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    Fear in Gothic Horror Stories

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    Fear is the primary focus in both ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ and ‘The Red Room’. It revolves around the central character in each story and is used to help you empathise with the characters and what they are experiencing. The purpose of both stories, however, is not just to make you afraid but to make you understand more about what fear is and what makes people fearful. ‘The Red Room’ was written in the 1890’s at a time when science and philosophy were progressing at great speed and the world was slowly being rationalised.

    This led to people having a fascination with anything supernatural or unusual that could not be explained and is the reason why Gothic Horror stories such as ‘The Red Room’ became popular. The narrator of ‘The Red Room’ is a man who thinks he does not believe in anything supernatural. He goes to an old castle that apparently withholds a ‘haunted room’ and attempts to spend a night in the room to prove that there is nothing unusual in it.

    His plan is unsuccessful and he ends up injured and very afraid. The events that take place within the four walls of ‘haunted’ room and the Gothic setting are why the story fits so well into the Gothic Horror genre. ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ was written in the second half of the twentieth century, but set in the late nineteen twenties. It is typical of a modern horror story, located in a small secluded town with an unidentified killed deemed ‘The Lonely One’ stalking the streets.

    Three vulnerable maiden ladies go out for an evening despite the knowledge of this killer and a number of events throughout the night lead to the headstrong main character, Lavinia Nebbs, loosing her confidence on her journey home. The story resembles a horror film in many respects and is similar to the films that were popular around the time the story was written. A number of false climaxes are included to help build up the suspense and Lavinia imagines pounding music as she runs through the ravine, like that heard in the tense, frightening scenes in horror films.

    And she realised as she ran, as she ran in panic and terror, that some part of her mind was dramatising, borrowing from the turbulent score of some private film’. These similarities to horror films make the reader relate the story to successful horror films that they have seen and so experience the fear that they felt when watching the films. The first noticeable difference between ‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ is that the stories are written in a different person. ‘The Red Room’ is written in first person past tense.

    This immediately implies that the narrator can not die in the story for he must be alive to be able to retell it. It lulls the reader into a false sense of security as they know that the events in the story can not be so horrific that the main character is killed. In comparison ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ is written in third person past and this does not leave the reader with any idea of what to expect of the forthcoming story. H. G. Wells has written ‘The Red Room’ in first person as it encourages the reader to empathise with the central character.

    The reader hears the thoughts of the narrator and the continual use of ‘I’ and ‘Me’ – ‘My hands trembled so much that twice I missed the rough paper of the match box’ – forces the reader to put themselves in the position of this central character. Thus, the reader reads the story as if they themselves are the central character, and so empathise with the fears and uncertainties of them. The Whole Town Sleeping’ has been written in third person and the reader feels more like an audience watching the events of a film unfold than a participant in the story.

    However, towards the end of the story in the scenes where Lavinia, and the reader, are meant to feel most afraid, there is a shift in the person that the story is written in. Ray Bradbury uses a mixture of first, second and third person to make the reader understand how Lavinia is feeling. ‘He’s following. Don’t turn. Don’t look. If you see him you’ll not be able to move’. As in ‘The Red Room’, the reader of ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ hears the thoughts of Lavinia when she is at her most scared and this allows reader an insight into Lavinia’s brain and thought processes making the reader empathise with her fears and uncertainties.

    Wells is very vague about the history behind ‘The Red Room’. The reader has to wait until they are a substantial way through the story before they learn anything, and even when they do, it is limited. The most important and suggestive sentence is ‘Here it was, thought I, that my predecessor was found’. The use of the word ‘Predecessor’ shows that someone has previously attempted to prove, as the central character attempts to do, that the ‘haunted’ room is, in fact, not haunted. The use of the word ‘found’ suggests that his predecessor was not successful and died in the process.

    This important sentence is an insight into what the central character is thinking but more importantly worrying about. The concern will be passed on to the reader who will feel apprehensive for the central character and fearful about the forthcoming vigil. It will not only make the reader empathise with the narrator, but feel afraid themselves. Similarly, little history and background information is given in ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’. The only real mention of the past is within the first few pages, when the reader learns about ‘The Lonely One’; ‘Hattie McDollis was killed a month ago.

    And Roberta Fellis the one before. And now Eliza Ramsell has disappeared. ‘ Death and pain are incredible sources of fear and there is good reason for people to be fearful of a killer, who causes both. The knowledge of a killer will make the reader fearful for Lavinia and they will be able to understand any fears and uncertainties Lavinia might be feeling. The vague background and minimal amounts of information about the past in both stories are one of many factors that increase the feeling of uncertainty in the audience.

    The feeling of isolation is one of the key similarities between ‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’. Both writers have played on the fact that the majority of people are afraid of being alone. It means that there is no one there to offer assistance should something undesirable happen and it leaves fears to grow of there own accord with nobody to dismiss them. ‘The Red Room’ is set in an old deserted castle with only three old, practically immobile residents in the building. Wells makes a point of showing how secluded ‘The Red Room’ is, and what a distance there is between the room and the occupied area of the castle.

