In this essay I will be analysing the short story “The Red Room” which was written be H.G Wells in 1896. I’m going to be looking at what techniques he uses to build tension, and also be looking to see if it’s a successful ghost story or not.
There are many different ways in which writers can build tension and keep the readers attention, some of these ways are;
Long descriptions that get the readers attention, and give imagery to the reader using adjectives, verbs and adverbs, the writer may also use stereotypical settings or characters that create tension and gloomy feelings to the story, or maybe they use short sentences, to create pace in the scene or to show sudden action.
The opening sets the scene, and introduces the plot and the characters. The first sentence of the story starts in the middle of a conversation between two characters in the story. In the conversation it has the word “ghost” within it, so already the reader is getting hints about what the story is about.
As you read further into the conversation you find out that the character in the story is an arrogant type of person;
…”and caught a glimpse of myself, abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness” – The writer is trying to make the reader not like the character, and from other stories or film references, the character that isn’t liked, normally in the end, is the one that suffers at some point in the story or film.
“Eight and twenty years,” said I, “I have lived and never a ghost have I seen as yet” A small extract of what the character says to show he is arrogant.
In the next paragraph the writer introduces and describes an “eerie” old woman, which gives the reader, the feeling of unnaturalness.
“The old woman sat starring hard into the fire, her pale eyes wide open” This short descriptive sentence alone is enough to give the reader a small amount of fear. After the introduction to the woman, she speaks and part of what she says is a hint or a clue to what might happen, further on in the story.
…”and eight and twenty years you have lived and never seen the likes of this house, I reckon there’s many things to see” that last part of what she says makes the reader curious, or maybe want more and encourage the reader to read on. More of what the old woman says makes the reader even more curious and sends questions to the readers mind;
“A many things to see and sorrow for”, some questions the reader may thing of would be something like; “What’s to see?”, “What’s to sorrow for?” etc.
Further along in the introduction to the story, there is more evidence to show that the main character is a really arrogant person.
“…and caught a glimpse of myself, abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness”, shows to be bit patronising and he “loves himself” as some people might put it, which again would suggest to the reader that something is going to happen to him.
The last paragraph of the first page, repetition is used with the words “It’s your own choosing” was repeated twice in the first and last paragraph of the first page. It’s as if the man is insisting it’s the mans choice or whether on not he goes to “The Red Room” and spending the night, and also its like the man knows something is going to happen to him, and he’s giving him a warning.
The last part of the opening to the story, repetition is used with the same four words to show than the man really means what he’s saying, and it’s like a second warning. The character then answers, “It’s my own choosing”, to show to the man that he’s taken in what he’s told him, and he understands, which again shows he is patronising, and it’s as if he is dismissing him.
After this, there is a description of the man with the shade, it quite a long description for a not such an important character but it all adds to in-human sense to him and make him sound more “bizarre”.
“A monstrous shadow of him crouched upon the wall and marked his actions as he poured and drank”, this description of the man with the withered arm uses personification to make it sound “creepy”. Continuing more about the elderly people, there is another description of all of them, which is described by the main characters point of view show how he feels towards them.
“There Is to my mind something inhuman in senility”, “The human quality’s seem to drop for the old people day by day” “and with their gaunt silences, their bent carriage, their evident unfriendliness to me and one another”, these descriptions of the old people from the character, may show that he may have slight fear towards them, and they seem to be “unfriendly” towards him.
From the next page, it is revealed that the house is really haunted,
“You will show me to this haunted room of yours”, which is said by the main character, it is the first indication that the house is haunted so basically it’s telling the reader what the rest of the story is going to be about. After this, one of the old people is startled by what the character has just said,
“The old man with the cough jerked his head back so suddenly that it startled me”
From this description, the reader would begin to wonder; why is the man so startled by what’s just been said? It’s another sentence that sends questions to the reader’s head which causes a lot of curiosity. The main character then repeats what he has said to get the old people’s attention,
But he also repeats the word “haunted” again which again builds the curiosity for the reader.
Further down the page, one of the old people is giving the character directions to the red room, it’s a long set of instructions that sound disturbing because of it’s isolation from the rest of house, it’s a six line set of directions, and it easily builds tension. After the instructions one of the men, asks the character; “And are you really going?” It’s as if they don’t believe that he is going and they are against him going.
Page six of the story begins with the eerie repetition of the words “It’s your own choosing” and it’s the final repetition of these words indicating that it’s the characters last chance to decide if he wants to go to the red room. Further along in the passage, the character starts to show this nervous tension because of how the old people acted and the old fashioned furniture of the housekeepers room which as he says “affected me in the spite of my efforts to keep myself at a matter of phase” which proves he is beginning to show his fear. Continuing we find the writer uses stereotypical settings to “creep out” the scene a bit more;
“The long, draughty, subterranean passage was chilly and dusty, and my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver”. The sentence also uses personification to add to the effect.
