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I need some help analysing and comparing the two short stories "Misfortune" by Anton...

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rosannalilly80 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted May 7, 2012 at 3:53 PM via web

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I need some help analysing and comparing the two short stories "Misfortune" by Anton Chekhov and "The Withered Arm" by Thomas Hardy.

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted May 7, 2012 at 10:26 PM (Answer #1)

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Comparing these two short stories seems an imbalanced comparison since they have so many features and elements that are different. Yet they do have a similarity in that both heroines face profound events with intense emotion. In Hardy's, however, the intensity is more extreme and brought about by others' doing, while in Chekhov's, the emotion is of another order altogether and less intense and brought about from within the heroine, though the external influence of another cannot be denied.

In structure, the stories vary in that Hardy's is written in nine chapters covering much time, years, making it a rather long short story. Chekhov's is written as a single narrative covering one day and is of a more compact length. Diction in Chekhov's is all standard upper class language with good vocabulary and characters who make philosophical references to thier motives and self-analysis of their feelings. Hardy's, on the other hand, is told in good part in dialect, "'Ah! - 'tis all a-scram!' said the hangman, examining it," with an upper class narrator and upper class language and vocabulary for the heroine, Gertrude.

Tone in both Chekhov's and Hardy's is objective, as both narrators try to stay aloof, giving a fair report, and letting the action and characters tell the story and express their emotions and motives. An example of this objectivity in Hardy's is the simple and direct line, "Rhoda Brook slept no more that night,":

'O, merciful heaven!' she cried, sitting on the edge of the bed in a cold sweat; 'that was not a dream - she was here!'

She could feel her antagonist's arm within her grasp even now - the very flesh and hone of it, as it seemed. She looked on the floor whither she had whirled the spectre, but there was nothing to be seen.

Rhoda Brook slept no more that night, and when she went milking at the next dawn they noticed how pale and haggard she looked.        

An example from Chekhov's is the observant, though not judgemental, line, "Sofya Petrovna sang nervously, with defiant recklessness as though half intoxicated, and she chose sad, mournful songs ...."

The moods in each are similar as are the tones. The moods are neutral, adding to the objectivity with which the tales are told, as is noticeable in the observant, yet unemotional, neutrality of Hardy's line: "By a last strenuous effort she advanced, ...." This neutrality is notable in Chekhov's story where observations are reported without inciting emotional words:

The moon was hidden behind the clouds, but it was light enough for Sofya Petrovna to see how the wind played with the skirts of his overcoat and with the awning of the verandah. She could see, too, how white Ilyin was, ....

Both stories have themes of loss through compelling and irresistible external forces, though the sources and effects as well as the end results of the influences are very different, though the thread of uncontrolled love is evident in each. In Chekhov's the external influence is Ilyin's inflamed love, while in Hardy's the external influence is Rhoda's inflamed jealousy to protect her son. The end result in Hardy's is Gertrude's death, while the end result in Chekhov's is Sofya's desertion and subsequent infamy.

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