To make the content effective and to sustain the attention of the reader, authors of short stories have to pay attention to structure, atmosphere, social background and language, comment in detail on the way your attention is sustained by ‘the Half Brothers’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. During the industrial revolution, short stories became very popular and ‘The Half Brothers’ is an example of a short story. However, it does not always conform to the usual characteristics of a short story. ‘The Half Brothers’ is the story of two half brothers that are alienated from each other after their mother dies. Many years later, the younger brother’s life is saved by his older half brother (Gregory), who dies trying to save his younger brother’s life.
Elizabeth Gaskell uses structure a lot to maintain the reader’s attention. ‘The Half Brothers’ has a very long and detailed background that helps the reader to understand and begin to care about the characters and their lives so far, thus sustaining their attention. This is unusual for a short story as it is traditional for short stories to have no background or scene settings. A further outcome of this detailed background is that Gaskell’s characters are developed. This is important in prolonging the reader’s attention as otherwise the reader would not be interested in the main climax of the story which is when the Gregory dies.
‘The Half Brothers’ has one main climax, when Gregory dies but Gaskell adds four other, smaller climaxes to the story. These are; when Gregory’s dad dies, when Gregory’s sister dies, when Gregory’s mum dies and when William Preston dies at the end. These climaxes are important in maintaining the reader’s attention as the climaxes help to create a sense of impending doom. As the story is set over such a long time span (twenty years), the climaxes are positioned at frequent intervals so that the reader’s attention is maintained throughout the entire story.
The title of this story, ‘The Half brothers’, does not become relevant until the second paragraph where it says: ” and seemed to gaze on us two little half-brothers ” Up until that point, the reader is unsure of the relevance between the title and the story. Gaskell uses this phrase to remind us what the story is actually about and this reinforces the reader’s attention, as it is a sign that the main event of the story is approaching.
Gaskell uses atmosphere to sustain the reader’s attention by making the narrator describe what is taking place and his emotions in detail. This helps to create atmosphere by allowing the reader to imagine that they too are part of the scene. An example of this is the scene on the fells, just before Gregory arrives when the narrator describes his feelings: ” In a pang of agony, caused by such remembrance of my short life I gathered up my strength and called out once more, a long, despairing, wailing cry, to which I had no hope of obtaining any answer, save from the echoes around, dulled as the sound might be by the thickened air.” This sentence creates atmosphere using inventive descriptions, Gaskell creates a intense sensation of hopelessness, which preserves the reader’s attention. The way in which the fells are described creates a frightening, dangerous atmosphere, the personification of the surroundings increases this atmosphere.