AQA GCSE English Example: Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier. (Question 4).
A student having read this section of the text said: ‘‘The writer brings the very different characters to life for the reader. It is as if you are inside the coach with them.’‘
To what extent do you agree?
Du Maurier uses the device of the dismal weather outside the coach as a means of bringing the reader into close proximity and even progressive intimacy, with the passengers inside the coach. The third person narrator seems ‘close’ to the different passengers, observing their reactions and behaviours, with the reader apparently just looking over the narrator’s shoulder. Thus, the passengers are first observed collectively through their ‘huddled’ response to the stormy weather. This word ‘huddled’ gives immediacy to the situation of the characters, as it draws attention to their feeling of cold and temporary dependency on each other for respite and solace from the storm outside. We can identify with this collective response and it gives credibility to the scene. However, this unity is then broken by the complaining of the ‘old fellow’ who appears more a type than a particular individual. We recognise him as a type of person we might have met ourselves and this makes him real though only briefly interesting as he is far from being a singular character or individual. His arrogant selfishness tags him: ‘having thoroughly chilled the interior of the coach’ and is again illustrated through the use of sensory detail which relates to the lack of comfort inside the coach for the ‘real’ passengers: therefore we feel very much involved with the plight of the passengers. They seem alive to use though their recognizable behaviours and speeches.
When the narrator focuses next on the ‘jovial, red-faced woman in a blue cloak’ her vivid and colourful experience paints an immediate, lively image for the reader, and so once again we are sharing the journey with the passengers in the coach. Interestingly, the sly psychology of the unnamed woman with her conspiratorial ‘wink’ and ‘jerk of her head’ makes us feel perhaps complicit with her condemnation of the ‘petulant’ old man. Tension brings dramatic immediacy to the episode in the coach and the rather surreal detail of the woman’s ‘strong white teeth’ confirms something we have recognised as unpleasant and even predatory about the large woman. Once again, we are involved. Once again we believe in the event.
However, it is only when the narrator brings the ‘camera’ to rest on Mary Yelland that we realise the real source of interest and ‘life’ in this coach journey. We have briefly ‘met’ the other characters only as an apparently ‘real’ backdrop to the protagonist and her situation. The fact that Mary is named, makes her identity important and naturally override the other disposable characters we have met very briefly. We are being guided to Mary Yelland through the other travellers and sharing their plight on the drafty coach.
Mary is given the dignity of individuality through her name and suggestion of an interior life: ’her eyes fixed on the window’ which reveals reflection about the destination of the coach and her future too. Mary is a solitary, younger figure on a journey away from her familiar ‘Helford’ life and we respond emotionally to her vulnerability and new adventure by believing in her and feeling sympathetic too. Mary’s intelligence is conveyed through her reflective ‘chin cupped in her hands’ and this connects to the alliterative promise of ‘a forerunner of fortune’ which takes us away from the petty concerns of the old man and the large woman and into a very specific relationship with the protagonist, where hope and uncertainty reign. We recognise that this chilly, dismal journey marks the beginning of another with our protagonist, Mary Yelland.
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The Woman in Black
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