Thomas Hardy, the author of ‘The Withered Arm’ is probably one of the most effective and to the point authors of his time. Every single person, every single place and every single object in the book has a point. Whether it is an obvious point, or a more cloaked and ambiguous point. Therefore person, place and object create a very effective example of the scenic code in this particular story by Hardy. The Withered Arm starts off in a simple and stable and somewhat controlled environment, however when Hardy throws in the bitter emotions of a betrayed lover and he super natural, the story becomes a lot more complex. One will also notice, even if the story is read only briefly, that Hardy, concentrates on two of the characters, despite there being several of importance in the story. They are Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge, the ex mistress and his present wife.
Rhoda and Gertrude are complete opposites as Hardy describes them. Gertrude being described as ” rosy-cheeked, tisty – tosty little body enough” This quote is taken from the opening chapter, when the dairy people are gossiping about Farmer Lodge returning with is new wife, Gertrude. Whereas Rhoda who is described soon afterwards by the milkmaids, as they glance over towards.. ” where a thin fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest.. ” This is our first insight on Rhoda. she has been described as fading, as though she is gradually becoming nothing. ust the fact that people are gossiping about this indicates that Farmer Lodge is a very material man, who is proud of his pretty young wife, for just those reasons. Perhaps he abandoned Rhoda when she began to age, and become less attractive?
When Rhoda goes back to her house she is thinking only of Farmer Lodges new wife. As she thinks, she is playing with the fire when .. “The radiance lit her pale cheeks” Rhoda” face becomes red. The colour red is the indication of danger. The way Hardy transforms her pale skin to what we can imagine as a brilliant red is a warning sign that Rhoda is a danger to someone. One can, I think safely assume that since she has just been thinking about Gertrude. It will be Gertrude who she is a danger to. At this stage in the story we do not know her name ,yet one can gather that she is an important character in his story. Which is already, on the first pages looking like a complicated love triangle. Rhodas’ son is one of the main charters yet Hardy seems to make him just blend into the backround.
He plays apparently a minor role in the book, for example he is never called by a name, Hardy refers to him as speck, boy, corpse and several other similar labels. The name speck is also used at the end of the story when the man is to be hung, this gives us a clue of the identity of who is in fact to be hung. Yet the link with this boy proves a critical lement of the tale when he brings all the characters together by his death. His death by execution, is an execution which proves to not be the expected climax to the book. Rather, the climax is the scene after the execution where Gertrude touches thecorpse, and the subsequent violent verbal attack by her husband and Rhoda causes her to fall unconscious and eventually, to die. Davies is the executioner , however in his spare time he likes to garden. This man obviously likes power, to be able to control life and death. Taking human life and yet creating plant life.
Davies is therefore a contradiction between life and death. In a similar way that Rhoda and Gertrude become contradictions in the way that they compete for Farmer Lodges affections. “shading a candle with one hand” Davies was holding back the light form Gertrude, casting her into darkness. As I mentioned before Hardy only says things if it has relevance, so why start the book in a dairy? I think that Hardy choose to set this encounter in a dairy because a dairy is where a cow is milked of its life force, milk. Without milk the new-born calf would go hungry, wither away and die.
This could be seen as a proleptic of what is to come in the story. The cows are the first thing mentioned in the story. Hardy, says ” and the cows were ‘in full pail’. ” this term can be seen in two different ways. It can just be seen as that the dairy is doing well because the cows are producing a lot of milk. However we can sense that Hardy does not just write things in a literal sense, each sentence has a profound meaning. In this case I think that Hardy choose to included this because of its connotations, for example milk is white, white as a colour is often associated with purity.
Therefore I took this to be a further pre elliptic example of what”s to come. Gertrude Lodges’ pureness being milked away. Another example of this transformation of the characters occurs when Gertrude reaches the White Hart pub ” When it was almost dusk,Gertrude reached the White Hart” . Gertrude was originally a young and beautiful lady , but not only that she was also caring and charitable However gradually as her beauty has declines so has her kindness. This simple quote taken from the book displays this.
The whiteness which can be taken to ean purity and the hart which one can gather to be like a human heart , so the pure heart is gradually becoming more and more shaded as darkness settles in until finally there will be no light and the pure heart will appear to have gone. This description can be linked to the changes happening in Gertrude. Hardy also uses mathematical terms to make us feel that the world Hardy is building up in the story is sturdy and secure. “The hour was about six in the evening, and three-fourths of the large red, rectangular cows… ” This type of narrative gives substance to a world of physical stability.
Hardy later describes “A handsome new gig with a lemon coloured body and red wheels” This is of course some kind of of carriage, seemingly quite unimportant, however one can actually learn a lot from this brief description. These two adjectives,red and lemon can be deciphered as red, a warning colour and lemon a bitter fruit. This is our first description of Farmer Lodge and Gertrude, his new wife. From just these two, seemingly harmless colours one can gather already that”s this is going to be an unhappy story. Lemon tells us that there is bitterness.
Rhoda” love for Farmer lodge has obviously turned our, and she has directed her bitterness toward her successor, and the red is a warning that things are going to go terribly wrong for Gertrude and her husband. I have used a number of examples which clearly demonstrate Hardys great skill in developing his characters and using his descriptive writing of objects and places to provide links and prolepticc clues on how the story is going to develop. I therefore conclude that the scenic code is very effective in analysing the withered arm, and by looking at the scenic code we are able to closely examine and debate over the true meaning of this book.