How the writers of ‘The Withered Arm’ and ‘Turned’ develop suspense and sympathy in the introduction of their work

The introduction does not give a factual description of the setting. It is not a definite account of the background of the characters. But towards the end of the piece as we are given more information and we can piece together a clearer picture of the characters and the setting.

Rhoda is introduced as an isolated person. The way she is described makes the reader feel sympathetic towards her. The author uses words such as ‘fading’ and ‘worn’ to get this effect:

She is described as “…a thin fading woman” and the first milkmaid signifies her as “…the thin worn milkmaid”.

Most of the information is in the dialogue, but it does not express Rhoda’s feelings. This allows the reader to interpret what she is thinking and what may have occurred in the past.

You are not aware of her position in the story at the beginning. When the other milkmaids suggest that she is involved with Farmer Lodge

“He ha’n’t spoke to Rhoda Brook for years”

you begin to wonder what has happened between them. Because the writer has developed Rhoda as a woman who is isolated and has low self-esteem, you feel that Farmer Lodge may have been the cause of this.

The information about Rhoda is sparse in the first few paragraphs. However the comments made about her are intriguing and encourage us to read on because of the questions that arise.

“The thin woman… was joined by a boy of twelve…”

She does not contribute to the conversation during milking. Later she appears curious about Farmer Lodge’s new wife when she talks to the by who we later realise is her son. She repeatedly asks him to find out what his father’s bride is like. Because she has asked her son to do this, it would appear that she is low in confidence, otherwise she would have gone to see her personally.

“You give her a look, and tell me what she’s like… ”

We know that Rhoda’s relationship with Farmer Lodge, has produced a son, because she refers to the farmer as the boy’s father. She appears bitter towards the new wife when she asks the boy to check if the wife has ‘milker’s hands’, in what appears to be a sarcastic manner.

“…notice if her hands be white; if not, see if they look as though she had ever done housework, or are milker’s hands like mine.”

She realises that the wife is most likely to be richer than her and possibly a lady who has never worked as hard as she has. This description makes the reader more interested and involved in Rhoda’s character.

The two milkmaids at the beginning are the first to discuss the situation of the farmer and his new bride and the connection with Rhoda. They create the suspense concerning Rhoda and her central part in the story.

The dairyman, who hires the milkmaids and men, brings authority to the group of milkers. He sounds stern as he tells them bluntly not to say a word about the farmer. He cuts into the gossiping chat and creates an uncomfortable atmosphere.

“What the Turk do it matter about Farmer Lodge’s age…”

An idea of what Farmer Lodge is like can be built up by the effect he has had on Rhoda. He is unreliable and unreasonable as he has abandoned her and left her to live a miserable life with their son.

We know little of the new wife of the farmer but we get an idea of her from the description by Rhoda. She describes her as a ‘lady’, while the other milkmaids said she was ‘rosy-cheeked.’

“she’s a rosy cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough…”

The young son is twelve years old, and although he does not speak very much, his destructive behaviour at the end of the piece makes us sense that he has been affected by his mother’s harsh treatment by his father.

“…he was cutting a notch with his pocket knife in the beech-backed chair.”


The characters in this story include Mr. and Mrs. Marroner and the young woman, Gerta. Mrs. Marroner is the first to be introduced. The writer creates an immediate impact by the opening scene with the character. She is described by a long opening paragraph that paints a picture of a wealthy, emotional woman.

“…soft-carpeted, thick-curtained, richly furnished chamber…” “…shoulders heaved and shook convulsively…”

The reader might feel that the character is exaggerated at the beginning, especially as she appears to have everything, however as the story unfolds we realise she may be justified in feeling so sad.

Gerta’s bedroom is described as being the exact opposite of Mrs. Marroner’s room. She is Mrs. Marroner’s servant. Gerta is a young woman of eighteen. She is beautiful although she is described by her mistress as “dull”. Gerta weeps, like her mistress, but in her case it is said “she wept for two” This subtly indicates the reason for their sorrow, the fact that she may be pregnant. She is said to look mature yet childish and ignorant within. All these imperfections build up an idea that something terrible could have happened to Gerta, because of her mature looks and her vulnerability.

“…rich womanhood without, helpless infancy within.”

By the end of the piece we are still not told what has occurred, all is left in the air. It is suspected, though, that Mr. Marroner is the father by the fact that he delays his return home.

The only information we have of Mr. Marronner is from his letters home. It sounds as if he is apologising for his delay and is anxious to get home.

“…long, loving, frequent letters, deeply regretting the delay…”

He hints that Mrs. Marronner would not be affected by a loss, indicating that he might possibly not return.

“If I should be eliminated from your scheme of things…”

Mr. Marroner may be feeling guilty as he seems to have run away. The reader may feel sorry for him, as we do not know the circumstances, and we do not know his true feelings. He comes across as being flamboyant from the flowery language he uses in his letter.

“We shall have a new honeymoon – other moons come every month, why shouldn’t the mellifluous kind?”

When we build up a clearer idea, we may think he is cowardly as he may be running away from his responsibilities and lying to his wife, making promises he is unlikely to keep.


These two accounts are both about women who have become pregnant, unwillingly. They are both from lower classes and may have been used by more powerful men. In each case the father of their children has abandoned them. The stories portray these men as mysterious characters and because of this the reader is encouraged to read on.

In the ‘Withered Arm’ Rhoda is a milkmaid and in ‘Turned’, Gerta is a servant. These positions immediately create sympathy for the characters. Their surroundings are pitiful with Gerta sleeping in the attic on a hard bed and in Rhoda’s case she lives in a run down hut. They are both in difficult situations. The reader is less informed about Rhoda than Gerta. The description of Rhoda may not appear detailed yet it possible to build up an image of her and her miserable life. For example we are told that she may have been handsome but now she appears older than her age, because of her strenuous life. However the writer of ‘Turned’ describes Gerta more clearly making the reader become more involved with her.

Although the stories have similarities there are contrasts between them as well. ‘The Withered Arm’ was written in the nineteenth century where as the other is a more modern piece. The writer of ‘The Withered Arm’ uses formal language in long descriptive sentences, which is effective at developing suspense as it fits in with the rural setting. For the dialogue the writer uses local dialect that creates a realistic atmosphere allowing the reader to relate to the characters. In ‘Turned’ the language is more lively and descriptive of an urban lifestyle. The writer has used short sentences to highlight the key information that triggers the suspense.

Although the pieces describe different settings and the women are different ages, the devices used to create sympathy and suspense are similar. This shows that, over time, writers have used similar techniques to interest the reader: creating sympathy for the characters, setting a realistic situation that is described carefully and developing suspense.