In the novel, 'The Woman in Black' evil is an important theme. We see how evil is portrayed through setting, characters, plot and descriptive language.
Evil is depicted through the setting, place names and weather conditions.
The scene is set in the first chapter with the description of the happy, festive meal which had taken place on Christmas Eve at Monk's Piece. The fact too that the weather had changed (the writer said) from chilling rain and a low mist over the countryside which had lasted all the previous week.
The writer shows through descriptive language that there could be no outdoor pursuits while the weather was so bad. Inside the house we have the same dejected melancholy feeling because lamps had to be lit throughout the day, the smell of damp in the rooms, the fires burning low smoking and sputtering. Esme (Arthur's wife) reacts differently to the weather, she launches into Christmas preparations with a determined cheerful attitude.
In the opening, Kipps gives an idea that all is not right in his life and his illnesses are a result of past experiences, which will be told as the story progresses.
Fear intermingles with the festivities. Kipps was fearful of his memories, "I was trying to suppress my mounting unease, to hold back the rising flood of memory". He describes how he would lie awake unable to sleep, sweating and going over and over the events that had taken place. He tells how he has been haunted and how he has suffered for years. He wonders if by writing it all down as a ghost story that perhaps then he can be free of the memory. But he then comes to the conclusion that he should keep it to himself and prays for strength, peace of mind and a blessing upon his family. He realises that for the moment he is in control of his emotions but that it won't last "for, although I was in control of my emotions now, I dreaded the hours of darkness that lay ahead". (p.23). Kipps tells how prayer helps him to come to terms with what has happened to him, "As I recited them aloud, a great peace came upon me".
The scene is now set and the anxiety and foreboding has begun, something sinister has happened to Kipps and we know that in chapter 2 "A London Particular", the story of what happened to Kipps is about to unfold. He relates being called to attend an interview with Mr Bentley and although it was many years ago he can remember the smallest details of that day travelling up to London.
Names of people and places now begin to create an atmosphere of evil "Alice Drablow" the house where she lived, "Eel Marsh House".
The fog surrounding London all help to create a sinister picture now he is leaving the fog of London for the North of England, called Crythin Gifford (a market town). Kipps felt cheerful that first night at the Crythin Gifford Inn.
"On the whole, that night with my stomach full of home-cooked food, a pleasing drowsiness induced by good wine, and the sight of the low fire and inviting, turned back carers of the deep soft bed, I was inclined to let myself enjoy the whole business".
The following morning he met Mr Jerome, the property agent who accompanied him to Mrs Drablow's funeral.
It was at the church where Kipp's first saw the woman in black and when he describes her to Mr Jerome, Mr Jerome showed great fear. He was on the point of collapse, agitated and anxious to get away from the church and its surroundings. When Kipps then mentioned that Mr Jerome was to accompany him to Eel Marsh House, he refused point blank and said Keckwick would accompany him. When Kipps suggested he remain at Eel Marsh House, rather than trouble Keckwick to return him to Crythin Gifford, Mr Jerome advised not to remain at Eel Marsh House but to return to the Inn.
In the first chapter, 'Christmas Eve', we read of contrasts in the weather (depicting good and evil). Arthur Kipps the narrator describes the different kinds of seasonal weather "sweetly scented and balmy with the flowers of midsummer, pungent with the bonfires and leaf mould of autumn, crackling cold from frost and snow".
Then he goes on to describe the weather of the previous week 'rain , chilling rain and a mist that lay low'. Visibility was too poor, lamps were lit throughout the day, fires burned dismally low. This description helps create a sombre atmosphere, one of melancholy and prepares us in some way uncertainly which is to come.
Kipps goes on to describe how the weather has affected him, "my spirits have for many years now been excessively affected by the ways of the weather". (pathetic fallacy).
This contrasts with his wife Esme's cheerful preparations for Christmas when Esme is determined to make it a happy occasion. Despite the weather, the house is full of hussle and bustle with the family preparing for Christmas "had it not been for the air of cheerfulness and bustle that prevailed in the rest of the house".
Again there is contrast between good and evil Kipps vivid memories of the past and the happy family Christmas he is now describing. When he tells his story the unhappy memories that were buried begin to haunt him "That my peace of mind was about to be disturbed and memories awakened that I had thought forever dead", His fear contrasts with the festive air of the house "I went in, anticipating nothing more than a pipe and a glass of good malt whisky beside the crackling fire, in the company of my family".
He didn't expect to confront his past that evening. Throughout the story, Kipps refers to the fear that he sees in the people at Crythin Gifford whenever he mentions the name Alice Drablow. When Kipps spoke to the landlord at Crythin Gifford, the landlord showed fear at the mention of Mrs Drablow, "The name had stirred some strong emotion in him".
Before Kipps gets involved with Alice Drablow's business affairs, he has never experienced fear. He describes how well he slept the first time he stayed at the Inn, before he was confronted with evil.
"For I see that then I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence once lost, is lost forever".
When Kipps describes his time at the funeral of Alice Drablow, he mentions the cemetery and the grave-side in such a way that suspense and anticipation of evil is felt, particularly at the sighting of the ghost of Jennet Humfrye.
"she was dressed in deepest black in the style of full mourning".
Although Kipps only swiftly glanced at her, he could see a strangeness about her.
"it seemed only the thinnest layer of flesh was tautly stretched and strained across her bones" Kipps described her to Mr Jerome as the young woman with the wasted face.
"The young woman with the wasted face at the back of the church and then in the graveyard".
Mr. Jerome became "frozen" and then agitated, "anxious to get away from the church and its environs". Kipps was impatient and annoyed at the hints and clues given by other characters, "I was growing impatient of the half hints and dark mutterings made by grown men at the mention of Mrs Drablow and her property".