A lot of the descriptions the writer is using are good because they help the reader to form images in their head of the scene being described. Descriptions such as the first sentence on page seven;
…”For the moonlight coming in by the great window on the grand staircase picked out everything in vivid black shadow or silvery illumination”, these type of descriptions are really good for this effect, also stereotypical settings like this create an atmosphere, where the reader would expect to see a ghost.
Once the reader has continued down the page they will find that the character maybe showing his nervousness a lot more as he progresses closer to the red room; The character starts to get paranoid;
…”and gave me the impression of some one crouching to waylay me”, and it shows how nervous he is getting.
“Then, with my hand in the pocket that held my revolver, I advanced, only to discover a Ganymede and Eagle glistening in the moonlight.” At the beginning of this extract, the word “Then” is used, because it’s sudden and it shows something is going to happen. The question is why has the character brought a revolver with him, he kept insisting that he didn’t believe in the supernatural, so why bring it?
Around the bottom of page seven, Ganymede is repeated to make the reader curious;
“I glanced over my shoulder at the Ganymede in the moonlight” it also builds to the last part of page seven which is a small cliff-hanger, and it stands out because it sounds like the end, but it actually making the reader read on to find out what’s going to happen.
After the cliff-hanger, the reader finds that the character has entered the red room.
“I entered, closed the door behind me at once”, it also suggests that he’s was frantic and wanted to get away from the hallway. Carrying on, the character starts to think about his predecessor to the room, the young duke, it gives the reader clues and we find that someone may have died in the red room. There is also a part, where we find that “The Red Room” may have had rumours about it already;
…”The great red room of Lorraine Castle” which would mean, that the room is well known, which makes the reader find out exactly what’s going on. Further down the page there are uses of a metaphors;
“My candle was a was a little tongue of light in its vastness, that failed to pierce the opposite end of the room, and left an ocean of the mystery and suggestion beyond its island of light”. The two in that extract really helps put the room into scale. As the character walks about the room he checks places to make sure nothing is there;
“I pulled the blinds and examined the fastenings or several windows before closing the shutters”, “looked up the blackness of the wide chimney, and tapped the dark oak panelling for any secret opening”, he’s thoroughly checks everything in the room which shows how nervous he is getting. As he is checking, there are a lot of run on sentences that speeds up the pace and creates suspense for the reader.
Next page the character begins to light candles, and the way the writer has put together the small sentence really adds to the tension;
“All these I lit one after the other”, it’s a slow sentence that now slows down the pace. As the reader reads on he will find that the character is becoming more and more paranoid, for some reason the character creates a barricade with a armchair and a table, which he puts his revolver on ready, again is creates more questions, like “Why would he barricade himself?” “What’s the use of a revolver?”
The writer uses a lot of creepy sentences to make the reader become on the edge of his seat, such as
“I still found the remoter darkness of the place, and its perfect, stillness, too stimulating for the imagination” Eerie sentences like these really build the tension and persuade the reader to read on. As the reader progresses down the page their tension will build further because of the more eerie sentences he uses, here is another one;
“The echoing of the stir and crackling of the fire, was no sort of comfort to me”, even parts of sentences that the writer uses are really good at adding to the effect;
…”undefinable quality of presence”, these are just four words that really work well together.
The reader will now find that the character is really at a high stage of nervousness, the characters paranoia really is getting to him now, there is a dark spot to the corner of the room, and he believes there is something there that is watching him.
“At last, to reassure myself, I walked with a candle into it, and satisfied myself that there was nothing tangible there. I stood that candle upon the floor of the alcove, and left that position”, it really shows that he is starting to get nervous. The character now actually admits being nervous, but he’s not quite sure why;
“By this time I was in a state of considerable nervous tension, although to my reason there was no adequate cause for condition” and because of his nervousness the character shows his arrogance again. The character now try’s to calm himself by doing different things. First he starts to create some rhymes in the style of The Ingoldsby Legends he also thinks of the old people one more time;
“I began to string some rhymes together, Ingoldsby fashion, but the echoes where not pleasant”, “My mind reverted to the three old and distorted people downstairs”, – he is now really trying to keep his mind off things.
As the story progresses the character becomes more afraid of his surroundings, so the writer has made his sentences more appealing to make the reader receive the same feelings. He is very good at doing this, the sentences are slow and paced but have long eerie words that really get the reader on the edge. Here is one of the stereotypical settings he uses on page eight;
“The one in the alcove flared in draught, and the fire’s flickering kept the shadows and penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring”.
Now as we continue the writer is really trying to make the reader not like the character, he is becoming more arrogant as he gets more afraid.
