The two short stories, ‘A Difference’, written by David Belbin in 1990, and ‘The Red Room’ a story by H. G. Wells in 1896, have many variances. As the stories were written in different centuries, there is an expectancy that they would differ in terms of setting, theme and character. Probably one of the most highly contrasted aspects of both stories, is the type of language used by the authors, mainly as English terminology has grown and modified throughout the centuries. However, as both are thrillers, there are some strong similarities in method used to create suspense and mystery.
The Red Room’ is narrated in the third person and tells the story of a curious young man talking with a group of very old people. Why he’s in the castle and what has happened is unknown. The elderly characters relate a myth about a haunted room. Unconvinced, he ventures into ‘The Red Room’. He lights many candles and dots them around the room. The candles start to go out one-by-one. He re-lights them but again they are extinguished. This continues and each time he becomes more scared. As his fear increases, he starts to panic and finally he runs into a beam of wood and is knocked unconscious.
When he wakes up, he finds himself surrounded by the old people who tell him what happened. A ghost, in the first person, narrates ‘A Difference’. He tells of his parents’ murder and his own recent death. He continues with the story of a family being attacked within their own home by a gang of Nazi followers. They break the windows by throwing objects at the house, eventually setting it on fire. The family abandons their home and after letting the mother and child free, the mob hold the father hostage and beat him. At this point the ghost intervenes and shocks the gang distracting them enough for the victim to escape to safety.
After that, the ghost rises into the smoke being set free because he made ‘A Difference’. Firstly, setting creates a huge impact in building atmosphere. This is shown to great affect in both stories. ‘The Red Room’ is based in a castle giving a medieval feel to the surroundings The gothic genre sets an eerie atmosphere to the story, immediately building tension within the reader from the opening lines. There were many castles around in the Victorian times but not many were inhabited. The Victorians are known for looking back in time, which was their prevailing mood to set their stories.
Their preference to old-fashioned life gives a classical tone to the story. ‘The Red Room’ is set pre Darwin but was written post Darwin. As fin de siere was nearing, science was becoming more important so stories were beginning to be set within the future. This gives a supernatural feel to stories when written then. The passageways within the castle lead the reader onwards, winding through the medieval building like a labyrinth. It’s like a mental maze and there’s no way out. The dark corridors give a claustrophobic feel as it is closed in, never lit by light, waiting to be explored.
The reader, unsure about what’s going to happen, is encouraged to read on. Linking this with the spiral staircase he has created another mind-boggling experience for the reader to cope with. The small spaced surroundings of a spiral staircase creates insecurity even though it is a little area. The rising steps leasing to who-knows-where increasing the tension with each step taken until he reaches the top. Corners in rooms illuminate a blocked-in feel to the story. They are like mirrors but darker and create more of a claustrophobic and echoing ambience. The chimneys at the top of the castle are a guard or a look out over the house.
Their job is to protect the house and make the reader and the character more secure even when not threatened. Individual items, although sometimes not noticed, play a big part in originating a mysterious sense to the ‘The Red Room’. Candlesticks are typical in gothic, medieval castles, mainly to give light. But they pose a unique talent. They formulate the personification of the building itself, for example, “… it’s flickering flame… “, and starts off its imaginative world. It directs the action with which the character does, for example, if the candle flickers, he shoulders.
Another way in which a candlestick makes atmosphere, is the danger and the warning it gives by the fire it possesses. Curtains are a protective barrier to the outside world as if it was threatening, but in fact, it’s the inside that is opposing the character. The curtains in this case are blocking the character from exiting to the outside realm. It seems that the whole castle is battling against the poor soul who is trapped between its walls. When you think of the building in this way, it is personified by the fear of the young man, who has created this sly beast who haunts him.
