Show how HG Wells and Robert Bloch Create fear in ‘The Red room’ and ‘Hobo’
During this coursework, I will be studying and comparing two short stories in order to see how fear is created in the writing of different authors. The two short stories I will be using for this essay are ‘Hobo’ and ‘The Red room’. Robert Bloch wrote ‘Hobo’ at the start of the 20th century and its setting is in America. During this time, the country was in the grips of a depression and many people were unemployed, living as tramps (or in American terms Hobos). ‘The Red room’ is also a Non-modern story but H. G Wells wrote it earlier on, at the end of the 19th century.
Both stories build up fear using descriptive writing and characterisation but use these techniques in varying ways. The setting of a story can be one of the most important ways in which an author can start to create and express fear. ‘Hobo’s setting is on a freight train, which is moving away from an American town. It is set in the half darkness of evening and throughout the story, it gets darker. This darkness sets the readers mind on the unknown and since the unknown is scary for everyone, this is a crucial element in creating fear within the setting.
Robert Bloch describes the fact it is getting darker as a ‘deepening twilight’. The boxcar on the freight in which the story is set is musty and enclosed (A very uncomfortable place to spend any time). From where he sits Hannigan can look out of the open box car door and see the city flash by like a chain of lights ‘A solid neon chain’. The time of year is probably summer, you can see this in the sentence ‘Feeling the perspiration trickle down under the folds of the dirty jacket’; he is sweating so it is likely to be hot.
The description of the scene really helps the reader to create a mental image of the setting and helps them to imagine just how enclosed, claustrophobic and stifling the boxcar would be, also how alone they themselves would feel in such a place. They think of themselves being there, and so compare themselves to the main character, Hannigan and imagine his feelings. The Readers ability to imagine how a character feels, and feel empathy towards them is the most important factor in creating fear, if they cant do this then it is unlikely that they will be frightened at all by the story.
In contrast, ‘The Red Room’s setting is in the 19th century in a presumably English castle called Lorraine castle. In this story, the main character moves around rather than staying in one place like in ‘Hobo’. The story starts in the castle housekeepers’ room, which is dark toned and old, fashioned for the period. This gives this part of the story a dreary, old feel, which suits the old servants who care for the castle to whom the main character talks to at this point of the story.
The narrator (also the main character) says that this room and the three servants within it had a strong affect on him because ‘they seemed to belong to a different age’ one where witches and ghosts were believable. Being from a different, younger era, where the supernatural is starting to be doubted, he finds being in that situation weird and un-natural. After being in the housekeepers room the story moves through corridors, which are dark and therefore have a creepy kind of feel. Some descriptions of them are ‘Draughty and subterranean’ and ‘Chilly and dusty’.
The last corridor he passes through contains some bronze figures that cast eerie shadows in the moonlight and startle him at first because the shadows look like someone crouching ready to attack him. This perhaps insignificant detail helps to add atmosphere to the story. As the title suggests the most important setting of the story is that of the red room. The red room is thought to be haunted, it is painted red and black, both very symbolic colours of blood and death, it is as the author puts it ‘a very sombre room’.
It has many shadowy alcoves and window bays, which make the room, seem even gloomier and more sombre. The room has sconces in which to put candles and a fireplace, which the housekeeper laid ready for lighting. The room is perfectly still and the only noises come from the crackling fire and the echoing on the stair. The main character of a story is the character you ‘get to know’ most, so what they feel and their emotions can affect the way you feel.
This is very useful when a writer needs to create fear because they can do it through the main character’s actions, feelings and their overall personality. Hannigan, the main character in ‘Hobo’ is a hobo (a tramp); he is a poor man, dirty and unshaven with old dirty clothes. Hannigan likes to drink what he calls ‘sneaky Pete’ (alcohol of some kind, perhaps whisky); consequently, he is drunk in the story. The fact he is drunk may account for how he manages to badly scrape his knee getting on to the train and also why he doesn’t realise that his companion is dead sooner.
Hannigan is scared but when he thinks that, another Hobo is in the boxcar with him he relaxes and shows more of his personality. Hannigan uses a lot of American slang so he probably is not very well educated. The reader knows quite a lot about Hannigan so they can work out why he thinks, does or feels certain things. When the reader understands characters feelings, they affect them more than, if the author had told them barely anything about a character. Hannigan feels scared of the tramp murderer who he calls ‘the knife’ which is why he has ‘gone on the lam’, (on the run).
When Robert Bloch shows Hannigan’s feelings, he creates a bond between character and reader. This bond provokes the reader to feel (to a degree) like Hannigan does about ‘the knife’, his surroundings and his companion. The main character of ‘The Red Room’ is very different from Hannigan. He is a relatively young man of 28 years old, from the middle/upper classes. He is arrogant, self assured and inquisitive. You do not find out the name of the main character since he is also the narrator (H. G Wells wrote the story in the first person tense).
