Arthur’s Transformation Feedback

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People, pretty poor effort on the homework front. Three failed to hand in their work (after school detentions coming your way this week) and frankly the majority of essays that were handed in were seriously disappointing!  Some of you didn’t make any reference to language and structure (AO2), very few made reference to the ghost story genre (form – AO2) and some folk felt two paragraphs was ample. Most importantly you did not listen to my feedback from past The Woman in Black essays. This is not on!

I have kindly produced a model answer for this question. Read it, read it again and take note – there are certain language and structure features you can mention in every question. There is very little point in marking your work if you are not prepared to take my comments on board.

How does Hill present the transformation of Arthur throughout The Woman in Black?

Hill’s 1983 The Woman in Black brings the ghost story genre back to life. Similar to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Hill presents a central protagonist whose transformation makes the reader question the sanity and also stability of the character, Arthur Kipps, who sees the woman in black. Hill deliberately incorporates the Victorian style of ghost story writing, analysing the emotions of the narrator yet offering a modern day psychological perspective. Hill alludes to numerous ghost stories from the reference to Hamlet in Chapter 1 to the naming of Chapter 10 – Whistle and I’ll Come to You. Similar to Arthur Kipps – Parkins in M. R. James’ Oh Whistle… shows the transformation of a young man who is against the existence of the paranormal but who is forced to change his views.

Arthur Kipps is the main character and narrator of The Woman in Black. Hill’s use of first person allows the reader to be sympathetic towards Arthur and share his fear. In the first and last chapters we see him as a man approaching old age – approximately aged 49. In the first chapter Kipps is shaken by his step sons’ ghost stories as they renew his ‘close acquaintance …with mortal dread and terror of spirit’ (pg 9-10) – an opening chapter that foreshadows the plot through the use of the framed narrative. In the final chapter Arthur is completely exhausted due his difficulty in telling his terrifying experiences at Eel Marsh House – emphasised with the last word of the novel ‘Enough’. He intends that the whole world will know his ‘past horrors’ when his wife reads his tale after his death.  Hill’s use of the name ‘Arthur’ is significant. Connections can be made to King Arthur who was a quest against evil but also ‘Kipps’ is the name of a character in an HG Wells’ novel whose life is transformed for the worse by a massive inheritance.

In the first half of the text, the youthful Arthur Kipps is a privileged, well-educated, ambitious, adventurous, impatient, arrogant, brave and foolhardy, qualities that lead him to ignore Samuel Daily’s advice and return to Eel Marsh House. He is arrogant as he confesses to having a ‘Londoner’s sense of superiority in those days’ (pg 45). The first time he sees the woman in black at Alice Drablow’s funeral (Chapter 4) he feels sympathetic towards her and was concerned for her welfare ‘skin stretched over her bones’ (pg 56). He is so rooted in the affairs of the material world that he fails to recognise the ghostly nature. Through Hill’s vivid macabre imagery, the reader cannot fail to see the truth about the woman ‘who was perhaps only a short time away from her own death, should drag herself to the funeral of another.’ The reference to her ‘own death’ foreshadows the later events in the text.

Hill presents Arthur as rapidly developing an awareness of the supernatural, a key theme in all ghost stories. It is later on in the same day, in Chapter 5 when the second encounter with the woman in black fills him ‘with fear, his flesh creeps and his knees tremble’ (pg 75). Arthur Kipps’ character is realistic and well-rounded; he reacts to the shocking events in a human way therefore allowing the reader to identify with the character. However he still has innocence with regards the force of evil as created through the statement ‘and I doubt if the woman in black can have any animosity towards me.’ The reader could question Arthur’s reliability as a narrator. Hill presents Kipps as having an awareness of the ghostly presence yet still demonstrates an arrogance towards his own safety. Inconsistencies within the narrative also seem to lead to questions of Arthur’s reliability. The initial pretense that Hill has him adopt, that he does not want to tell a story, and the pain that it will bring him, is rapidly contrasted by the relish he takes in story-writing, as if the power and control he has over his characters somehow spurs him on. The lack of reference to time or place gives the reader an uneasy feeling of not knowing what is happening, perhaps due to Hill wanting to shroud Arthur’s narrative in mystery, or perhaps, even more chillingly, the details are sketchy because Arthur’s psychopathy have led him to fabricate this whole story to cover up his guilt.

Hill’s use of contrast becomes powerfully evident towards the end of the book. The previously energetic and emotionally strong Arthur becomes ill with ‘aching, the tiredness, the fever but the mental turmoil.’ His health transforms but also his sense of ‘superiority’ as he begins to consider the ‘extraordinary generosity of Keckwick’. Through the use of the framed narrative Hill presents Arthur as needing approximately twelve years to recover the tragic events, of the death of Stella and his baby, when he buys Monk’s piece and moves in with his second wife Esme. Arthur uses the opportunity to escape the haunting and ‘banish an old ghost that continues its hauntings…’. One interpretation of the ending of the text is that the retelling of the story has a draining effect on Arthur ‘enough’. Alternatively the ending could be interpreted as positive with the storytelling being seen as an exorcism of the ghostly presence. 

Hill’s use typical conventions of the Victorian ghost story to show the change of the central protagonist throughout the text. Hill’s use of the first person framed narrative, use of macabre imagery, the theme of supernatural and the unreliability of Arthur’s state of mind to create a modern ghost story mimicking the style of MR James and Henry James.

Students who were absent on Thursday – please hand your homework in on Monday. Those who didn’t hand in it – you will feel my wrath tomorrow!

Miss O

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