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The Theme of Fear and Suspense in Stories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3162 words Published: 25th Aug 2021

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In their short stories 'Butterflies', 'Lamb to the slaughter', 'The Whole Towns Sleeping' and 'The Pedestrian', Ian McEwan, Roald Dahl and Ray Bradbury create strong feelings of fear and suspense which ultimately lead to death in each story. Discuss these featured in the short stories we have studied.

The story 'Butterflies' by Ian McEwan is about an individual is devoid of all emotion, who is also isolated person (maybe because of his look: his chin and his neck are the same thing and he himself thinks he looks grotesque) he takes a walk. A little girl follows him. It was for him a strange thing because he did not have any friends to talk to. He desperately needed affection and in order to keep her close he buys her a doll and ice cream. He lies her saying that at the canal there are boats and butterflies. So the title "butterflies" is the lure used to take the little girl at the canal. There he abuses her and then he drowns her. I was particularly attracted to this story because of the unusual yet quite sinister way suspense is built up throughout the text. McEwan achieves this by the use of short descriptive sentences; these slow us down and make us feel as if we are an omnipresent being viewing the story as it unfolds. The action takes place in England on Thursday and Sunday.

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The next text Lamb To The Slaughter utilises descriptive writing right from the opening to massage our senses to the extent we feel we are woven into the story, our minds eye sees everything that needs to be seen, this helps to clearly portray the obvious use of black humour the image of a merry house wife suddenly smashing a frozen leg of lamb meant for dinner over her husband's head is comical in a sinister way. While in Butterflies the opposite is true. The name of the text, suggests something to do with a lamb being slaughtered with is common practice in farms however the phrase can also mean, unaware of any impending catastrophe which when we read on we find out Mr Maloney wasn't aware of himself being in harm's way the same is also true for Miss Maloney wasn't aware she would be committing murder she was said to be in shock, 'Helped bring her out of shock' (141). Roald Dahl almost rewards the reader half way through the story with the meaning of the title which we find out is befitting after all.

The whole towns sleeping employs the use of subtle irony right from the start the title suggests to us that the town is sleeping which they are, it's night time but the lonely one is out and the town is oblivious to this fact, Situational irony is also used the reader would become lead to believe that she might come to harm in the woods and when she gets home she will be safe however this is not the case

The final text The Pedestrian, the title isn't very exciting it sounds run of the mill, doing this lures us into a false sense of security we don't expect much however out breath is taken by the beautiful way Ray Bradbury starts the piece and our attention is captured. Like Butterflies the writer wants us to savour each sentence and hang of every word so they slow us down therefore building suspense in The Pedestrian this is done with the use of commas.

In all of these stories someone is in danger and in two of the stories someone is killed, the stories have a similar of building tempo and setting the pace, also all stories play to our primal emotions weather it's humour in lamb to the slaughter or sadness and confusion in butterflies or fear in the whole towns sleeping.

Suspense is something that is built up in all stories, in Lamb to the slaughter suspense is built up in an unusual way first the title invites questions such as, who is being killed and is the story based on a farm doing this feeds out curiosity which in itself starts to build suspense and tension. The text starts off quite unusual fashion for a story of this genre, we would expect a dark, dingy and quite frightening place for a murder to take place in this story quite the opposite is true. The opening paragraph starts of quite poetic, 'The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight.' Dahl also uses descriptive writing to give us vivid picture of a warm homely setting 'The room was warm and clean.' (137)

Everything seems above board until we get to the third sentence, 'the empty chair' (137) the use of the word empty suggests that something is missing and in turn that begs the question why is it empty, The Pedestrian uses this also along with the metaphor empty riverbed, 'The car moved down the empty riverbed streets and off away, leaving the empty streets with the empty sidewalks, and no sound and no motion all the rest of the chill November night. ' This feeds out curiosity and adds to the suspense. The metaphor helps put across how bare the riverbed was so we have a clear image in our minds.

The unusual thing about Lamb to the Slaughter is that the murder happens at the middle there is no time to wonder how the murder will be committed since we don't suspect anything. The reader is taken by surprise much as Patrick and Mary Maloney. 'The small table over turning helped bring her out of the shock.' (141) Mary Maloney and the reader are in shock until we find out she killed him, she didn't mean to kill him it was done out of rage therefore she says 'So I've killed him.' (141)

After the murder scene the reader follows Mrs Maloney around in her meticulous steps to cover her crime. One can wonder how such a sentimental and docile woman can turn out to be so calculating and cool-headed. When the police arrive, we wait for the moment Mrs Maloney gets caught this time never arrives There is an unfulfilled expectation.

Butterflies short, snappy sentences to set the tempo which enables the reader to race ahead so we feel their heart is beating in time with the action, 'Towards midday I decided on a walk. I stood outside the house, hesitating' (61). This is in direct contrast with The Pedestrian which opens with a long sentence which slows things down.

