Suspense and Tension in Short Stories of H.G. Wells

Suspense and Tension in Short Stories of H.G. Wells

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Suspense and Tension in Short Stories of H.G. Wells


Herbert George Wells was best known as the author of fantasy and
science fiction novels: The Time Machine, The Invincible man, The War
of the worlds, The Stolen Bacillus, The man who could work miracles
and The Red Room. From this vast collection of different genres, three
stories have been chosen to illustrate, compare and contrast how the
different setups create tension and suspense. There are similarities
and differences in the settings that the writers have chose for their
stories by H.G.Wells. These stories though different in genre and plot
illustrate how H.G.Wells manages to capture the imagination of the
reader and create atmosphere and tension in contrasting ways. The
Three stories I agreed to choose were The Red Room, the Stolen
Bacillus and The man who could work miracles.

The Red Room is a story about a young man 28 years old goes to this
houses where people had been complaining about this ghost like figure
they keep hearing in a room of there's. The young man arrives at the
house only to be surrounded by a bunch of old people, these old people
made the man feel very uncomfortable and unsure about what they want
him to do. After a while even the young man confesses to himself how
he wasn't expecting these miserable old people in this quote "I must
confess I had scarce expected these grotesque custodians "(pg 4). The
man later went on to describes how the men became ghost's of
themselves "A monstrous shadow of him crouched upon the wall and
mocked his actions as he poured and drank" (pg 6) A man with a
withered arm repetitively keep saying the words "It's your own
choosing to go in that room" (pg 6). The man then got described to him
what had been happening in the house, and then he walked along the
corridor with the old man with the withered arm and into the room.
Only the young man entered the room to see that it was dark and no
lights were working. So he stayed and settled for a while, he had a
look around and then suddenly something came up behind him and the man
blacked out. When he woke up all of the old people were surrounding
him and he couldn't remember a thing. Then the old people are eager to
know all about what happened to the young man. Then he explains to
them that "there's neither a ghost nor an earl in the room but it's
the worst thing of all that haunt poor mortal man", he said and that

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is, "fear" he said. The old people had been so convinced that there
was a ghost in there room they had make belief themselves with their
own imaginations.

Notice, none of the characters in the story actually have a name but
are names from the significance of there structure and personality
e.g. "The man with the withered arm" this is telling us that this man
some how has a disability. Although there are no pictures in this
short story H.G.Wells is trying to capture an imagination upon the
readers mind another example of this is the "Old lady" she is said to
have pale sharp eyes. Later on in the story a second man enters the
room and he adds more suspense to the scene because of his features
i.e. "A second man entered, more bent, more wrinkled and even more
aged than the first one. He supported himself by a single crutch; his
eyes were covered by the shade and his lower lip half averted, hung
pale and pink from his decaying yellow teeth". Notice the alliteration
in this "lower lip" this man set the scene of this so called ghost
before the young man had been into the room. He built suspense for the
young man and sent a shiver down his spine. Also, the "monstrous
shadow of him crouched upon the wall" (pg 4) built a lot of suspense
up in this scene due to the second old man having ghost like actions.
The description of the room built tension and suspense for the reader
and the writer took advantage of this by using words such as " Fire's
flickering " the mans only light "The fire" and it's just holding on
by flickering. Another piece of alliteration. a good use of simile is
used in this short story to describe how the man was feeling and what
it was like i.e. " It was like a raged storm cloud sweeping out of the
stars. This shows at this point the man was frantic the fear and his
imagination was getting the better of him.

The Red Room by H.G.Wells is a very serious short story with great
attention to detail throughout. It leaves the reader guessing to
whether there is a supernatural presence or not. The Red Room creates
a lot of suspense and is a mind fondling prose narrative that leaves
the reader in suspense until the end. From this ghostly setting I have
chosen a complete contrast of genre that boarder on comedy. The
description of the old people is almost hysterical at times but it's
actually the physical description of the old people that creates the
tension and suspense in the Red Room. This short story is reliable for
working on the mind, it leaves the reader thinking "Was it a murder in
the house that made the ghost or it could have been a suicide" this is
very good on the imagination. It's almost in a traditional and ancient
setting and there isn't too much happening in t he story but the
suspense takes over and turns the excitement upside down.

The stolen Bacillus is set in 18th century London. The hysterical and
social context of the story plays a significance part in creating
tension and suspense. A social context that creates fear throughout
the story In contrast to Red Room, which concentrates on physical
details which make the suspense.

