“The Withered Arm” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” Essay

In ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ outsiders are portrayed using a variety of background and social information, combined with effective language, narrative techniques and descriptions.

An ‘outsider’ is defined as ‘a non-member of a certain group’, either for a physical, beliefs or social reason, and is removed or divided from the rest of society. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’ there are a number of outsiders that we can deduce from the way in which the authors portray such characters.

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The author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was born in Alabama, the state in which the imaginary Maycomb was set. She based much of her novel on the ways and society that she had experienced in Monroeville. She recognised the prejudices at that time and so wrote a story with a still relevant philosophy; which was that everyone, including outsiders should have the courage to face up to difficult problems and people. They should not necessarily fell that they have to conform to the written or unwritten laws of society. Thomas Hardy, the author of ‘The Withered Arm,’ in contrast was much more of an outsider himself. He wrote around the time of the Industrial Revolution, inspired by Higher Bockhampten, the small hamlet in which he grew up and was educated. He knew how it felt to be and outsider in such a community.

When considering the backgrounds to the stories that the authors created, we can see how in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’, the small-town USA Maycomb and small-milking farm of Holmstoke were both very inward areas. Families within the community all knew and stereotyped each other, such as the Ewells being bad and the Cunninghams being poor. In these hierarchical societies, gossip from both milkmaids and ‘Miss Stephanies’ was rife and news spread quickly. These kinds of communities inevitably create outsiders. Those from outside the areas do not know the community ways and those with different views or social backgrounds are targeted by the close-knit groups and excluded from the society. Harper Lee spends a portion of the first chapter explaining about the history of ‘Finches Landing’ and Scout is told by Aunt Alexandra that she is ‘the product of several generations’ gentle breeding.’ This enhances the idea that not having a respectable background seriously disadvantages you.

By using partly autobiographical content, these authors created setting in their books where they could successfully portray the outsiders in the communities. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, three of the outsiders are Miss Caroline, Atticus and Mayella Ewell. In ‘The Withered Arm’ two of the outsiders are Rhoda Brooks and Gertrude Lodge.

When referring to physical outsiders and how they are portrayed, Miss Caroline and Rhoda from are both examples. Miss Caroline is described as only twenty-one with ‘auburn hair and pink cheeks’ which gives her quite an innocent appearance. This description almost prepares her character to be an outsider as her superior, perfect appearance contrasts greatly with the dirty, poor, slow descriptions of the townsfolk that we learn. She is physically an outsider as she comes from North Alabama. She is clearly oblivious to Maycomb ways, such as the children being ‘immune to imaginative literature’ and the author even gently mocks her reliance in the ‘Dewey Decimal System.’ Her character is shown to be quite weak however both shown by her polite perfect English and Clich� sayings, for example, ‘Oh, My, wasn’t that nice’ and her tearful response to Burris Ewell. The mood surrounding Miss Caroline’s character is one of slight sympathy, but also a feeling of resentment as she unjustly insults Atticus, claiming he ‘cannot teach.’ She appears to us as quite narrow-minded as she refuses to attempt to find out about the society and the families, for example the poor Cunninghams before she tries to introduce what she has ‘learned about in college.’ The fact that she is trying to bring in this new system and change Maycomb ways helps to prepare the reader for the inward lookingness of the townspeople.

In contrast however, Thomas Hardy describes Rhoda as ‘thin and fading’, with her dark eyes, ‘milker’s hands’ and ‘once handsome’ looks. This all gives her a much stronger appearance. It does however prepare her to be an outsider as we imagine that once she was beautiful and so divided from the rest of the milkers because of her beauty. Now that has left her we can presume that the divisions are still there. The attitudes people have towards her are generally hostile, and Hardy describes this with his vague comments from the milkmaids, such as: ‘He ha’n’t spoke to Rhoda Brook for years’. These descriptions in the opening leave her portrayed and somewhat of a mystery.

Rhoda, though belonging to the same farm, is described as living and milking ‘somewhat apart from the rest,’ ‘in a lonely spot high above the water-meads.’ She is rejected by her community due to the strong jealousy of the other milkmaids. In the hierarchical society they were in, milkmaids would not be able to refuse if the chauvinistic farmer chose them to be his wife or lover. It would offer them a quality of life never had before and refusal would put their career in jeopardy. Rhoda, chosen by the farmer but then discarded as her beauty faded, found herself the victim of gossip and teasing from the other milkmaids. Within the abuse she endures, Hardy introduces a supernatural element into the book as the milkmaids accuse her of being a witch. After her visitation, her insecurities and doubts even lead her to the point where she wonders if she does, ‘exercise a malignant power over people’ against her own will.

Rhoda become obsessed with Gertrude’s appearance and character as the book progresses as she needs desperately to find out about the women who is now chosen over her. When she finds Gertrude and befriends her, Rhoda fears that she has inflicted harm upon her arm and that ‘the most useful friend she had ever might be ruined irretrievably.’ We sympathise with her as at the end of her story, her son is hanged, and it appears to her that she has lost everything, her lover, her son, her friend and even her self-belief.

When referring to outsiders prejudiced because of their beliefs, both Atticus in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and Rhoda in ‘The Withered Arm’ are examples. Atticus is described by Harper Lee though Scouts eyes, as ‘feeble…old’ and boring. This description therefore may be seen to imply that the author is creating an outsider with that boring, monotonous personality, but in fact, he is an outsider for exactly the opposite reasons. Harper Lee wrote the novel through a child’s point of view. This helps us to understand the outsiders as we see them though the comparatively innocent unbiased manner that six-year old Scout has. Our learning curve is also parallel to hers. This helps us to form our own opinions, and build up a more accurate portrayal of the outsiders than a biased adult’s account of the events would have. The way in which Scout describes Atticus does not reflect the image of him that is built up throughout the book. She complains that he will not play football like other fathers, which turns out to be quite an ironic comment.

