There are many similarities between the two stories ‘The Whole Town’s Sleeping’ and ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’. The most noticeable of these being the thriller genre which they both share, and in the way they both create a feeling of tension and suspense throughout, especially towards the climax.
They also both deal with the subject of murder or attempted murder, and the main characters of both stories are quite similar, as they both find themselves in these strange situations through a certain degree of their own doing; with The Whole Town’s Sleeping main character, Lavinia Nebbs, this is because she had refused the help of her friends and decided to walk home on her own, and with A Terribly Strange Bed’s main character, it is because of his consistent luck in gambling, which flares up the jealousy of on-lookers.
However, there are differences as well as similarities, as while TWTS is a third-person narrative which features a female main character and a cliff-hanger ending, ATSB is the complete opposite; a story told through the first-person, with a male character and all the loose ends tied up at the end of the story – we can tell this from the very beginning as the narrator is obviously looking back on something he has experienced a long time ago.
Also, while they both do successfully build up tension and suspense, they achieve this in different ways. ‘The Whole Town’s Sleeping’ uses repetition and short descriptions, “safe, safe, safe”, where as ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ uses long descriptions to increase the drama. Also, the pace of ‘The Whole Town’s Sleeping’ is fast and furious, unlike ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’, where the pace of the story is slow and frustrating as more and more tension is built up.
There is also different feelings of tension and suspense from the reader’s part right from the beginning, as in TWTS, the tension and suspense is built up around if Lavinia survives, and in ATSB, as we already know the main character makes is out alive, the tension is based more upon how he escapes that if he escapes. The Whole Town’s Sleeping begins to build up tension from the very beginning by describing a barren location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, to set the scene of fright that the story is based upon. ‘It was a warm summer night in the middle of Illinois country.
The little town was deep far away from everything, kept to itself by a river and a forest and a ravine. ‘ This creates the feeling of isolation that Lavinia feels herself later on in the story, and that the name ‘The Lonely One’ suggests. The scene continues to be set in the next few lines; ‘The stores were closing and the streets were turning dark. There were two moons: a clock moon with four faces in four night directions above the solemn black courthouse, and the real moon that was slowly rising in vanilla whiteness from the dark east.
This emphasises the slow change of day to night that is occurring, and sets the scene for this quaint little town to become the scene of terror, fear and murder. A Terribly Strange Bed begins completely differently in that instead of setting the scene for the events that will happen, it begins almost biographically as the narrator describes his life around the time the story is set, in order to give as a clearer indication as to how the main character gets himself into this situation that is about to befall him.
As opposed to TWTS, the tension and drama of A Terribly Strange Bed does not begin until well into the story. However, despite there being a feeling of fear and suspense from the very beginning of The Whole Town’s Sleeping, it only really begins to have a strong effect when Lavinia beings to walk home on her own. ‘Lavinia Nebbs walked down the midnight street, down the late summer night silence. She saw the houses with their dark and far away she heard a dog barking.
The fact that she is clearly hearing noises from afar gives the reader a clear indication of how quiet and deserted the little town really is, and the isolation that Lavinia must be feeling as she takes the long walk home. However, Lavinia gives the impression that it does not bother her to be on her own walking through a pitch black street. ‘In five minutes, she thought, I’ll be safe home. In five minutes I’ll be phoning silly little Francine. ‘ But she is clearly nervy when she hears a male voice, as it cuts her off mid-sentence, and forces her to walk faster.
I’ll -. She heard a man’s voice singing far away among the trees. She walked a little faster. ‘ Later on, the writer uses suspense to build tension. ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine steps,” she whispered. She felt she was running, but she was not running. ‘ From this you can tell that the writer is trying to give the impression that Lavinia just wants the whole ordeal to be over with, hence the fact she feels she is running down the stairs when she is actually only walking. The suspense in continued in the next few lines.
Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen steps,” she counted aloud. “One fifth of the way! ” she announced to herself. ‘ The writer has built the tension up well here as he is making a short experience like walking down a set of stairs, seem to last much longer. ‘The Ravine was deep, deep and black, black’ using repetition here gives the impression that the ravine is deeper and blacker than it actually is. ‘And the world was gone, the world of safe people in bed. The locked doors, the town, the drugstore, the theatre, the lights, everything was gone.
Only the ravine existed and lived, black and huge about her’ this again showcases the fear and isolation that Lavinia, and perhaps even maybe the reader, is feeling, as it implies that there is nothing left in the world but her and the frightening prospect of the ravine… the tension is again slowly being built up. However, in the next paragraph, the drama begins to speed up and become more rapid as the writer uses lots of short, quick sentences, instead of long descriptive ones, which had been used prior to this in the story. ‘She screamed.
It was like nothing she had heard, that scream. She had never screamed that loud in her life. She stopped, she froze, she clung to the wooden banister. Her heart exploded in her. The sound of its terrified beating filled the universe’ There is also a good use of metaphors in that as the writer describes the state of Lavinia’s heartbeat, which adds to the intense drama as the reader now has a clear indication of the paralysing fear that she is suffering. The reader may well be feeling the same way. “There, there! ” she screamed to herself. “At the bottom of the steps.
A man, under the light! No, now he’s gone! He was waiting there! ” The terror she is suffering is clearly messing with her mind as she not only becomes paranoid into thinking she is being followed, but begins talking to herself as if talking to someone else. The pace of the story then begins to slow down, as if reflecting that Lavinia’s heartbeat is doing the same as she begins to calm down. ‘She listened. Silence. The bridge was empty. Nothing, she thought, holding her heart. Nothing. Fool. That story I had told myself. How silly. What shall I do?