With a main character like the one in this story, you expect the story to be exciting; the author can use this expectation to create writing which easily creates suspense for the reader as they wait for the stories’ climax. You can tell that H. G Wells intends this character to be well educated from the way he uses more advanced language compared to that which he uses for the other characters who are all servants. Some examples of his well-developed language skills are the phrases, ‘systematic examination’ (a thorough search) ‘tangible’ (genuine, real) and ‘atavistic’ (primitive).
This character acts superior to the servants who are of a different, lower class. He finds the fact that they are old even more of a reason for him to be superior; the idea of old age he really does not like and says that ‘the human qualities seem to drop from the old insensibly day by day’, he thinks they are less than human. Nevertheless, by the end of the story, he learnt his lesson, that he should have respected the old servants, because they were wiser and knew more about ‘The Red Room’ than he did. Because of his narrow-mindedness, he learnt the lesson the hard way.
Smaller characters can be just as important as the main one when it comes to affecting the way readers feel. There are only two characters other than Hannigan in ‘Hobo’, one of whom is another tramp. This other tramp is described as being, short and squat with a balding ‘bullet head’, his clothes, like those that Hannigan has are soiled and wrinkled. This tramp is actually dead, lying slumped against the wall of the boxcar right from the start of the story (Hannigan does not know this). One reason Hannigan does not notice this may be because he is drunk, having ‘drunk up his stake’ (spent all his money on drink).
Another more obvious reason is that it is constantly getting darker throughout the story making it difficult for even a sober person to see anything. When Hannigan thinks he is sitting talking to someone like him he relaxes. This is because the other tramp, in Hannigan’s logic could not be the Hobo-killing ‘Knife’ because he is a hobo himself. With this fact in mind, Hannigan talks to the tramp and seems for a while to get a response but this is only because the train jolts the body. The other character, though he is never seen or physical described, is the key element of fear in this story.
The other character is ‘The knife’. Hannigan is on the run from him because he is a tramp and ‘the knife’ has a reputation for killing tramps. ‘The knife’ got his nickname from his choice of weapon for his tramp murders; he always uses a knife. The story of this murderer is very big in the papers since he has killed many people before; this has encouraged many hobos like Hannigan to go on the run. ‘The knife’, to Hannigan is the fear above all fears so when at the end he sees the dead man and feels breath on his neck he is petrified because he knows that it is ‘the knife’ and knows what his fate will be.
The other characters in ‘The Red Room’ are all servants at Lorraine castle. There are three of them, two old men and an old woman; they appear at the beginning and end of the story. The old woman is the housekeeper of Lorraine castle, during the first section she seems unfriendly and she only speaking three times. The first time she speaks it is to explain that he still has a lot to see in his youth and that the castle is very different from anything he has ever seen.
The other times she speaks are just to say ‘This night of all nights! the housekeeper seems slightly crazy in the way she repeats this but this seems to be mainly because she is scared. Though she seems solitary and uncaring, she lays the fire ready for the young man showing that she actually does care. At the end of the story, the old housekeeper acts normally and seems inquisitive to know about the ghost, maybe to dispel her fear. The first of the male servants is ‘the man with the withered arm’. Other than the fact that he has a withered arm, we know nothing about his physical appearance.
This servant seems to talk the most, trying always to dissuade the young man from going to the red room . As a reader I also get the feeling that he does not want to be held responsible for any strange event that happens in the room; he keeps reminding the young man ‘it is your own choosing’. At the end of the story, he has lost any hostility towards the young man and, as the author puts it speaks ‘as one who grieves for a broken friend’. This I think is because the young man is now willing to accept that the old people were right all along about the Red Room and to show them respect.
H. G Wells does not depict the housekeeper or the man with the withered arm in much detail physically, unlike the last servant to enter. The ‘man with the shade’ is how the author describes this servant and he is the one character in the whole story whose appearance is described in any kind of detail. H. G Wells describes him in a way that makes him sound slightly grotesque, since this is how the young man would think of him; ‘his lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink from his decaying yellow teeth.
The man with the shade has a problem with his leg so uses a crutch. Since he wears a shade over his eyes, I presume he has a problem with them. This explains why, when the young man sees them they are ‘Bright and inflamed’, he also mentions that they are red. The servant is described as looking older than they are, having more wrinkles than they do, and being more bent than they are, he seems to have a respiratory problem and is constantly coughing and spluttering. The man with the shade is used to show the reader the relationships between the characters in the group.
For example, it is obvious that the man with the withered arm dislikes him from the look he gives him as he enters. The woman just ignores his entrance and stares into the fire, perhaps showing dislike. The man with the shade does not speak, but glances around during the conversation. It is uncomfortable for the young man to be in the room with the three of them because of their ‘gaunt silences’ (unnecessary silences) and ‘their evident unfriendliness’ towards him and each other. Robert Bloch uses a variety of techniques to generate fear in his writing.
He uses the sentencing of ‘Hobo’ for creating fear. For example, he uses longer sentences that are more informative when the Hannigan is not scared and is relaxed and shorter, snappier sentences when Hannigan is scared or tense. Robert Bloch uses these shorter sentences to create fear and suspense by encouraging the reader to read quicker when the character is thinking quicker, therefore encouraging them to think and feel in the same way that the character is thinking and feeling. Italic writing is used on two parts of the story.