“It occurred to me that when the ghost came, I could warn him not to trip over them”, it really shows the sarcasm in the character; it makes the reader dislike him. Carrying on, the reader will find that the scene of the story starts to change and also with it, the tone.
“I did not see the candle go out; I simply turned and saw that the darkness was there”…”and see the unexpected presence of a stranger”, Plus it is a hint for the reader. The story now starts to progress a bit faster because something tense is happening. As all the candles begin to go out the character begins to wonder why it is happening, and so does the reader. The writer shows this by using an explanation mark;
“Odd!” which shows it’s strange. The character then realises there is no draft, and it’s as if someone put it out with there finger and thumb;
“The flames vanished, as if the wicks had been suddenly nipped between a finger and thumb”, – which makes the reader think there is someone in the room with him.
The writer shows that the character is getting scared by describing what his voice sounds like;
“What’s up?” “I cried, with a queer high note getting into my voice some how.” Further down the page, when the character is trying to light a match, his hands “Trembled” which shows he is scared and he may thing that someone is there. When he has lit quite a lot of candles, the character starts to feel in control of the candles going out;
So that for the moment I seemed to gain on the extinctions”, Through the next page the story now is becoming a lot faster than before and it makes the reader become really exited/tense. The candles are now starting to be put quicker than the character can light them up again. The writer is now scrambling metaphors and alliteration in the descriptions to make it a more rapid paced part of the story.
“It was like a ragged storm cloud sweeping out the stars”, and also as the story speeds up the writer begins to bring back the horror atmosphere back into the scene;
“I was now almost frantic with the horror of the coming darkness, and my self-possession deserted me. I leapt panting and dishevelled from candle to candle in a vain struggle against that remorseless advance.
I bruised myself on the thigh against the table, I sent a chair headlong, I stumbled and fell and whisked the cloth from the table in my fall.” In this extract the writer has used many verbs to make it quicker, which makes the story more exiting and also makes the reader desperately want to know what’s happening. The character has become emotional so the reader can really be “involved” in the story. The reader should now be at a peak point of tension, and the writer wants it to stay at this point. So on the next page he adds repetition;
…”and vanished, the glow vanished, the reflections rushed together and vanished”, He also uses good imagery;
…”and as I thrust the candle between the bars darkness closed upon me”, and then straight after this he uses a metaphor;
… “Like the shutting of an eye, wrapped around me in a stifling embrace”, all of them really do work to keep the pace and keep the feeling of fear alive to the reader. The character now is completely lost control in himself with fear;
“I flung out my arms in a vain effort to thrust that ponderous blackness away from me, and, lifting up my voice, screamed with all my might”, the character then try’s to escape “The Red Room”, but because of the dark he does not know where the door is as “bumps”, after the “bump” the writer uses a lot of verbs to maintain the pace;
“I staggered back”, “Turned” “Battering myself”, “wild crying” and “I darted” And then all of a sudden, all the tension disappears, he must of past out in the room as of running into the furniture.
It is now the end of the experience for the character and it is another small cliff-hanger for the reader, – they still don’t know what as happened so a small amount of excitement is still there.
“I opened my eyes in the daylight” The character is now not in “The Red Room” His head was bandaged and he was being watched by the man with the withered arm. The character looks about the room trying to remember what happened;
“I looked about me, trying to remember what had happened” This would make the reader disappointed, because there would now be more questions in the readers head such as;
“How did he get there?” “Was there a ghost?” etc.
The reader is now coming to the end of the story, and the main character’s personality has changed, he now believes that something was there;
“Yes, Said I; the room is haunted”. As the old people then start to ask about the room the writers uses punctuation to show fear in the old people, as they are scared of the room,
…”Because we have never dared…Tell us, is it truly the old earl
Who-” As the reader progresses the writer build a small amount of tension once again;
“It is not” said I “There is neither a ghost of earl nor ghost of countess in that room, there is no ghost as all; but worse, far worse-” Then the character reveals all, that it is just fear it self that haunts the room. The character then goes on to describe fear, and how fear itself can change your feelings towards anything and make you think of anything. The write uses personification to make it sound like it’s something physical which can chase and follow you, and in a way, it is, fear can physically control a person.
Overall I think the story is a very excellent story, as the amount of tension he builds through the story as it progresses really helps the excitement the reader receives. Also I think he has done a great job with the story structure and how it all fits together.
I think the end of the story is very effective, as the reader is expecting to find out what happened to the character but he doesn’t, so the story ends on another small cliff-hanger. In my opinion I’m not quite sure if there was a ghost in the room or it was really just fear that scared the character, but I do think that that is what makes the story so good, because it leaves the reader with many questions that will always be unsolved. So the reader will never know what actually happened, but they can use there own imagination to decide.