At first glance it does seem that she is beginning to calm down, but upon further thought, the reader is given the idea that she is only trying to convince herself that she has calmed down, when really, deep down, she is still as terrified as before. The writer begins building the suspense up again as Lavinia continues down the steps, counting each step as she passes them, and pausing after every few steps. ‘I’ll go back to Helen’s and sleep the night. But even while she thought this, she moved down again. No, it’s nearer home now. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine steps, careful don’t fall.
Oh, I am a fool. Forty steps. Forty-one. Almost half-way now’ This is similar to how the writer did it before, only this time, Lavinia is taking a lot less steps before stopping, symbolic of her growing fear. However, Lavinia is still acting calm, but as she nears the bottom of the stairs, she openly showcases how petrified she is. ‘She heard music. In a mad way, a silly way, she heard the huge surge of music that pounded at her, and she realised as she ran – as she ran in panic and terror – that some part of her mind was dramatizing, borrowing from the turbulent score of some private film.
The music was rushing and plunging her faster, faster, plummeting and scurrying, down and down into the pit of the ravine! ‘ This is perhaps the quickest pace that the narrative goes at, as generally, The Whole Town’s Sleeping is told slowly, with long, drawn-out sentences. The quick pace continues. ‘He’s following. Don’t turn, don’t look – if you see him, you’ll not be able to move! You’ll be frightened, you’ll freeze! Just run, run, run! ‘ The final few paragraphs, the climax to the story, is where it changes back from a speedy pace to the slow pace it has used so often before.
Lavinia arrives in her house, and her terror begins to disappear as she finally feels safe. “Unlock the door, quick, quick! ” The door opened. “Now inside. Slam it! ” She slammed the door. “Now lock it, bar it, lock it! ” she cried wretchedly. “Lock it tight! ” The door was locked and barred and bolted. The music stopped. She listened to her heart again and the sound of it diminishing into silence. Home. Oh, safe at home. Safe, safe, and safe at home! She slumped against door. Safe, safe. Listen. Not a sound. Safe, safe, oh, thank god, safe at home. I’ll never go out at night again.
Safe, oh safe, safe, home, so good, so good, safe. Safe inside, the door locked. ‘ There is a lot of repetition of the word ‘safe’ here, perhaps an indication that, as before, Lavinia is trying to convince herself that she is something she’s not. Finally, in the last paragraph, it seems that both Lavinia and the reader are assured of safety. ‘Wait. Look out the window. She looked. She gazed out of the window for a full half-minute. “Why there’s nothing there at all! Nobody! There was no one following at all. Nobody running after me. ” She caught her breath and almost laughed at herself.
It stands to reason. If a man had been following me, he’d have caught me. I’m not a fast runner. There’s no one on the porch or in the yard. How silly of me. I wasn’t running from anything except me. That ravine was safer than safe. Just the same, though, it’s nice to be home. Home’s the really good warm safe place, the only place to be. ” The amount of tension in the story has finally calmed down, as soon as Lavinia felt safe, she studied the facts and made the conclusion that her fear was for no reason whatsoever, she was being paranoid and even saw the funny side of it.
Then comes the climax. ‘She put her hand put to the light switch and stopped. “What? ” she asked. “What? What? ” Behind her, in the black living-room, someone cleared his throat… ‘ After all the build up to the climax, all the fear and terror that Lavinia described she was suffering, after all that, very little is explained. However, having read how Lavinia has felt on her frightful journey, the reader has their own ideas as to who the person clearing their throat is… perhaps the most popular idea being that it is indeed the Lonely One… but who is the Lonely one? Officer Kennedy? Tom?
It is this cliff-hanger ending that will leave the reader making conclusions for days as to what happens next, so despite the whole story being well written, it is perhaps the final line that contributes to it being remembered for a long time more than the rest of the story put together. As mentioned above a few times, there are many differences between the two stories, but there are also similarities. For instance, when the bed begins descending and Faulkner cannot move in A Terribly Strange Bed, he begins, in a way, to talk to himself, just as Lavinia had done in TWTS. ‘Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? Drunk? Dreaming? Giddy again? Or was the top of the bed really moving down-sinking slowly, regularly, silently, horribly, right down throughout the whole of its length and breadth-right down upon me, as I lay underneath? ‘ He obviously cannot believe what is happening, which is the reason he is asking himself all of these questions – an attempt to shed light on the situation. The pace of the story is generally a lot quicker that that of The Whole Town’s Sleeping, this is evident in the many short, fragmented sentences; ‘I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless.
The candle, fully spent, went out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down, without pausing and without sounding, came the bed-top, and still my panic-terror seemed to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on which I lay-down and down it sank, till the dusty odour from the lining of the canopy came stealing into my nostrils’ There is a total of ten commas and full-stops in that short piece of text, the short sentences created by these really build up the reader’s tension quickly and powerfully, in the same way that Faulkner’s fear must be building up.
So, it’s obvious that the biggest difference between the two texts is how different sentence lengths are used to create two different ‘speeds’, A Terribly Strange Bed being the quicker of the two stories. The biggest similarity between the two will have to be the situations that the two main characters find themselves in. They are both situations of fear, suspense and anxiety as neither of the two characters know what is around the corner, or what is about to happen to them.
Overall, I think I preferred A Terribly Strange Bed to The Whole Town’s Sleeping. The main reason being that I think TWTS tended to drag on a bit too much when describing a situation. As detailed as this was, I felt it was needless, and felt the situations in A Terribly Strange Bed were described well enough is short, sharp sentences. I also felt the quick pace if ATSB made it more exciting than TWTS.