end to their conversation. Rhoda is portrayed as jealous in the first part of the story.
She is very curious about Farmer Lodge’s new wife and gets her son to report back to her on Gertrude’s appearance. She tells her son “you can give her a look, and tell me what she’s like”. The women talk with lower class, common dialect showing that they are less educated than Farmer Lodge who speaks standard English.
Rhoda shown as poor in the description of her house: “It was built of mud walls. The surface of which had been washed by many rains.
” This contrasts Rhoda’s poverty with Farmer Lodge’s wealth, emphasising male dominance. Her appearance is described as “pale” and “thin”. The villagers see Rhoda as some sort of witch. They tell Gertrude that if anyone knew of Conjurer Trendle’s whereabouts it would be Rhoda. The reader knows Rhoda has supernatural powers because she injures Gertrude’s arm through her dream. The same negative phrases are repeated throughout the story, such as “thin and worn”.
This emphasises how women are inferior to men. It can be argued that women are not portrayed negatively. Gertrude is introduced to the reader very positively. Her dialect is one of an educated person compared to Rhoda’s. She is described by Rhoda’s son as “very pretty” and “a lady complete”. Light imagery is used several times. She is described as “the light under a heap of rose petals. ” When she leaves Rhoda’s house it “seemed as if a light had gone from the dwelling”. Hardy uses pathetic fallacy when Gertrude arrives in the village. She arrives “while the sun was yet bright”.
This repeated light imagery suggests that Gertrude is a good person who will bring light to the village. Gertrude is a generous, kind and friendly person. This is shown when she goes to Rhoda’s house to give shoes to her son. Gertrude and Rhoda get on well despite Rhoda’s hatred towards her. This shows how friendly Gertrude is and how much of a good person she is. Gertrude is modest as she “coloured up more than ever for shame at the noise” that her dress was making. Farmer Lodge is portrayed negatively here because “he seemed pleased” by the noise the dress was making.
So it can be argued women are not portrayed negatively in the story. However, Hardy only portrays Gertrude positively at first to contrast her good qualities with Rhoda’s bad qualities and thus emphasise them. Also, by portraying Rhoda so positively at the start it emphasises her downfall at the end of the story. She becomes selfish, vain, and associates herself with witchcraft by visiting Trendle. So although Hardy shows Gertrude to be good, this is only a literary device used to show how bad she really is. Hardy has an old fashioned view of women that was typical of 19th century society.
His view of women is reflected in the text as they are portrayed as inferior to men. Women were expected to be child-bearers. This is shown when Hardy writes about Gertrude’s negative characteristics: “She had brought him no child” Hardy sees this as a reason why Gertrude’s marriage is falling apart and why farmer Lodge doesn’t love her anymore. In the text women are portrayed as if they were only objects of beauty. This is made clear when Gertrude arrives in the village and Farmer Lodge tells her ” you must expect to be stared at, just at first.
The villagers would stare at her beauty without caring about how this made her feel. Women are weak and helpless in the story. Gertrude has trouble with her stereotypical weakness when she wants to go to town: “There was no animal … that could be considered a lady’s mount” This shows that women are so much weaker than men that they cannot ride the same horses. Trendle believes Gertrude will have trouble carrying out his instructions because he says they are “hard to carry out, and especially for a woman. Women’s’ subservience to men is also shown in the text.
Gertrude fears Farmer Lodge so much that “the fear of her husband’s anger made her reluctant to breathe a word”. Women are portrayed as evil characters. Hardy uses pathetic fallacy to show this when Gertrude and Rhoda go to see Conjurer Trendle: “Thick clouds made the atmosphere dark” This emphases the evil deed the women are doing by going to see Trendle and associating themselves with witchcraft. Hardy not only portrays women negatively, but he also portrays men positively to juxtapose the genders. The contrast of good and bad emphasises the women’s negative qualities.
Farmer Lodge is the main male character in the story and is portrayed positively throughout. At the start of the story he is described as “a yeoman in the prime of life” and has “thriving farmer’s features”, compared to Rhoda, “the thin, worn milkmaid”. Farmer Lodge is also portrayed as being above Gertrude because he has authority over her when he “insisted upon [Gertrude] going to [a doctor]” about her arm. Other men in the story are also shown positively, such as the dairyman who has “manly kindliness”.
The ending of the story shows how men were believed to be superior because Farmer Lodge prospers while Gertrude and Rhoda suffer. Gertrude “became bent and her once abundant hair white and worn away”, Gertrude dies, whereas Farmer Lodge ends up a “chastened and thoughtful man” The entire story is based around Gertrude’s withered arm. The problem with her arm brings about her downfall and causes Rhoda to leave the village. The injury is a physical manifestation of Rhoda’s hate for Gertrude, showing how women are evil and full of hate.
It shows how jealous and bitter women can get because they all ant men to look after them. It is also significant that it was Farmer Lodge who was to blame for the withered arm however it was his innocent wife who received the punishment. This shows women’s subservience to men. Thus to conclude, Hardy portrays women negatively, and men positively in “The Withered Arm”. His attitude to women reflects the patriarchal society he was a part of. Before the 20th century his misogynist opinions were considered normal.