In this essay I will be comparing and contrasting the ways in which the authors of ‘The whole town’s sleeping’ and ‘A terribly strange bed’ create a sense of fear in their readers. I will be finding similarities in many different areas of the stories, including, plot, characters and settings. Also I will be finding differences between Bradbury and Collin’s use of language.
‘The whole town’s sleeping’ is based around women in small town strangely being strangled. The people of the town don’t know who the murderer is and he may never be revealed.
In ‘A terribly strange bed’ a man is in a seedy gambling house and is winning all the money. A man drugs his drink and he goes to the bedroom for a nap. The bed starts to move. The man only just escapes.
The plot of the two stories is quite similar in the way that both the main characters put themselves in danger. Lavinia Nebbs the main character is an independent woman and will not rely on anyone,
“If there were any real chance of anything happening to me, I’d stay here with you.”
The author of ‘The whole towns sleeping’ put a sense of fear in the reader by building up the tension. Bradbury shows the main character as feeling safe and then she gradually begins to get scared by feeling insecure in her surroundings.
In ‘A terribly strange bed’ Collins shows a man in a seedy gambling house winning most of the money. He then later gets his drink drugged and he becomes drowsy. He wanders into the houses bedroom and lies down on the bed. All of a sudden he finds that the bed is moving downwards, he begins to panic but cannot move,
“And still my panic-terror seemed to bind me faster and faster”.
Also the plot contrasts as ‘The whole towns sleeping’ has a set plan of a murder a month, so the characters know if they are at risk, but the plan changes when Lavinia has the presence of an unwanted guest at the end,
“Behind her, in the black living room, someone cleared his throat…”
‘A terribly strange bed’ holds no awareness of a near death and so Collins has to build the fear from scratch,
“Good God! The man had pulled his hat down over his brows – No!”
There are no comparisons in the setting apart from the sheer darkness of the stories, but it is plentiful in contrasts. ‘The whole towns sleeping’ is set in a small American town called Illinois. This shows a community working together as they cannot rely on any other as it is alone, but also this portrays safety and solitude. The streets are full and it was a hot summers day. Later on the main character (Lavinia Nebbs) and her friends went to the cinema. When they returned it was dark and streets were empty, they headed home, Lavinia’s house was furthest. The story then unfolds into shape.
‘A terribly strange bed’ is set in a run down gambling house in the suburbs of Paris. The place is full of ‘Blackguards’,
“There is a comic side, more or less appreciable, in all Blackguardism.”
The man then ventures into the bedroom, which is strange but described in minute detail. This creates fear and tension in the readers as it lets their imagination run wild. He notices that he was moving downwards when he realises the picture was rising.
The main characters are similar and have many comparisons. Bradbury’s character, Lavinia Nebbs, was independent but shown as vulnerable as she was a woman, she walks home alone despite her friends telling her otherwise. She is now taking a risk and her fear is shown later because she is isolated,
“The night was listening to her, alone she was, alone.”
Wilkie Collins’s character was the narrator. He is put in danger by ignoring his friend,
“I had rejected his advice (I was to all intents and purpose gambling drunk)”.
He wouldn’t stop winning and was making everyone angry, he was still imperturbable though. This creates fear as his surroundings begin to envy him but he was not aware. He doesn’t see the danger until the bed in the room begins to descend.
In both of the short stories there are other characters. Both have a good friend and a person who is jealous. ‘The whole towns sleeping’ has a woman called Francine and she is continuously crying and this shows us that there must be something to fear. She is always looking out for Lavinia’s sake and doesn’t want her to walk home alone,
“I don’t suppose its any use asking you to stay.”
The story has a practical joker that goes by the name of Tom Dillon. His main part is scaring the women,
“Got you. Hey I’m the lonely one”.
We do not see him anymore in the story, unless he is the man clearing his throat at the end. Also there is a policeman called Officer Kennedy who is supposed to be protecting the town from corruption, but he is not performing his duty. Bradbury does not tell us much about these characters and this creates tension and fear because we do not know what they are capable of.
‘A terribly strange bed’ also holds a friend, who is an old soldier. He is a tall man and is well dressed. He tells the narrator to carry on winning and break the small gambling houses bank,
“Go on boldly, and break the bank”.
Also there is a woman who is irascible and drugs the man’s drink. She was very jealous of him winning all the money.
The genre of the stories contrast. ‘The whole towns sleeping’ is a horror story where the name of the killer (the source of fear) is known from the start and is feared. There is limited information of his whereabouts and who it is. This creates tension, as we know whom to fear. The whole story is about finding him and knowing his name and reason for killing.
‘A terribly strange bed’ is a melodramatic with gothic ideas. It has devious characters, abnormal happenings and a gloomy setting. The police come to the rescue at the end by solving the mystery. The author shows fear to the reader through the narrator being scared by his surroundings,
“I looked up shuddering, helpless, panic stricken.”
‘The whole towns sleeping’ was written around the 1950’s and uses 20th century slang words, i.e.
Bosh is Lavinia’s reply to the fears of others when she is really scared herself. Also words are repeated in a quick and loud manner to create tension in the character and reader,
“Oh, safe at home. Safe, safe and safe at home!”
‘A terribly strange bed’ was written around a 100 years before in the 19th century. As it is set in Paris, many French words are used, which makes it more authentic to the reader,
“Rouge et noir” and “Sacre mille bombes!”
There are many hyphenated words when the story begins to speed up with fear. The men slowly begin to interrupt each other; this shows that they are slowly beginning to get drunk,
“I felt more completely intoxicated than ever”.
Later we share the narrators fear when he enters the room and cannot move when the bed lowers.
In ‘The whole towns sleeping’ there is some irony in the sense that the woman is not safe in her own home,
“she put her hand out to the light switch and stopped. ‘What?’ she asked. ‘ what? What?'”
Also there is irony as the people who are not at risk are locked up for the night in their houses away from the lonely one. The story is a horror/mystery but without all the clues. The story is full of accusations and the whole town is a suspect, even the main character, Lavinia Nebbs. There is not much of a community and no one trusts anyone.
‘A terribly strange bed’ has the main character put himself deliberately in danger, so the reader has no sympathy for him. He is just looking for kicks and excitement, which nearly costs him his life,
“My blood seemed to stand still.”
I have compared and contrasted the two short mystery stories in many different sectors. In these different areas I have concentrated on how fear is conveyed to the reader.