The mirrors that are mentioned in the story cause a distorting feel to the atmosphere. This makes the character uncomfortable, making the reader restless reading the story so the declaration or mirrors makes a double reaction affecting inside and outside. A classic way of making a thriller is the introduction of the shadows. It spices up the ethos because they symbolize spirits and other specter like images. The terrifying thing for the character is that the shadows are, if you like, following him constantly, like shadows do. But it’s as if the shadows are stalking the young man that doesn’t help calm his uncontrollable nerves.
Colours are mentioned on a couple of occasions throughout the story. For instance, the title, ‘The Red Room’, is a symbolic to death and evil. The mention of strong, powerful colours breathes a sense of danger and uncertaincy to the reader. The moonlight, which is mentioned near the end of the story, holds the atmosphere for a second, like a pause within the story giving the reader a chance to breathe although the story is continuing. Until the moonlight is described the darkness is a constant factor that holds in the mind of the reader. It never leaves his memory, as the whole story wouldn’t click into a thriller otherwise.
A Difference’ is set in town. My first impression was that the story would be set modern times. Having a story based in a town isn’t really as eerie as a castle because of the castle’s history. Castles have a record of ghosts and all sorts haunting them. The setting seems to be more open than in ‘The Red Room’, which is made clear when stated, “I follow at a distance… “. This provides plenty of breathing space for the reader, and eliminates the sense of urgency and panic within the story. The fire is described as a “blazing inferno”, which adds great realism to the story and therefore gives the reader a clear picture of the experience.
This extra detail provides greater incitement and interest, which can evidently be seen in both stories. Secondly, in both short stories, both main and secondary characters play an important role in building atmosphere. In ‘The Red Room’, the main character is a very inquisitive young man. You could assume he is confident by the way he expresses himself, “I can assure you, that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me. ” This could almost be arrogant. Obviously, the old people know far more about the history of the room than the young man.
When one of them says, “A many things to see and sorrow for… “, you almost know for sure that the young man is in for trouble if he enters the room. Of what trouble you’re not aware, adding to the sense of mystery. Throughout ‘The Red Room’, the young man experiences an increasing psychological madness, the seeds of which were originally planted by the ancient people before he entered the room. It makes you wonder whether the old people were innocent – warning him not to enter; or they were menacing – tempting him to enter by tantalizing his natural curiosity with an intriguing tale.
Young people are more likely to be adventurous as they are unaware and unconcerned of the dangers that may lie ahead of them. But why did the old people not warn him more enthusiastically about the dreadful outcome? Was it because they wanted to teach him a lesson or something more sinister? Like the mob in ‘A Difference’, the old people in ‘The Red Room’ have a whole personality. No names are given so the reader can’t relate to individual characters. Meanwhile, ‘A Difference’s’ characters are based in the same manner.
The character with the main attention is also a young person and destiny that nobody or nothing will get in the way of. The youth informs the reader, “I’m an orphan,” to send sympathy from the reader and therefore the reader feels he has interacted with the character and creates some sort of relationship with him. But when the audience realise he is inhuman, and it is just the voice of a spirit, it brings about a total twist in plot and expectation. This change in perspective is clearly the turning point, and adds to the overall mystery and unpredictability of the whole story.
Thirdly, a wide variety of techniques in language are used in the two stories. Repetition is used often during ‘The Red Room’, for example, “candle”. Although this is replicated many a time, it is symbolic in the fact that it represents life, spiritual presence and the ‘Gothic’ period. This microcosm adds a lot of tension and anticipation to the overall story. However, the repetition of words and phrases isn’t as common in ‘A Difference’, but the small amount of reiteration that is used is extremely effective. A good example of this is, “fog”, and, “foggy”, which are repeated a few times.
This gives a bitter, wintry or even spiritual atmosphere to the setting and environment. The senses of the characters are used highly in both stories. ‘A Difference’ contains, “a crashing window” which seems to put the reader’s mind inside the perspective of the character. This helps to give a clear understanding of what the surroundings are like. In ‘The Red Room’, it says, “Echoes rang up and down the spiral staircase”, which gives the reader an indication of the sounds that are included. By and large, senses generate a realistic and authentic atmosphere, which is why they tend to be included in thrillers.