    One of the old people gives the narrator directions; ‘until you come to a door, and through that is a spiral stair case, and half way up is a landing and another door covered with baize. Go through that’ and so on. The reader will empathise with the fears felt by the central character as they too are likely to be fearful of isolation. The old people’s immobility emphasises how vulnerable the narrator is in the ‘haunted room’ as there is no one around who would physically be able to help him, or close enough to know that he was in trouble should he come into any difficulty. This is also true for the setting of ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’.

    The small town where the story is situated is described as being ‘deep, far away from everything’ and further on in the story ’empty, emptier than it had ever been before’. At one point in the story Helen says ‘We’re practically the only walking people out in the open for a thousand miles, I bet’. Bradbury uses these to description to show just how vulnerable the characters are. The town is described as if it is almost deserted and this emphasises to the reader how easy it would be for the women to be attacked and how unlikely it would be foe anyone to notice or come to their assistance.

    This method is used in both stories to help the reader empathise with fears of the central characters as it heightens the feeling of being alone, which the reader will relate to and therefore understand, as well as increasing the reader’s concern for the characters’ safety. In both stories there is a specific feared place where each of the central character’s fears are externalised. The ravine in ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ is a focal point for all that there is to be afraid of in the town as is the ‘haunted’ room in ‘The Red Room’.

    The Ravine is where Francine and Lavinia discover Eliza’s body and so it is automatically considered to be a dangerous place. Bradbury describes the ravine in ways that induce negative images in the reader’s mind. For example ‘cuts the town in two’ makes the reader associate the ravine with the idea of violence. It creates the image of a knife which reminds the reader that there is a killer loose and forces the reader associate the killer with the ravine. Lavinia only looses her sceptical, self-confident self and becomes afraid when she actually enters the ravine.

    Her fears are externalised by the ravine and what is going on in the ravine often reflects her inner thoughts. In one of the tensest moments in the ravine Lavinia whispers to ‘the black crickets, the dark green frogs and the black stream’; the darkness of these creatures represents the feeling of fear Lavinia is experiencing. The reader has been forced to associate the ravine with negative images, death and fear, throughout the whole of the story so when Lavinia finally reaches it, they empathise with Lavinia’s fears and uncertainties, and feel many emotions similar to those that she experiences.

    The reader has been shown how terrifying it would be to walk through a dark ravine when there is a killer on the loose and so they are considerably nervous for Lavinia when she reaches the Ravine. Like the ravine, the ‘haunted’ room in ‘The Red Room’ is one of the only places where the main character’s fears are apparent. The limited amount of history given in the story all focuses on the negative past of ‘The Red Room’. There are images of the ‘predecessor’s’ death where he is described to have ‘fallen headlong down the steps’.

    The description of the circumstances surrounding the young duke’s death leaves the possibility of there being something haunted in ‘The Red Room’ open to the interpretation of the reader. The narrator of the story says ‘never, I thought, had apoplexy better served the ends of superstition. ‘ A heart attack does not indicate that the cause of duke’s death was necessarily due to something unusual within the room, but it does not cancel out the possibility that it was the result of an enormous shock from the presence of something unknown in the room.

    Either way, as with Eliza’s death in the ravine in ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’, there has been a death in the Red Room which makes the reader empathise with the narrator’s fear of it. The narrator is attempting to do exactly the same thing as the duke, and the similarity between the two people’s circumstances demonstrates to the reader the risk that the narrator puts himself under and the high chance that something will happen to him. The fact that the narrator says this just before he enters the room shows his concern for his own safety.

    Given the narrators own view of his situation helps the reader understand how he is feeling, and if the reader has felt they have related to this central character, they will understand the fears and they may become fearful themselves. In ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’, the characters other than the central character help to increase the reader’s fear of the ‘specific feared place’. From the beginning of ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ the ravine is portrayed as an awful, threatening place by Francine, one of Lavinia’s companions; ‘”And it won’t be me”, said Francine, “coming back through this terrible dark ravine tonight”‘.

    Bradbury makes sure his reader understands that the ravine is meant to be a ‘frightening place’ by presenting Francine’s blatant fear of it clearly to the reader. Francine’s reasons for being fearful of the ravine are also clear. She describes the ‘shadows’ in the ravine and the ‘black’, ‘terrible’ place that it is. The obvious fear throughout the story of this isolated location will help the reader understand Lavinia’s fears when she reaches the ravine. Similarly, in ‘The Red Room’, the people in contact with the narrator at the start of the story help to increase the reader’s fear of the ‘Red Room’.

    The old man who is present at the very beginning of the story repeats the same phrase ‘It’s your own choosing’ four times to the narrator of the story. This phrase is very suggestive. It’s almost as if the man is saying; it’s your choice whether you go to that room, but you will be choosing to be thoroughly stupid if you do. The age of the old man indicates he is experienced, and therefore ‘wise’. The wisdom of this old man will lead the reader to have faith in what he is saying and so his apprehension about the room will lead to the reader having a fear of the ‘Red Room’ almost immediately.