The idea of priorities and skills is developed throughout the novel and we see when Atticus shoots the mad dog that he does have skills, but is careful as to when they need to be used. A positive mood for Atticus’ character is created by comments the author has included, such as the realisation of Jem’s that his father is ‘a gentleman just like me’. Miss Maudie also describes him as ‘the same in his house as he is on the public streets.’ His willingness defend Tom Robinson, along with all the moral and helpful comments that he teaches his children, helps us to favour him as heroic outsider. Atticus is used as a vehicle to deliver Harper Lee’s opinions on prejudice, by both speaking and living by these views and morals. This is shown when Atticus teaches Scout ‘you can never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

When referring to social outsiders, a clear example in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is Mayella Ewell. She is the daughter of the despised and evil Bob Ewell. He is at the bottom of the social ladder, only above the coloured people, and ‘lived behind the town garbage dump,’ ‘as a guest of the county.’ She is described as ‘fragile-looking’ yet ‘accustomed to strenuous work.’ This description makes us feel slightly sorry for her, and these feelings are confirmed when we learn more about her character and notice how the author portrays her.

Despite the fact that she has a disadvantaged upbringing, she still tends for flowers and keeps herself clean, actions that only compassionate and respectful people would undertake. This, along with appearance during the trial that her father has been beating her up and is unhappy with her relationship with a coloured person, leads us to realise that her position as an outsider is unjust. She has no friends, and is clearly sensitive about it all as her extreme emotions of anger and crying are described throughout the trial. She uses dialect language, such as ‘reckon I did’ and she has never been called ‘ma’am’ or ‘Miss Mayella’ in her life and consequently finds it offensive. This helps to determine her social status and the outsider ‘label’ she was given along with that, As well as contributing, along with other descriptions, to the pitying mood around this outsider.

Gertrude Lodge is also socially removed from the other milkmaids, as although she has done nothing wrong, her position of wife to the puts her further up the hierarchy than the workers she befriends. She is also a physical outsider to a certain extent as she comes from outside the area. Hardy initially describes her by using dialogue and ‘gossip’ to suggest her character and appearance, as a ‘rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough.’ She is clearly beautiful, as Farmer Lodge chose her, though not hard worked as her skin is still ‘fresh and young’. She is described by Rhoda’s son using the simile ‘as comely as a live doll’s’ regarding her face which helps to forfill our image of her as beautiful but fragile.

These descriptions make her an outsider as we can see the contrasts between her pampered appearance and the weather-beaten worn bodies of the milkmaids and farmers. She is however depicted as a character we should feel sorry for and feel inclined to like as she is prejudiced against and stared at and ‘gossiped’ about by so many inquisitive people. She is shown to be compassionate and loving however as she tries to befriend the lonely such as Rhoda and supply the poor with goods. She showed this by bringing Rhoda’s son some waterproof boots as she felt that his boots were inadequate. She is, however, portrayed as means for Hardy to communicate his strong ideas belonging to a different area in the hierarchy to the people around you automatically makes you an outsider, however nice a person you may be.

Gertrudes portrayal does change by the end of the short story however. Her clear beauty fades as her arm ‘withers’ and her husband ‘loves her less.’ She also seems lose some of her dignity and class and she obsessively uses ‘mystic herbs, charms and books of necromancy’ in a vain attempt to cure herself. She changes from the portrayal of ‘blithe-hearted and enlightened’ to ‘an irritable and superstitious women.’ The language that Hardy uses for her remains the same throughout the book, as she continues to speak a perfect ‘standard English’ dialect, rather than how the milkmaids speak. The tone of her language however becomes sad, ‘husky’ and pessimistic as she considers herself to have had ‘six years of marriage and only a few months of love.’ As she changes we realise that she is now portrayed as both and outsider of the farming community that she is in, and an unwanted outsider within the family she is in.

One of the themes common to both ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’ is that outsiders are portrayed as na�ve. Both Miss Caroline and Atticus are shown so, Miss Caroline oblivious to Maycomb ways and Atticus unaware that there could be lynch mobs in Maycomb, until confronted by one. Gertrude is also depicted by the author as na�ve, in this case not by what she does or does not believe, but by her reactions to ‘normal’ events. She is shocked by the fact that the milkers sons have no decent boots and wonders why she is ‘stared at’.

When contrasting the two author’s styles, Hardy however describes the characters less, and as it is a short story, showing less character development in his portrayal of such people. We do, for example, see Gertrude try out the mystical beliefs of around her however. Harper Lee makes good use of the many characters in the book to give opinions on the outsiders, for example Atticus, which when contrasting, for example from the Ewells and Miss Maudie, leaves us to form our own opinion. ‘The Withered Arm’ has fewer characters so the outsiders are clearly pinpointed from the start, and generally, only one opinion for example regarding Gertrude by the milkmaids, is given.

In conclusion, Hardy and Harper Lee both write about outsiders as a means to communicate their own, partly autobiographical beliefs, and both do so using description, actions and dialogues from the characters. They are both trying to show how these communities produce such outsiders, and how it may or may not be their own fault. Inevitably, the consequence they are trying to show, for not conforming to the rigid rules of society, is that the outsiders are divided from it.


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