“This is a story about evil: about how suffering and grief may warp a human personality and isolation compound those things, so that evil holds sway”
-To what extent do you agree with this assessment of ‘The Woman In Black’?
I believe that there is no real transcendent definition of evil, but that evil is actually determined by the people’s social, cultural background and acts throughout life. Hence, I agree with the assessment given above of The Woman In Black because her very essence as a character seems to be brought up around those traits mentioned above.
Some people define being evil as not only inflicting pain and suffering on others but also as performing an act for either solely selfish materialistic reasons (i.e. power or revenge), and I believe that this definition fits perfectly with The Woman In Black. Under this definition of evil, Jennet Humfrye does not commit morally wrong acts for sincerely benevolent reasons, her reasons to why she creates such chaos in Arthur Kipps life is truly selfish; the killing of his original wife and son prove just this. However, disregarding whether the ends were to be considered morally wrong they would not be classified as evil, so long as they truly believed in the pursued higher goal. In her case, the higher goal would be the vengeance and justification for the trauma she was made to put up with whilst others did nothing but push her aside and ignore the very existence of such an incident. This does not mean the actions could not be viewed as morally wrong, just that there would not be an evil intent in them, as the intent of the actions is a key factor. Thus, the argument can be taken both ways. Were Jennet Humfryes’ actions as a murderer justified by the misery and grief she was put through when she was alive?
Grief is also a common factor in both Arthur Kipps and the ghost of Jennet Humfrye, though it is most significant in Jennet Humfrye’s case. It is very clear that people (like Mr. Jerome) in Crythin Gifford are reluctant to reveal information about Mrs. Drablow and the history of the house. This sense that the people of Crythin Gifford experience of wanting to shun the subject, as does Mr. Jerome in the chapter “The Funeral Of Mrs Drablow” or completely ignore the reality of such happenings suggests to the reader that there is a feeling of shame or fear throughout the population about the family. This compounds the idea of isolation that the ghost of Jennet Humfrye may face. There is no recognition of the horrors she went through; which will do nothing but strengthen her anger towards the community. This long-term isolation that is felt by Jennet has undesirable effects on her own well-being, causing loneliness resulting from inability to establish relationships which may have saved her from having to haunt.
From numerous different sources, Kipps eventually learns that Mrs Drablow is the sister of Jennet Humfrye. Due to Jennet’s wedlock status in a high society family, she is given two options to avoid bringing shame to the family; either to give the baby up to adoption or let her sister have him and let her care for it, insisting he should never know that Jennet was his mother. Jennet Humfrye’s whole identity face the possibility of destruction here, and hence there is a natural tendency for her to feel angry, frustrated and helpless. Here the letters stop and we learn that when Jennet gave the baby up, she went away for a year or so until she writes the next installment of letters. It seems that although she has had to give up the role of a mother, she cannot be parted from her own son for so long. This longing to be with her son re-enforces the love bond between mother and son and again makes it harder when Nathaniel, her son, dies.
During the course of Jennets’ visit to Eel Marsh house from her own place in Crythin Gifford (an agreement made between sisters as long as Jennet did not reveal her identity) a pony and trap carrying Nathaniel across the causeway becomes lost and sinks into the marshes, killing all aboard, while Jennet looked on helplessly from the window of Eel Marsh House. Jennet Humfrye found the grief almost devastating and since the death of your own son is perhaps one of the most intense forms of grief, and holds greatest risk factors, Jennet Humfrye turned towards other people to take responsibility. This whole episode of the story focuses all around grief and its effect it has on people which re-enforces my view that the story bases around the impacts of grief.
An interesting fact is that most of the time, such a huge impact on one’s life, bears a lifelong process. Unfortunately, Jennet cannot simply get ‘over’ the loss but instead assimilates and lives with the death as best she can. This was unfortunately distressing for Jennet as she had planned to run away with her son soon after the accident. Comforting support could have made all the difference in the world but because of the difference in marital status between Jennet and her sister, there was reluctance to give help to someone of that situation as there would have been an intuition of shame.
Jennet goes through volatile reactions of terror, hatred, resentment, and jealousy as emotional manifestations of these feelings and thus it is clear to say that the very reason to why Jennet becomes a ghost and is not able to move on, is because of this grief over her dead son.
Jennet dies soon after, but returns to haunt Eel Marsh house and Crythin Gifford with a vengeful malevolence, as the woman in black. I suppose it is easy to say that vengeance is pointless but in her situation, I believe that since Nathaniel died and she had to live with it, she thinks that others should not have this opportunity and hence lashes out at people who appear to be in a similar state of being. She wants justification of Nathaniel’s death and feels it un-fit for others to enjoy it when she could not. Therefore, it can be said that Jennet Humfrye has a real reason for haunting. The fact is, since she has not managed to move on from the death she is stuck in it forever. She has to remain in this terrible, hell-like condition.
Jennet’s death also produces some questions. The so called ‘wasting disease’; was it a coincidence? I believe that she ran down her immune system by the huge amounts of pressure propped on top of her due to the accident. According to local tales, seeing the Woman in Black meant that the death of a child would follow.
At this point in the book, we come to believe that we have seen the last of the woman in black and her awful vengeance as a mother. However, after the affair is settled, Arthur Kipps returns to London and marries and comes to have a child of his own. The woman in black unfortunately lets evil hold sway of her and hence lashes out at Arthur Kipps who now has what she could have had given the opportunity. At a fair, while his wife and child are enjoying a carriage ride, Kipps abruptly spots the woman in black once more. She steps out in front of the horse pulling the carriage and startles it so that it gallops away smashing the carriage into a tree, killing the child and after some months, killing his wife. This act of revenge proves that the woman in black let her emotions get the best of her. The revenge she wanted took over her body like a poison and before she knew it, turned her into something ugly.
Unlike Jennet though, Arthur Kipps moves on and lets the grief and agony go, eventually beginning a family again as seen in the first chapter. An important fact is that although he comes to love again, he makes sure he does not become too attached to the mother and son in fear that the woman in black will strike again. However, I can clearly say that evil does not hold sway over Arthur Kipps.
There is an aspect of the novel that makes the reader feel compassion towards the ghost, and how Social appearance was all that mattered in those Victorian times but this seems rob w contradicts by the fact that she comes back to haunt.
The Woman In Black is definitely focused around the multi-faced response to loss that Jennet and later Arthur experience in their lives. This grief has led Jennet Humfrye to take on revenge against people in similar status as she once was. The vengeance she wants for the death of her child is ever-growing and will probably not stop, and hence evil holds sway in The Woman In Black. The gothic convention found within the book also helps dramatize the effects of the book and how evil is developed. This hence backs up the idea of evil as an essence of Jennet and how it controls her forever more.