How does Thomas Hardy create sympathy for Rhoda Brook in his short story “The Withered Arm” ?
In this essay, I am going to describe how Hardy uses different techniques to manipulate the reader into feeling sympathetic for Rhoda Brook in his short story “The Withered Arm.”
“The Withered Arm” is a pre- 20th Century story. It is full of supernatural elements and coincidences. The story involves the character of Rhoda Brook, a jealous middle aged woman who has an illegitimate son by Farmer Lodge, a main land owner in the area. Farmer Lodge has just married a young and beautiful woman named Gertrude Lodge. Rhoda, being envious of Gertrude for marrying Farmer Lodge, unconsciously conjures up an evil incubus, which causes Gertrude’s arm to gradually wither, which makes Farmer Lodge love her less, as he takes a great pride in a woman’s appearance. Gertrude resorts to using a sorcerer’s powers to heal her arm, which leads to a tragic ending.
The reader is almost immediately compelled to feel sympathetic towards Rhoda in the first chapter as she is described as a
“Thin and fading woman of thirty-something who milked somewhat apart from the rest.” This creates an image in the readers mind of a malnourished milkmaid. The word ‘fading’ suggests that she is fading into the background of the community or that she herself is fading away as though she is ill.
Towards the end of the first chapter, Hardy begins to describe Rhoda’s dwelling. The walls appear wrinkled, perhaps and echo to Rhoda’s appearance.
“The surface of which had been washed away by many rains into channels and depressions, that left none of the original flat face visible.” This creates sympathy for Rhoda as she has not got much of a decent home.
During the second chapter, the reader feels compassionate towards Rhoda, for her ex-lover has a new wife called Gertrude Lodge. Being jealous of this, Rhoda sends her son to spy on the coming of Farmer Lodges new wife. This may make the reader feel...