    H. G. Wells and Ray Bradbury both include a journey to the specific feared place in their stories to help build up a feeling of tension and anticipation in the reader. In ‘The Red Room’, the journey is the narrator’s walk to the ‘haunted’ room. The intense descriptions of the ‘spooky’ gothic setting and the shadows that followed him as he walked; ‘my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver’, force the reader to feel the tension building up inside the narrator. The use of the words ‘cower’ and ‘quiver’ describing the shadows represent the actions that the narrator felt inclined to do.

    Both are actions that you would experience if you were incredibly frightened, and these increase the atmosphere of suspense, as the reader anticipates the room that has had such a build up. Bradbury uses alliteration to help build up the journey to the ‘Red Room’. He describes the ‘spiral staircase’, and a ‘shadow the came sweeping’. The repetition of the letter ‘s’ echoes the sound of the rustling described further on in the passage and helps the reader create an image of the setting.

    This forces the reader to put themselves in the position of the narrator and so helps them empathise with his fears. There is one, very small false climax during the journey that forces an increase in the pace of the writing, as well as heightening the feeling of suspense. ‘With my hand in the pocket that held my revolver, I advanced, only to discover a Ganymede and Eagle glistening in the moonlight. ‘ The key mention of the revolver carried by the narrator shows to the reader just how much danger the narrator feels he may be in.

    The image of him ‘advancing’ creates a feeling of a battle or war, which in turn indicates blood shed, something that will intensify the anticipation in the reader ever further. The Journey in ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ can be interpreted to begin from a number of different places. It can be seen that the journey starts when the three women leave the cinema, but it is also possible that the whole story is the journey that builds up to the point where Lavinia reaches the ravine.

    Unlike ‘The Red Room’, there are many false climaxes throughout ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ that play with the reader’s emotions, making them feel the suspense and fear of the shock, and the decreasing the intensity of the emotion almost immediately. For example there is the false climax with the children playing ‘the Lonely One’ in the ravine, there’s the discovery of Eliza’s body, Tom Dillon jumping out of the bushes, and the incident in the cinema where Helen fears the ‘Lonely One’ has followed them in; ‘Helen turned slowly and glanced back.

    I’m calling the manager! ‘ she cried’, amongst others. Bradbury forces the reader onto an emotional rollercoaster, which builds up the anticipation of the final and ultimate climax at the very end. It will make the reader increasingly jumpy and this build up of fear within the reader increases their feeling of empathy with Lavinia as they are feeling a similar emotion to the central character. Darkness plays a key role in both ‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’.

    The darkness in the ‘Red Room’ is described as an ‘Ocean of mystery and suggestion’ when the narrator first enters the room and the candle is described as ‘a little tongue of light’ that ‘failed to pierce the opposite end of the room’. The Light is representative of safety in this story. Where there is light, vision is not obscured and you can be fairly certain that everything you see is there. A clear image of your surroundings is processed so that you are aware of the presence of anything ‘unusual’.

    In contrast, in the dark the imagination is left to run wild and to create its own images of what is surrounding you. The dark provides a cover for anything ‘unusual’ to hide behind and represents uncertainties; in the dark you become vulnerable. Making the reader realise the central character’s vulnerability is one of the key ways in which both Bradbury and Wells gets the reader to empathise with the fears of the central character. The boundaries separating fear and darkness in ‘The Red Room’ often become extremely hazy and almost merge into one thing.

    The narrator says things such as ‘darkness closed upon me like the shutting of an eye’ and ‘I was now almost frantic with the horror of the coming darkness’. As the pace of the story increases and the candles in the ‘Red Room’ are extinguished the narrator becomes more and more fearful and it seems ever increasingly to be of the darkness as opposed to anything else. The reader realises the characters vulnerability in the darkness and are likely to empathise with the narrators fear because they have experienced or been associated with unpleasant things that have happened in the dark.

    Images of the dark are used frequently to describe the ravine; ‘The ravine was deep, deep and black, black. ‘ Both of the feared places are personified in relation to the darkness. In ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ when Lavinia is entering the ravine on her own at the dead of night Bradbury writes ‘Only the ravine existed and lived, black and huge about her. ‘ The narrator of ‘The Red Room’ describes the ‘germinating darkness’ in the ‘haunted’ room as if it too is living.

    The reader will relate to the fear of the dark that is felt by the central characters and these descriptions of the dark as a living thing will also scare the readers so that they worry for the safety of the main characters. Uncertainty is one of the main methods used by Wells and Bradbury to create something the central characters are fearful of, and the dark is a fine example of this. In ‘The Red Room’ the narrator is fearful of the ‘haunted’ room because there is something unknown, something unidentified within it. He is scared because he does not know what is there.

    Even after the events in ‘The Red Room’, there is no direct explanation. The ending is left very much open to the interpretation of the reader. Fear in ‘The Whole Town Sleeping’ is a little different as it is of something specific, a killer, but still, the identity of this killer is unknown. This makes the story resemble a ‘whodunit’, as the reader knows that there is a killer but the identity of this killer is not known. It becomes almost a ‘whowilldoit’, a guessing game as to who will end up as the ‘Lonely One’, as the reader anticipates that something will

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Fear in Gothic Horror Stories. (2017, Oct 31). Retrieved from

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