Trace the developing relationship between Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge. How does Thomas Hardy use the supernatural to engage the readers’ interest, build up tension and keep the story going? ‘The Withered Arm’ is set in 1888 in a place called Wessex – now known as Devon. It is set in a typically English rural location, mainly farms and small cottages for farm workers. There are two main characters; Rhoda Brook – a milkmaid and Gertrude Lodge – newly married to local landlord Farmer Lodge. Back then everybody knew each other and so knew everybody’s business.
Men are more respected and did all of the work whilst the women stayed at home and did the house work. If women were single they lived with their parents or on their own in a cottage. If the had a child whilst out of wedlock then they were frowned upon by society and were very much disrespected by everybody else. When we are first told about Rhoda Brook she is portrayed as a woman in her early thirties who hasn’t aged to well. She is a milkmaid working on a farm for most hours of the day not having much time to rest.
She has a twelve-year-old son although she isn’t married and we don’t find out the identity of the father until the end of the story. Rhoda lives in a small cottage, built out of mud blocks, on the side of a hill. Gertrude Lodge is introduced as a young and very pretty. She is described as very lady-like and “rather short. ” We first meet Gertrude when she is travelling back from her wedding to Farmer Lodge. She comes across as a very caring person noticing a young boy carrying a heavy load. When we are next told about Gertrude she is at the church and seems very shy about being in front of so many people.
She is more nervous because she is wearing a dress that makes a noise against the pew. Thomas Hardy links the two characters firstly by Rhoda’s son. Gertrude helps him out giving him shoes and generally looking out for him. Then before Rhoda has actually met Gertrude she has a dream. It involves Gertrude and Rhoda. In the dream Rhoda is in bed, Gertrude is above her and Rhoda feels pressure coming down on her. Rhoda is finding hard to breath so she lashes out, grabbing the illusion of Gertrude’s arm. She throws it to the floor and as she does so awakens.
Rhoda could still “Feel her antagonists arm within her grasp even now. ” However when she looks on the floor Gertrude is nowhere to be seen. Hardy first introduces the supernatural in to the story when Gertrude and Rhoda travel to meet Conjuror Trendle. Gertrude has a problem on her right arm that is in the shape of a hand. Gertrude has heard about what the Conjuror can do and she thinks he can help her. When they get there they are very surprised (well at least Gertrude is) to be told that mark on her arm is that of an enemy and is not easily cured. ” Medicine cant cure it…
‘Tis the work of an enemy. ” The conjuror then goes on to say that if Gertrude wishes to know the identity enemy is then she should go inside with him alone. Once inside he makes a solution in a glass and tells Gertrude to stare into it. Gertrude is amazed by whom she sees in the glass but we aren’t told whom it is, making the reader want to read on. After Conjuror Trendle Gertrude doesn’t visit Rhoda any more in fact she severs all links with the woman. After six years the condition of Gertrude’s arm has worsened and it has affected her marriage to Farmer Lodge.
“The woman who he had wooed for her grace and beauty was now contorted and disfigured… ” Gertrude decides that she will go and visit Conjuror Trendle again. She travels on her own and doesn’t tell her husband what she is doing. The Conjuror gives her a remedy that is guaranteed to work. She must go and touch the bloody neck of a man who has just been hanged and cut down! Hardy first brings the supernatural into the story when he introduces Conjuror Trendle. When Gertrude asks Rhoda about a man whom she has been recommended, she thinks he is a doctor.
Rhoda tells her “he has powers other folk might have not” Gertrude thinks this is stupid but she still goes with Rhoda to visit the man. They go and he suggest that the problem is work of an enemy and is magical. The reader is encouraged to read on because there is an air of mystery about the ailment. The second time that supernatural is brought in to the story is when Gertrude goes to visit the Conjuror again. The conjuror suggests a remedy that is somewhat un-orthodox, she will be magically “cured” by touching a hanged mans neck.
This time the reader wants to read on because they don’t know whether Gertrude will go to the gallows to touch the man. The reader doesn’t think she will but there is a chance that she will so the reader carries on to find out if she does. In the end Gertrude does decide go to the gallows. She arranges with the hangman, Davies, the night before what will happen the following day. She goes to the prison and touches the body but just as she does so two people come through the door.
It is Farmer Lodge and Rhoda; the hanged boy is their son. The trio are deeply shocked, Gertrude by Lodge and Rhoda and Lodge and Rhoda by Gertrude. Rhoda storms over to Gertrude and starts to attack her. She says “This is the meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! ” She does something to the younger woman and she slides down the wall unconscious. Gertrude’s condition was so serious that after a few days she died. Rhoda returns to the village and lives there for many years. There the story ends.