'To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o'clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do.'

This sets a slow tempo so we can really absorb what we are being told and actually feel we are with Mr Mead.

Do The whole towns sleeping utilizes the use of conversation to move the story along as well as short and long sentences to set the tempo and pace, we are drawn to the story because of the simple conversations we can empathize with.

The theme of fear is something that is rampant in most of the stories, butterflies starts of quite disturbingly, 'I saw my first corpse on Thursday.' This doesn't seem to frighten or upset the boy; he seems to be detached from his emotions unlike Lavinia Nebbs who is so overwhelmed with fear of the unknown she doesn't have the will power to turn round. 'Don't turn, don't look ' if you see him, you'll not be able to move! You'll be frightened, you'll freeze! Just run, run,run!'

In Lamb to the slaughter instead of being fearful Mary seems to be relishing the moment, she it literally getting away with murder, 'Mary Maloney began to giggle.' While in The Pedestrian and the whole towns sleeping, everyone is fearful in the towns expect the people in actual danger.

The way relationships are portrayed differs from story to story Mary Maloney was in what she thought was a loving relationship she loved her husband dearly, 'Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come.' (137) Mary and her husband had what seemed to be the perfect relationship everything seemed above board, however when she got the news she lost her rationally this could be due to the fact she was pregnant and hormonal 'for this was her sixth month with child.' (137) the strange thing considering it seemed to be done in rage she didn't show any remorse or sorrow, 'All right, she told herself. So I've killed him.' (141) that could possibly beg the question did she know beforehand did she contemplate the killing before hand, was she acting, does she have split personalities, we know she is calculated and calm under pressure and good at acting when talking to the shopkeeper after killing her husband she states 'Patrick's decided he's tired and doesn't want to eat out, you know, and now he's caught me without vegetables in the house.' When she already knows he's dead and she is the murderer.

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However know the main character in Butterflies we know is a recluse, who found his mother grotesque he also believes because his chin and neck are close together people see him as untrustworthy he doesn't seem to trust anyone. 'My chin and me neck are the same thing and it breeds distrust My mother was like that too, only after I had left home did I find her grotesque. She died last year.'

His mother was also seen as a recluse, he says, 'Each year she went to Littlehampton and sat on a deckchair by herself, facing out to sea. We get the feeling he wasn't brought up in a loving household and that he didn't have much of a relationship with his mother, which could have lead him to become unsociable and lonely. Although we know he yearns to have some companions when walking in the street a football kicked by a group of boys came his way he stopped the ball with his foot and kicked it back, such a simple gesture caused him to because overwhelmed and giddy 'I could feel the thumping of my pulse in my temples. Such opportunities are rare for me. I do not meet many people.'Also at the start of the text when a simple conversation arose with him and Charlie he fumbled this furthermore stresses the point he was not used to talking to people.

When he and Jane converse he immediately realizes he wants her as a friend as she shows genuine interest and curiosity in him, 'I felt pleased that she was genuinely curious about me, and I was attracted to her. I wanted her to be my friend.' The reader isn't alarmed by this as we think he is being friendly but little do we know the wheels have been set in motion for what happens next. After deceiving the girl under the false pretence of seeing butterflies, the disturbed individual wets his finger and wipes the ice cream off from around her mouth and puts the finger back into his mouth and tastes it. While doing this we find out, he has never touched another person's lips and he is excited and seems to be in orgasmic state, 'I had never touched another person's lips before nor had I experienced this kind of pleasure. It rose painfully from my groin to my chest.'(70) While doing this I believe he was engulfed with pleasure and didn't realize he was pressing so hard on Jane's face she tells him, 'You pressed to hard.' (70). All throughout the text I is used allot this suggests loneliness.

Lavina Nebbs is seen as a father figure she is confident on the surface when around friends they look up to her she doesn't want to show weakness she has a strong relationship with her friends however when alone and going through the ravine she turns into a nervous shell of her former self, 'Oh god! God, please, please let me get up the hill!' (55) Where as Mr Mead from The Pedestrian is calm when he is confronted and even protests his arrest.

