‘ The Withered Arm’ and other stories Show how the social, cultural and historical contexts of the early 19th century, as revealed in Hardy’s short stories, contribute to the ‘reality’ and effectiveness of the characters and the events he creates. The social, cultural and historical contexts of the early 19th century contribute to the ‘reality’ and effectiveness of the characters and events that Thomas Hardy created in many of his stories. For example in ‘The Withered Arm’ the hangings would be classed as a social event. In the story Hardy makes it seem like they were a family day out.
He explains how there would be huge crowds turning up to watch. People would also buy souvenirs. There was lots of superstition in the village and there were also different classes, for example; working class and upper class. The different classes often didn’t get on very well. These are social points. Also, another social point is that the farmer’s wife would go out and give charity; she would help the poor and the needy. Some historical points would be the tools that were used on the farm and all the cows were milked by hand.
Hardy writes, ‘When the milking was done they washed their pails and hung them on a many-forked stand made as usual of the peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in the earth, and resembling an colossal antlered horn. ‘ Also, the clothes worn were historical references, you would often have seen them wearing smocks around this period and Hardy describes this in his story. In ‘The Son’s Veto’ (‘Veto’ meaning ‘Forbid’ in Latin) there were different classes, for example; there were council schools and public schools.
This is a social point and shows that only a few people had enough money to send their child to a good school. A cultural point in this story is that there was a difference between town and the country. It was very busy in the town with large houses and many people but in the country it was completely different with not many houses and not many people, there were lots of fields and it was very quiet. In ‘Tony Kytes’ there is only one main social point and that is that he had many different girls that he was seeing all at the same time.
Hardy writes about how Tony was driving down a road and as he did this he would start by picking up one of his girlfriends, then, as he moved further along the road he would see another one of his girlfriends. Because of this he would have to ask the first girlfriend to hide. Then he picked up the second girlfriend, saw a third girlfriend so asked the second girlfriend to hide. In the end he had all three girlfriends in one vehicle. They all found out and a big discussion took place. The girlfriend that he was currently engaged to decided to stick with him but the others left.
Tony’s father wasn’t too happy with Tony and kept telling him he couldn’t carry on like that, treating the girls the way he did. ‘The Melancholy Hussar’ was set in 1803 during the time of fighting the French, a historical event. The social aspect concerns the girls who become attracted to the foreign soldiers and not the English soldiers. Also, Humphrey was higher class but he didn’t have much money. He was practically living off his father’s earnings because his father had his own business. He was fairly stuck up and stubborn. Humphrey was probably looking for a wife with her own money.
In ‘The Distracted Preacher’ the historical point is that people were either smugglers or worked for customs. The cultural point is that most of the people were smugglers because nobody wanted to pay taxes on alcohol and tobacco that was being brought to them. This meant they would smuggle it in and hide it in the top of a lighthouse and they would sink it around the coast so at night they could go along with a net out of a boat and collect everything that had been smuggled. Finally, the social point is that the social class didn’t mean anything, everyone smuggled and lives were based around it.
Therefore, it is clear that the social, cultural and historical contexts of the 19th century contribute to the ‘reality’ and effectiveness of the characters and events he creates. I think this could be because Hardy emphasises these points so it is easier for you to set the scene in your mind and understand the stories. Most of what Hardy wrote is set in Dorset and the neighbouring counties. He was the son of a mason builder and his mother, father and his grand fathers widow brought him up. I think if you read the stories carefully you can see that parts of Hardy’s life are reflected into his stories in small doses.