I am going to write a comparison of the female characters in The Withered Arm and Tony Kytes, The Arch Deceiver. The two stories by Thomas Hardy portrays very different moods from each other and the atmosphere from the two are noticeably different. Tony Kytes, The Arch Deceiver is mainly a hilarious story of an afternoon when Tony was driving home his wagon from the market. From Tony’s antics, the three young ladies who he’d tried to cover from each other, all discovered each other’s presence later on in the story. The Withered Arm, again written by Thomas Hardy is a more depressing and sympathetic story about loneliness.
All the characters in the story had experience loneliness at some point. The consequence of such loneliness is that all the characters suffer. An example of such consequence is that Rhoda usually neglects his son and hardly gave him any reassurance. From her attitude, her son dies emotionally alone at the end of the novel and with it, nobody communicates with Rhoda, even with the recent death of her son. The female characters in ‘Tony Kytes, The Arch Deceiver’ seems to have the tendency to follow the male initiatives of Tony, so willing that they even suspend common sense and also suffer some indignity along the way.
Though Tony seems to be both weak and indecisive, he is a well-meaning character. Female characters however don’t seem to be very diverse and is stereotypically described in a manipulative feminine manner, “and-can you say I’m not pretty Tony? Now look at me! ” The story is set in the countryside, which isn’t really important as the story could have been set in a town from that period. But what is really important is the actual period itself, as it is quite difficult to imagine such naivete from such women today. Women at that time didn’t have many rights and is mainly expected to marry.
There were either little or no opportunities for them to work and to become financially independent, as it is mainly the men who get such rights to do these things. Women therefore directed all their interests into finding a husband, using whatever cunning as necessary. In today’s society, the situation is very different. Women are under no pressure to marry and they have the rights to work and earn their own income. The women in the Arch Deceiver seems to be very gullible from what men say to them, an example of this is when Milly in the end believes that Tony has chosen to marry her rather than the other girls.
Of course, it is only Milly who is willing to be his wife after the other two girls left him. The female characters in ‘The Withered Arm’ however are very different to those in the Tony Kytes’ story. The first three chapters mainly focused on Rhoda’s ‘isolation’ in the story. When other characters chat to each other, Rhoda tends not to join the conversation of others, which tells you how different and lonely she is from the rest. She also doesn’t respond to other people’s comments, Rhoda knew that she has been slyly branded a ‘witch’, which aids to her isolation.
From this, she also seems to be physically lonely as well. Rhoda also developed an intense jealousy of Gertrude, as she visualizes a figure mocking her with a wedding ring, glittering in her eyes. Rhoda also becomes obsessive about Gertrude’s appearance and is quite desperate to find out about the people who’ve supplanted her. From this, we see how she looks up to others as she is physically and mentally unhappy with herself. Even at the end of the story when her son dies, still no one communicates with her, which concludes Rhoda’s loneliness.
Her loneliness and her negligence had a big impact to her son, whom Thomas Hardy never gave a name for. The boy felt useless and unimportant because of the way his father and mother treated him. His father never gave a thought for him and his mother; Rhoda only used him as if he was a slave. Rhoda’s lack of understanding and affection to his son only adds to the misery and the frustration his son has to endure. The novel concludes with the death of the boy, something that can be prevented if only his father and mother took more notice of him. From this, you feel quite sympathetic for him.
Though he was innocent, there was no one who could’ve cared for him. So the boy unfortunately dies a lonely death. Another female character in ‘The Withered Arm’ is Gertrude. Gertrude is a gentle women and a very shy character, she gets embarrassed and wishes not to become a ‘public display’. Gertrude’s character at first looked very promising, unlike Rhoda she is pretty, young and happily married to a wealthy farmer named Farmer Lodge. Gertrude’s gentility is reflected by the softness and delicacy of her hands that have never been used for hard manual labour.
Gertrude is quite a charitable and kind character, an example of this is when she gives Rhoda’s son a pair of boots to keep. Gertrude also seems innocent due to her appearance. She is described as ‘a girl’ whose ‘face was fresh in colour. It is ‘soft and evanescent, like the light under a heap of rose petals. ‘ Also what seems to make her look innocent is that she is actually unaware that she is filling in Rhoda’s place as Farmer Lodge’s bride. From this, Rhoda’s unconscious evil doing had disfigured Gertrude’s arm as an act of revenge or envy. Every time Rhoda falls to sleep, Gertrude’s arm becomes increasingly disfigured.
From this, Gertrude became obsessed with the arm and became increasingly desperate for the cure. So desperate, that she even turned to Rhoda for help. This is quite ironic that it is actually Rhoda who has caused harm to Gertrude in the first place. This shows that Gertrude never had any real friends as her desperation increases. Also you’ll notice that Gertrude loneliness increases as her husband begins to lose interest in her because of her withered arm. This hurt Gertrude as she found out that her husband only married her for looks and not love.
When Gertrude met Conjuror Trendle, she finally realises that it was Rhoda who’ve actually disfigured her. It is then that she became superstitious and irritable as she learns about the background of Rhoda and her son. From this, she becomes obsessive in her desire to become beautiful again. When Trendle suggested a cure, it is then where we learn that Gertrude is quite squeamish. Gertrude strongly opposed to the cure suggested by Trendle of touching the neck of a freshly hanged man so it may ‘turn the blood’. But because she was desperate she was willing to do it.
Though the character was later on cured, she suffered a setback on her confidence as she learns that her husband now stands with his ex, Rhoda. It was too late to help her repair the damage caused by her withered arm. The differences of the female characters in both stories are fairly obvious. In the Tony Kytes story, women are willing to throw their reputation and dignity by following Tony orders. This makes them quite gullible and in a way lacked common sense and intelligence. In ‘The Withered Arm’ however, the female’s characters tend to be a bit more cautious in keeping their dignity and respect.
It’s mainly these, which triggers the female character’s outcome in the ‘Withered Arm’. Though both stories are written by Thomas Hardy, the descriptive language used for both stories are entirely different. While he used some humorous expressions and naive comments for the Tony Kytes story, he descriptively portrays the lonely and depressing mood of the place for ‘The Withered Arm’. I believe that what Thomas Hardy is trying to achieve is that for his description of each place, it enables the reader to actually picture the mood of the scenery or story in which he successfully does.
Even though the two stories are entirely different, the issues from the two stories are very familiar. Both stories portray the difficulty and lack of power females had in those times. Men often had the power to do things that women couldn’t do. Thankfully now that our society do accept women as equals to men and therefore, having more rights. But the two stories made by Hardy describes the turbulent times women had to endure in that period and therefore hope people will understand that women in those times were much less fortunate than the women in today’s society.