Kipps believes countrymen to be more superstitious, more gullible, unsophisticated and primitive compared to the cosmopolitans. The plot progresses to Kipps travelling in the pony and trap to Eel Marsh House. To get there he crosses the Nine Lives Causeway whose name is symbolic. The events become more frightening as the story progresses. Kipps describes the surroundings of Eel Marsh House , "To the east, sea and sky had darkened slightly to a uniform leaden grey.
The wind that came suddenly snaking off the estuary was cold".
He describes the ruins of an ancient chapel "all broken-down and crumbling".
Then the fright of a bird with lots loudly beating wings and a harsh croaking cry, "it was an ugly, satanic-looking thing!" He describes the burial ground and the effect it has on him "Suddenly conscious of the cold and the extreme bleakness and eeriness of the spot and of the gathering dusk of the November afternoon". Kipps then saw the woman with the wasted face.
Through the desolation and despair, the writer creates anxiety and the reader becomes more agitated and fraught.
By the chapter "The sound of a pony and trap", the reader is experiencing evil. Kipps believes Keckwick died in the marshes.
"I stood absolutely helpless in the mist that clouded me and everything from my sight, I knew that I was hearing beyond any doubt, appalling last noises of a pony and trap being sucked into the quicksands".
Many of the sinister events took place at night such as the incident in the nursery, when Kipps was woken by Spider the dog.
"There were no footsteps, no creaking floorboards, the air was absolutely still, only the muffled noise went on and the dog continued to stand bristling at the door".
The descriptive language creates effect and builds up the suspense. There are anti-climaxes which relieve the anxiety such as, "Spider had settled again on the rug".
"It was a little after two o'clock, it was a long time before I slept".
The climax come again when spider is ensnared onto the marshes at night "but the whistle had been real, not a trick of the wind. Yet I would have sworn it had not come from any human lips".
It describes quite graphically how Kipps saved the dogs life but almost lost his own.
"Once I plunged my leg down and it stuck fast in a watery hole until I managed to exert all my strength and get free".
At the end of the novel there is another climax, an unexpected one, the death of Kipps' wife and child. Unexpected in that the narrator describes a peaceful, happy Sunday afternoon in summer. He describes a festive holiday air, stalls selling ice-creams, small boats being rowed, and a band playing.
He goes on to tell of the child and his mother enjoying a ride in the pony and trap. It was a happy scene depicting good when suddenly Kipps sees the ghost of Jennet Humfrye - everything changed - good changed to evil "All the world went dark around me and the shouts and happy cries of all the children faded".
Kipps describes the evil emanating from the ghost, "Yet I felt all over again the renewed power emanating from her, the malevolence and hatred and passionate bitterness. It pierced me through".
There is contrast again with the evil ghost versus innocent children "The pony cart came trotting back down the avenue, through the shaft of sunlight that lay across the grass, with my dear Stella sitting in it and holding up the baby, who was bouncing and calling and waving his little arms with delight!" Then suddenly she appeared (the woman in black) "She moved quickly, her skirts rustling as if to step into the pony's path.
The animal swerved violently and then reared a little, it's eyes filled with sudden fright and then it took off".
The story finishes with Stella and the baby being killed instantly. Whenever her ghost is seen, a child dies but in this instant Kipps' wife also dies.
In the final chapter, "The Woman in Black", Kipps suffers his last tragedy, the death of his wife and child.
"They lifted Stella gently from the cart. Her body was broken, her neck and legs fractured, though she was still conscious". "Our baby son had been thrown clear, clear against another tree. He lay crumpled on the grass below it, dead". (p.159).
The character, "The Woman in Black" (Jennet Humfrye) comes across as a very bitter woman, she cannot forgive her sister, Alice Drablow, for the death of her son, Nathaniel. She sees her sister as someone who robbed her of happiness and motherhood and would never allow her to forget it. She therefore took her revenge out on those living locally by haunting them.
Whenever anyone saw the ghost of Jennet Humfrye, a child would die. This is how she took her revenge.
"It was she, the woman in black with the wasted face, the ghost of Jennet Humfrye. For a second, I simply stared in incredulity and astonishment, then in cold fear. I was paralysed, rooted to the spot on which I stood and all the world went dark around me". (p.158).
Susan Hill has used the theme of evil in the novel as if it was another character. The evil makes the book effective, it brings fear and terror to Arthur Kipps and those affected by the ghost of the Woman in Black.
The unexplained and the unknown is more frightening and for this reason I feel the novel is more effective. It is believable because Arthur Kipps was a calm, rational man who underwent a great change due to the evil he encountered.
Jennet Humfrye was so full of hate that she wanted to exact her revenge on all those around her. It certainly is believable and with the elements of evil throughout and the climaxes, it certainly keeps the reader engrossed in the novel.
"They asked for my story. I have told it - Enough".
The ending of the story is very dramatic and makes the reader feel that Kipps really doesn't want to say anymore and will be glad to put the past to rest.
ESSAY PLAN Discuss how Susan Hill tackles the theme of evil through setting, language, plot, characters.
1. Introduction In this novel evil is an important theme covered in a number of ways through settings, characters, plot, storyline and through the descriptive language used.
2. Setting Show how Susan Hill uses different place names and weather conditions to create an atmosphere of evil, for example, the nine lives cause-way, the mist and the fog.
3. Language Descriptive language helps to create evil. Susan Hill uses imagery, (similes and metaphors of evil) when describing, for example, weather in London, surroundings of Eel Marsh House and the ransacked Nursery.
4. Plot / Storyline Suspense is built up through the plot. Suspense / evil is created by:- Hints and clues given by characters, sightings of the ghost building up to a climax. Climax is the near death of Kipps on the marsh.
At the end of the novel, an unsuspected climax - the deaths of his wife and child.