Susan Hill: The Woman In Black Analysis

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Susan Hill, in the introduction to ‘The Woman In Black’, acknowledges the influence of M.R. James’ ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ on her contemporary ghost story. Now, let us analyze the similarities and differences between these two texts.

In her introduction to ‘The Woman In Black’, Susan Hill mentions M.R. James’ short stories as exceptional examples of ghost stories. Hill’s admiration for James’ writing is one of the factors that contribute to the parallels and distinctions between the two texts. Hill draws great inspiration from the setting of ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, which can be perceived through the similarities in the reading experience of her novel and James’ story. One noticeable influence on Susan Hill’s novel is the resemblance between the title of M.R. James’ story and one of the chapters in ‘The Woman In Black’, titled ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’.

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Although there are many disparities in writing style and technique between the two texts, Susan Hill employs her unique techniques and incorporates ideas from other writers. The influence of M.R. James’ ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ on Hill’s ‘Woman In Black’ is apparent not only in the novel’s introduction but also in numerous similarities that connect the two texts.

Both texts share the similarity of having an unfamiliar or unknown setting, which creates a sense of mystery in the stories. This shift away from the familiar enhances the effectiveness of the eerie plots, as our lack of knowledge increases the fear factor. In ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, the seaside setting symbolizes the edge of the world, where there is no escape from fear. Similarly, Eel Marsh House in ‘The Woman In Black’ is secluded and can only be accessed at low tide. Both authors skillfully utilize the setting to establish the mood of the story.

Both Parkins from ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ and Arthur from The Woman In Black share similarities. They are both young individuals who have a sense of curiosity and skepticism regarding anything related to the supernatural. Parkins openly expresses his beliefs:

“I have strong personal opinions on such matters. In fact, I firmly do not believe in what is commonly referred to as the ‘supernatural’-”

In both ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ and the novel, it is clear that Parkins and Arthur share a strong belief in the supernatural. They are also driven by a desire to explore, which plays a significant role in their respective stories.

This desire leads Parkins to discover a whistle and encounter a ghost. Likewise, Arthur’s curiosity leads him to stumble upon a graveyard and have an encounter with a ghost.

Furthermore, both writers utilize events in their stories to shape the personalities of their characters. Initially dismissing folklore and ghosts, Parkins is compelled to believe in them after experiencing them firsthand. Similarly, Arthur remains haunted by his encounters with the ghost as well as the tragic loss of his family.

The main character’s visit to the setting described at the beginning of the story contrasts in their reasons. Parkins is on a leisure trip to “improve [his] game” (golf), while Arthur is working on paperwork for a deceased woman named Mrs. Drablow.

Both stories share a common theme of country and folklore. In “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” the locals believe in superstitions that are doubted by outsiders, including the main character. For instance, when the scared boy encounters the Colonel and shares his strange sighting, Parkins suggests sending the boy home, but the Colonel wants to investigate further. This reveals that the locals are more inclined to believe in the supernatural than outsiders. Similarly, in “The Woman In Black,” Arthur is skeptical of local legends. When people in Crythin Gifford start believing that the sightings of the woman in black are tied to the deaths of children in the area, Arthur dismisses them as rumors and superstition.

“Come,” I said with a smile, “will you share with me peculiar stories about deserted houses?” He stared at me intently. “No,” he replied eventually, “I refuse.”

Both stories feature detailed descriptions of the weather, but they affect the narratives in slightly different ways. In ‘The Woman In Black’, the weather is mentioned at the beginning, and the protagonist, Arthur, acknowledges that his mood is greatly influenced by it: “My spirits have for many years now been excessively affected by the ways of the weather.” Although not exactly pathetic fallacy, there are similarities as the protagonist’s emotions are shaped by the weather. On the other hand, in ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’, pathetic fallacy is used. For example, the darkness creates a sense of foreboding that suggests something eerie or dreadful will happen to the main character. As a result,’Oh Whistle’ uses weather to both impact its story and describe its setting with a slight contrast.

Although very similar, these two stories are told from different viewpoints. ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ is narrated in the third person, while ‘The Woman In Black’ combines first-person narration with a flashback technique that adds tension to the story. The endings of the stories also diverge significantly. In ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,’ the story concludes calmly with Parkins still in good health, albeit more nervous and aware of the peculiarities. In stark contrast, ‘The Woman In Black’ ends in a horrifying and gruesome manner, as the ghost of Jennet Humfrye takes revenge by killing Arthur’s wife and child. Hill may have chosen this ending to emphasize the power and supremacy of the ghost, as it profoundly affects the lives of the characters.

Both writers in the story gradually build up and release tension and suspense, creating a sense of mystery. They also reveal information gradually, maintaining anticipation by avoiding sudden revelations that would abruptly end the suspense in the story and diminish its trepidation.

In M.R James’ short story, the ghost is depicted as an elusive and enigmatic force that remains unseen and intangible, except when the whistle is blown. It is described as passive, yet possessing impressive speed and only displays a brief moment of aggressiveness, resulting in minimal harm. Conversely, Susan Hill’s novel portrays a ghost that is completely distinct, appearing more humanlike, tangible, and significantly more proactive.

The ghost’s aggression and evil nature are much more prominent in the second story, causing death and destruction. This is evident at the end of the story when the ghost causes chaos by making the horse drawing the carriage with Arthur, Stella, and their baby son rear up and run off the road, resulting in the death of both the son and Arthur’s wife. Additionally, the frequency of the ghost’s appearances differs in the two stories. In ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ the ghost only appears once at the end. On the other hand, in ‘Woman In Black’, the ghost appears multiple times throughout the text, both passively and aggressively.

Both M. R. James’ ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ and Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman In Black’ exhibit many similarities, as Hill drew heavily from James’ short story. The protagonists of both stories share numerous characteristics, and the settings of the two narratives are remarkably alike. However, there are also notable differences between the two stories; James opted for a passive apparition, while Hill’s tale features a vengeful and perilous ghost. Overall, these two ghost stories are highly effective, employing various writing techniques to enhance the plot’s effectiveness.

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Susan Hill: The Woman In Black Analysis. (2017, Nov 06). Retrieved from

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