The Stolen Bacillus is about a bacteriologist who one day gets a visit
from a very keen man. The scientist shows the man around his
laboratory and then shows him a deadly disease called cholera that can
not be cured, then a gleam of satisfaction shone upon the visitors
face. Then the scientist realised that he could have a bit of fun with
the visitor, so he decided to show him more (The visitor still
thinking this bacteria could wipe out and kill loads of people). Then
the scientist gives the visitor the bottled cholera to the visitor
whilst he goes and helps his wife with it, when the scientist gets
back he unsurprisingly forgets that he gave the cholera to the
visitor. Then all of a sudden the visitor realised the time and had to
go. Not until the visitor had left did the bacteriologist (scientist)
realise that he had gave him the cholera. So he went n a cab chase and
then almost cartoon like a group of cabmen had gathered for there
lunch to notice the chase. Then the Anarchist (visitor) drank the tube
of the so called cholera in the cab and told the cab driver to drop
him off that the end of the street. The Anarchist waits patiently for
the Scientist to come round the corner in his car. When he done so the
Anarchist gave off a nasty laugh and told the scientist he was too
late and that he had drank the cholera then he went stumbling down the
street colliding with people on his journey. After, the wife turns up
behind the Scientist and asks him what was that all about and he told
her. He had a visitor and not knowing he was an Anarchist he told him
that the chemical in the bottled tube was a poisonous gas called
cholera and then he stole it before he got to tell him it was a blue
substance what turned things blue and then the scientist and his wife
had a laugh about it.

The social and hysterical context is the reason behind the creation of
tension and suspense because in this story the writing is letting the
reader see from the anarchists point of view by this I mean that the
writer isn't letting the reader know that the tube doesn't really
consist of a poisonous substance called cholera. The
Anarchist/Terrorist comes to the scientist with a fanatical attitude
and the scientist takes it too far with him. The cab chase adds black
comedy to the story i.e. "Go it, George it's a race!" "You'll Ketch
'em!" "She's a goer she is!" said the oyster boy (pg139).This shows
the black comedy if you like, with the oyster boy and the cabmen
having little debates over who is going to win. I think the fact of
the Cholera not being curable creates tension and fear amongst the
reader's imagination wonder what will be done with the cholera. When
the Terrorist takes remaining liquids and tries to infect other
people. Only the reader can imagine the result of his action
throughout this mission. This story distinctly shows that it is set
back in the 18th century due to the cabmen (horse and carriage) about
in those days. Also the disease "Cholera" is a disease of the 18th and
19th century. Then the story goes to the readers mind as unrealistic
with the addition of cab in those days which wouldn't have been there.

The language in this story is very effective. Wells makes the idea of
death seem vivid and immediate throughout the lines of 18-44 e.g.
"Those have been stained and killed" "I wish for my part we could
stain and kill every one of them in the universe". Bacteriologist is
showing of significant it is to him that all cholera should be
destroyed because of cautions and dangers"(pg 135).He use of "He"
instead of "It" shows the precise person he is talking about e.g. He
walked across the room and took up one of several sealed tubes" (pg
135).It also shows "He" to have power, the Anarchist is the one with
the power. "He" refers to the power which is held. The personification
of life and death is in his hand "The pestilence imprisoned",
pestilence meaning plague and imprisoned meaning it wants to be free.

The fear/tension created in Stolen Bacillus is a result of
significance, the lack of scientific/medical advancement and the
threat of epidemic as a result of the terrorist's actions towards the
deadly germ. The two contrasting stories discussed are written from
very different perspectives in the creation of tension and suspense.
The Red Room emphasising the physical aspects. The Stolen Bacillus the
metaphysics. Both succeed in creating a theme of fear and tension.

The Man who could work Miracles adopts yet another different style of
fear and tension. This is created not by physical description or fear
of impending doom or catastrophe but by fear of being out of control.
Within a setting characterised by literal description that emphasises
a atmosphere of credulity and disbelief.

The man who could work miracles is about a man called George McWhirter
Fotheringay who was a man of many qualities and one of these was the
miraculous stunts he pulled off in the Long Dragon pub when with all
of his mates. George made a lamp turn upside down without smashing and
the candle not going out. The characters description is clown like
even the name of the person e.g. "George McWhirter Fotheringay" This
makes you think even more of a comic tone. At the beginning it seems
the story is going no was it's just a few bored locals sat in a pub
but then one challenges another. That challenge was for him to
levitate a lamb, as the reader this builds up suspense to see if the
man succeeds and does the duty. As you may see the story has a
different kind of tension and suspense built into it. This story isn't
a horror it's a comedy looking at tension and suspense from a
completely different point of view. The climax of the story although
cataclysmic still remains an element of fantasy. An example of this is
when George talks about miracles when we know that there can't happen
so this encourages us not to take the story serious "How bout miracles
now?"

The three texts discussed in detail provide examples of the author's
ability to translate fear and fear of the impossible into plausible
and entertaining stories. Each extensively using simile and metaphors
to heighten tension and create atmosphere. Each story contrast with
the others not only in pot but in technique and method in creating
tension and suspense.
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