The Darkness Out There Character Analysis

Topics: Penelope Lively, Lively Island Pages: 8 (2844 words) Published: October 23, 2012
Analysis of Characterization in "The Darkness Out There
Analysis of Characterization in "The Darkness Out There"

‘The Darkness Out There’ and ‘The Withered Arm’ are both short stories. The characterization techniques they use are contrasting and similar. Each story is from a different time; ‘The Withered Arm’ being 19th century and ‘The Darkness Out There’ being 20th century. Thomas Hardy writes ‘The Withered Arm’ as a 3rd person narrative whereas Penelope Lively uses a mixture between 3rd and 1st person. 

‘The Darkness Out There’ combines the author’s narration with the thoughts and feelings of Sandra, a girl belonging to the Good Neighbors club. She goes to help out an old lady, Mrs. Rutter, with the help of a boy called Kerry. Mrs. Rutter lives in the countryside; next to a wood called Packers End, feared by Sandra. Mrs. Rutter has a secret, that when told, horrifies the children. This sub story is of the German she found and left to die back when she was a girl in the war. Penelope Lively develops Mrs. Rutters character in many ways, with clues early on to her true self. Sandra’s views on the characters change by the end, as well as her whole out look of life as a result. 

One of the ways Mrs. Rutter’s character is portrayed by Penelope Lively is through her environment, both historically and geographically. The house is introduced sending out two different messages. One is that of a quaint homely place. This can be recognized through the descriptions of the china ornaments, “big-eyed flop-eared rabbits and beribboned kittens and flowery milkmaids and a pair of naked chubby children wearing daisy chains”. Firstly, this gives the impression of a cuddly ‘grandmother’ figure, but then the picture is broken with the mention of the “smell of cabbage”. This comment conflicts with the otherwise friendly scene to suggest something is not rite. The house reflects Mrs. Rutter’s character. An example of this is “her eyes investigated, quick as mice”. Later, the house mirrors this comment by the author describing that it “smelt of damp and mouse”. 

Animals and flowers are frequently mentioned in the description of the ornaments and her love of plants, “You should see the wood in spring, with all the bluebells”. This constant reference to nature implies there is a link with Mrs. Rutter, for nature is changeable and not always as it seems. There is also evidence to suggest she is an old lady whose mind is still stuck in the past, such as her collection of “old calendars and pictures torn from magazines”. This could later explain why her memory of the German plane and dying soldier is still vivid as ever. 

The affect of what Mrs. Rutter says and does also reveals sides of her character. She welcomes Kerry and Sandra into her house. But rite at the beginning there is a contrast in description, “a creamy smiling pool of a face in which her eyes snapped and darted” sounds friendly and comforting but subliminally uneasy and then later sinister. 

She’s a very judgmental woman. She sends the boy straight away outside to do the manual work and leaves Sandra the light chores indoors. She makes conversation with the girl, but not with Kerry, thinking he’ll have nothing interesting to say. This is because she doesn’t think much of his ambitions, smiling falsely while he tells her that he wants to work as a car mechanic. She insults him, “well, I expect that’s good steady money if you’d nothing special in mind. Sugar?” then moves on quickly to a gesture of hospitality, trying to conceal the jibe aimed at Kerry. She’s patronizing too, with comments like “You’re a little dress maker, too,” and “Chocky?” She asks Sandra to offer Kerry a chocolate too, but has already forgotten his name “Take them out and see if what’s-‘s-name would like one?” showing his insignificance in her mind. One reason why she does this may be because she has no children of her own, so she goes on stereotypical ideas. She also makes the reader feel uneasy,...
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