In Chapter 56 of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in what ways does Thomas Hardy build suspense through language?

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

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Hardy uses many unusual techniques that build suspense with language. Some normal techniques of building suspense with language are repetition, sentence length, adjectives, imagery, and mood. These build suspense by creating rhythm through heart-beat type repetition and short sentences; by adding vivid descriptors through adjectives; by creating vivid scenes and emotions through imagery; by creating emotional distress through mood. While Hardy does use adjectives and imagery, he builds most of the suspense by other means. In Chapter LVI of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, some of Hardy's suspense building language techniques are:

  • adjectives: "wretched souls" -- adjectives may add to or detract from the sympathetic qualities of characters and may describe the qualities of motive and reactions.
  • imagery: "soul bound to some Ixionian wheel" -- a standard suspense building technique, imagery paints vivid mental pictures of the thing described, which in Hardy's suspense style is often the psychological state of a character.
  • sounds and silence: "the closing of the front door" -- this unusual technique forces the construction of mental images of the scene heard though not seen; the underlying suspenseful question unconsciously asked by the reader is, "What is happening?"

All that she could at first distinguish of them was one syllable, continually repeated in a low note of moaning, as if it came from a soul bound to some Ixionian wheel—

"O—O—O!"

Then a silence, then a heavy sigh, and again—

"O—O—O!"

  • directions: "re-ascend" "re-enter" -- another unusual technique, directions add to the mystery and the demand upon on the reader of mentally constructing the scenes that associate with the directions.
  • small spaces: "the keyhole" "a small space of the room" -- this unusual technique confines our "vision" and restricts our understanding adding to the building intensity that creates suspense.
  • contradictions: "in a tone which was a soliloquy rather than an exclamation, and a dirge rather than a soliloquy" -- also unusual, contradictions create a feeling of anxiety and mental tension; these are an emotion and a psychological state that foster suspense.
  • location of the observer: "hastily retreated down the stairs" -- this unusual technique changes the reader's proximity to the events unfolding thus increasing the need to know, the need to see, the need to hear, the need to understand what is transpiring in locations we are approaching or have left.

[Mrs Brooks] could hear nothing through the floor, although she listened intently, ... her eyes glanced casually over the ceiling till they were arrested by a spot in the middle of its white surface ...

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