Withered Arm Analysis

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Thomas Hardy- The withered arm and other Wessex tales

“How does Thomas hardy portray the role of female characters in at least two of his stories?”

As a child, Thomas Hardy was told tales and traditions by –not only his father- but his mother and grandmother. He has a lot of female family members around him. Many of hardy’s stories are loosely based on his own life and experiences.

‘The withered arm’ is ‘full of memories of Hardy’s youth’ and includes some of his experiences. Thomas Hardy once told an ‘admirer’ that ‘The son’s veto’ was his ‘best short story’. This is most probable because it is a story which shows strong feeling against class distinction, prejudice and snobbery. This is why I’ll be choosing these two stories out of Hardy’s vast collection to analyze the way Hardy portrays his female characters.

‘The withered arm’ contains witchcraft (superstition and such things were common in Hardy’s time) and shows women are being prejudiced against. It also gives readers a glimpse of how strict the class system was.

Hardy was brought up in a very strict social class system. You could not improve your status unless people of different social statuses got married…which was highly unlikely. Hardy’s hatred towards this class system however, is shown far more in ‘The sons veto’. In that story, the class system is criticized because it causes people to do things according to their desires.

All women in these stories are the way they are because of their society. The male characters of the story are essential to how the women are influenced.

In ‘the withered arm’ the female character, Rhoda, is first physically described as having a ‘tisty tosty little body’. She was a ‘lorn milkmaid’. She is described to look older than her age. Already, we have begun to get this image of an old –even frail- lady who has overworked. She is a woman who has clearly gone through a lot and has even been isolated along with her illegitimate son by her society...
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