The whole towns sleeping starts off with the use of descriptive writing to set the scene, 'It was a warm summer's night in the middle of Illinois' (37) this gives us an image of brightness cosiness even. Which is the same way Roald Dahl starts Lamb to the slaughter, ' The room was warm and clean.' (137) both authors use this to good effect so the reader is the ability to more clearly visualize what is being described. This subtle use of this type of writing shows itself again throughout The whole towns sleeping in the form of metaphors, 'Lavina felt the warm breath of the summer night shimmering off the oven-baked sidewalk.' We really get a sense that it was a hot day this plays with our senses in the same way in The Pedestrian plays with our sense of smell 'It smelled of riveted steel' (2) and in butterflies a simile is used to the same effect. 'Like a whippet.' (63) 'The Whole Town's Sleeping'. Ray Bradbury uses recreation to create interest to the story "In the downtown drugstore, fans whispered in the high ceiling air" He also uses metaphors and similes such as "There were two moons: a clock moon with four faces"

The main character in Butterflies isn't really creative we only get one reference to some sort of inner life. Where he makes reference to an artist prominent in the 1920's, 'she was beautiful in a strange almost sinister way, like a girl in a Modigliani painting.' (65) His flat narrative description exactly matches the flatness of his personality, 'I crossed over and looked at the car's engine, although it meant nothing to me.' Another interesting thing about this character is that he never dwells on the fact of death he bounces between subjects. I believe his life experience had an impact on the development of his personality. Like Me Mead in The Pedestrian he is a loner and they both go on walks also the main character in Butterflies has a skewed view on the world whereas in the pedestrian the world is distorted it isn't just in Mr Meads imagination. In all stories there is only really one main character.

Mary Maloney is a happy, contented woman who feels secure confident and fulfilled with her life. Roald Dahl describes, "There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did." (137) she is loving and the perfect house something that was normal in the time short story was written in 1953. She is a very organised individual she has a routine she does daily, she takes solace in it she believes that if that routine exists, all must be well. She also is calm, collected and rational she methodically gets rid of the evidence, Mary ultimately uses the same means of control over the investigating officers that she had used with Patrick: food, drink, and the illusion of uncomprehending innocence. That being said after all she didn't mean to kill her husband when she realizes what she has done, Mary is willing to accept the consequences, but, she worries about the child:

"As the wife of a detective, she knew quite well what the penalty would be. That was fine. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the child? "

At the start of the whole towns sleeping Lavina Nebbs is much like Mary Maloney secure and confident she is adamant that fear will not dictate her life, she starts the evening rational and fearless but is reduced to panic on the walk home when she admits her fear. Much like Jane from butterflies she is fearless and outgoing until confronted with fear.

Jane who is the girl that was killed in lamb to the slaughter, is a friendly trusting child her parents might have been carefree and unaware that such crimes get committed, most children of that era were told don't talk to strangers or don't walk with strangers however Jane is fearless she is innocent. Jane could be seen as the butterfly a small delicate creature that is gently pushed down the river in the same way a butterfly would fly off into the distance, the word butterflies for a title is very befitting.

Lamb to the slaughter is written in the third person in the same way as the whole towns sleeping, the tone of Lamb to the slaughter seems pretty calm it starts of quote poetic each line leading on seamlessly to the next then the tone changes the reader is sped up as Mary Malone executes her plan to get rid of the evidence. The text butterflies is written in the first person the main character is the narrator throughout the story there is a dense and atmospheric tone. It's often left to the reader to give moral significance to events that occur what I found interesting that the story was organized through flashback and the story isn't in chorological order, the story starts of, 'I saw my first corpse on Thursday' (1) when that was the last thing that happened yet mentioned at the start. The narrator also switches from present to past tense.

The strength in Butterflies is the writer's versatility to be able to move through past and presence tense and to be able to move through different times during the day and to move from subject to subject. However by the end I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach a horrendous crime has been committed and it seems as if the killer will get away, this leaves us wanting and yearning for justice and because unlike Lamb to the slaughter it was a little girl that was abused and killed we feel more hate towards the young man. Lamb to the slaughter the readers get a tale so grotesque, so darkly comic, and so hilarious in some of its incidental details that seem to be something out of a Benny hill show. We feel sympathy towards Mary because her husband broke their wedding vows her act of murder was callus yet unintentional, so we don't yearn for justice although I know a crime has been committed I feel happy to sit back and watch Mary hatch this farfetched comical plan. There could have been emphasis on causing more suspense the detectives could have been more suspicious, however it is a well laid out and quite humorous story and begs the question did the detectives suspect anything after the incident it leaves us with unanswered questions. Roald is also effective at using dialogue to move the story along.

Lamb to the slaughter is good at building the tension throughout the story then while Nebbs is in the ravine the excitement builds, when she reaches her house the tempo slows and almost grinds to a halt until she finds out someone is in her house we are left in awe. Ray Bradbury is good at controlling the tempo however at the end of the story I am left feeling unfulfilled I want to know the ending however this may just bring excitement for the sequel and play right into Bradbury's hands.

In this essay I have discussed the theme of fear and suspense and now different writers portray this and stylistic features used I found the similarity between stories interesting considering there from different authors my favorite story is butterflies I love the simple complexity of it the way the narrator moves from time and place seamlessly. And how all of the stories title have significance to the story and almost give us hints to the plot.


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