The flames were still dancing” is taken from ‘The Red Room’ and is sound example of personification. This helps the reader understand what it is to see what the young man sees and how he perceives it through a blurred and anxious point of view. It is noticeable that personification is used more toward the end of the story because it shows the affects the surroundings are having on the youth. Characterisation assists the reader to clearly visualise what he is actually witnessing, but it also has a tendency to exaggerate and test the reader’s imagination to the limit.
In ‘A Difference’, the flames are reported to be, “crawling up the curtain”, when the house is set on fire. This gives the audience an idea of how quickly the fire spreads, and how that causes the family to panic. The personification creates fear, and tries to give the reader a vibrant account of the danger involved. This is similar to the other story because it enhances the horror and expectations to give a more thrilling narrative. Although metaphors and similes are not common throughout either story, they do have a huge impact.
In ‘A Difference’, at the end of the story, it uses the simile, “rising into the air like smoke”, to describe the ghost’s spirit being set free. This gives a sharp description of how the spiritual presence disappears. In ‘The Red Room’, a candle flame is described as, “a little tongue of light”, which also presents the reader with a vivid characterisation. The main similarity between these two phrases is that they both test the reader’s imagination and are both linked with fire or burning, which supplies the mystery in each.
This technique in general provides the reader with a clear image of the character’s observation, which can sometimes come across as surprising at first, but once you have stopped to think, it is usually very effective bringing a lot of detail. Both stories include some onomatopoeia, for example, in ‘A Difference’, words such as, “thudding”, are often used. They immediately give an unpleasant impact that can be clearly detected, therefore the reader can relate to the character and understand what he is feeling, or seeing. In ‘The Red Room’, words such as, “splutter”, are frequently being used.
Although this type of onomatopoeia does not hit the reader with the same disturbing effect straight away, it does help to provide a realistic sense of the sounds that are surrounding the protagonist. This also facilitates the reader to imagine him/herself being involved with all the action, as if to reconstruct the leading character’s experience. However, despite the sharp interpretation of the sounds that are heard, this technique tends to exaggerate, which can lead to the reader not being given the most accurate amount.
This is radiantly apparent in ‘The Red Room’, when all the movements and noises that the elderly characters undertake are substantially overstated to provide the reader with greater enjoyment. Tenses vary in ‘A Difference’ to change the rhythm of the story, which gives a more interesting outlook for the reader. Past, present and future tense are sometimes used all in the same paragraph, which changes the perspective for the reader to give valuable entertainment throughout the story. However, in ‘The Red Room’, it is mainly the past tense that is used throughout the story.
Due to the lack of variation, it does have a tendency to become rather dull and insipid, but despite the flatness, this technique can be very direct and clear, which helps to provide the reader with a vibrant understanding of the character’s experience. The main symbolic word used in ‘The Red Room’, is obviously, “Red”. This can have so many different meanings, as for example: danger, fire and even death. Such vivid symbolism creates a great amount of anticipation and suspense. This can make it more exciting for the reader, as he/she can make his own predictions before and during the story.
In ‘A Difference’, symbolism is rare, but effective, as for example, “spiritual”. This represents a ghostly presence throughout the story, which ultimately makes the reader feel as if he’s on the outside and looking in. This takes away some of the tension and uncertainty that occurs in the other story, and gives the reader an entirely different perception. In conclusion, the setting in ‘The Red Room’, is clearly described to bringing a closed feeling that is highly effective. But in ‘A Difference’, the setting is the opposite, giving an open, cold and blurred perspective of the story, as if to provide a spiritual ambience.
Language in ‘A Difference’, is modern, which would be expected from any story of this day and age. But the language in ‘The Red Room’ is very old and sometimes confusing, which helps provide a haunted atmosphere just by the thought of the gothic period in which this story was written in. The quests that the two protagonists are enduring are completely different; one is about getting revenge and helping an innocent family, and the other is purely to do with curiosity, adventure and voracity for fear and excitement.