Firstly, he uses the font to make an exclamation that Hannigan makes more important. It focuses the readers thought on that remark. The remark is ‘But he can’t be. I heard him breathing! ‘ . This remark is made when Hannigan finds out that his fellow tramp is dead. The attention of the reader is caught by this and they are already thinking forward and asking themselves ‘who is breathing? ‘ this increases their fear because they can guess that it is ‘the Knife’ who is breathing. The author uses the font for the second time on just one word, which is ‘feel’.
I think Robert Bloch uses italic writing here because up until then Hannigan has only been able to hear breathing; he could have made a mistake, heard something else and thought it was breathing. Feeling the breath is significant because it makes it all real; he knows for sure someone is there, someone who has been there right from the start watching him. This is a frightening situation and the italic font is a way of the author showing the significance of actually feeling the breath to the reader.
The simple fact that it could be possible to sit in a place for a considerable amount of time and firstly, not realise that you were only meters away from a dead body and secondly that you could go without noticing a heavy breathing knife murderer, ready to kill you, are both thought provoking and frightening realisations. The way that Hannigan reacts to ‘The Knife’ is another way Robert Bloch creates fear. Hannigan describes him as a ‘loony’ and every time that he thinks about him he twitches or shivers involuntarily, as though he cannot bear even thinking about him he is so scared.
Thoughts of a maniac out to kill people like you are enough to make any one scared. When the readers put themselves in Hannigan’s place Robert Bloch intends them to feel some of this fear. H. G Wells creates fear in ‘The Red Room’ by using different techniques from those, used by Robert Bloch in ‘Hobo’. You can see that the length of this story is very different from that of ‘Hobo’, this is mainly because the author, to make the story more interesting and frightening for the reader, uses description frequently.
In one part of the story, the author spends a long time describing the red room and though this seems unnecessary the first time you read it, it does help to get the setting fixed in the readers mind before carrying on with the plot. It also helps them to understand why the young man is afraid in such a place. H. G Wells’ idea of having candles going out is a very good one, darkness is many peoples’ fear, when you are in the dark everything is unknown and can be frightening.
The young man lights candles to dismiss his fear of what lies within the red room, they are a comfort to him. When the candles start to be stubbed out his sense of safety and comfort starts to be overshadowed by his fear, he slowly becomes more and more frantic, rushing around trying desperately to bring the safety back. Most people know how it feels to be utterly afraid of something so some of these kinds of urgent, frightened feelings transfer to the reader as they remember feeling in this way. H. G.
Wells describes the young man’s feelings, and the way he speaks, precisely, and in a large amount of detail, this makes his feelings and thoughts affect the reader more. For instance he uses the phrase ‘Speaking with a half-hysterical facetiousness’ (inappropriately humorously about serious subjects). This explains exactly how the young man is speaking and helps the reader to understand how he feels; at that point, I think he feels confused and scared. These two stories, though both are from the same genre, are different for various reasons.
The main characters could not be more different in these two stories and this means that the atmospheres of the stories are also very different even though it was each of their authors’ intention for them to be frightening. The settings of the stories are also very different even though they are both intimidating and in many sense both, scary. H. G. Wells’ ‘The Red Room’ is set in a castle, the typical setting for a scary story. Right from the first line: ‘I can assure you it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me’ you know that this story will be one about a young man doing something daring to prove himself.
The element of surprise is lost but the element of suspense is enhanced. This is the complete opposite of ‘Hobo’, since in this story the main character is doing anything but being brave; he is running away. The setting, a Boxcar on a freight train, is enclosed and on reflection, it is quite an ingenious place to set a thriller story. Since few stories have been set in such a place you do not expect a thriller story straight away, this enhances the element of surprise, yet reduces the element of suspense provided when a reader knows roughly what to expect.
Although the authors of both stories have written them successfully, certain elements are more effective than other elements at creating fear. For instance in ‘Hobo’ I found the way that Robert Bloch surprises the reader with the twist at the end very imaginative and clever since he leaves the reader in suspense and perhaps fear, wanting more. But I thought that he could have encouraged the reader to feel a little more suspense and fear by making Hannigan’s descriptions of ‘The knife’ more expressive. I did feel however that the way that he described Hannigan’s reaction to ‘The Knife’ was very successful.
In ‘The Red Room’ there are many successful elements, the choice of setting and the descriptions of Lorraine castle is H. G. Wells’ first, and perhaps most effective, fear creating element, as I previously explained, castles are spooky places and the well written descriptions of the castle are handy in building up tension and fear. As with most stories, there are less successful points. I feel that if H. G. Wells had not written in such precise detail, and instead encouraged the reader to imagine certain things more he could have created more emotion and most importantly, fear.
This said, we are living in a world where people have become de-sensitised to fear, back then, just before and after the beginning of the twentieth century people were much more sensitive to fear in thriller writing and so the writer had to do less to create fear. This reason is also, why I found neither story to be particularly frightening although I did imagine how frightening it would have been for its intended audience and used this thinking to answer the essay question.