How well does H.G Wells create a sense of tension and establish a mysterious atmosphere in the short story ‘The Red Room’?
In this essay, I will explain and explore H.G Wells’ use of and build-up of tension in his short story “The Red Room.” The author, who wrote the book in 1896, uses a number of techniques to keep a mood of tension and suspense throughout the story to keep the readers “hooked” to it. An example of the tension is “I was now almost frantic with the horror of the coming darkness.” The quote from the story demonstrates the growing sense of horror throughout the short story, using the irrational fear of darkness to scare the narrator.
First of all, the narrative voice; Wells uses the first person view of the narrator to create a non-personal approach the story. The way in which the narrator gives us the first person view creates an eerie effect and due to the gothic, spooky setting, fits in very well with the structure and storyline of “The Red Room.” An example of this is “With a cry of terror, I dashed at the alcove, then into the corner,” as it makes the reader feel as if they were in the scene or darkly terror, and keeps them reading, hungry for more. Also, Wells does not give the narrator a name which gives a sense of privacy and that he is alone.
Next, H.G Wells uses the setting to manipulate the readers’ thoughts into thinking different things. The name of the story, “The Red Room” makes the reader think of things associated with red: blood is usually the first thing when you are reading a horror story. The use of “red” and “blood” makes the user think that this is actually going to be a “horror” story. Secondly, the reader wonders what the so-called “Red Room” actually is. Is it a room that is physically red? Or does it contain ghosts and horrific perils? Even the title of the story draws the reader in, and makes them interested in the story.
Thirdly, the use of Imagery that Wells uses thoroughly creates a sense of foreboding and illustrates a picture of the short story in the readers mind. For example, “an invisible hand seemed to sweep out the two candles” makes it seem as if there is an invisible enemy in “The Red Room,” and an unnerving sense of someone watching the narrator.
The author uses a lot of figurative language, and the use of this builds up a tense atmosphere. E.g. “as two more vanished by the fireplace” because the candles did not actually vanish, they were just put out by a strange force. This steadies the sense of loneliness and that nothing will save the narrator. This also links in because the narrator travels very far below ground, so if he needed help, it would not arrive.
The contrast between long and short sentences in “The Red Room” creates a “sinister” effect and makes the mood of the story change abruptly. For instance “With a cry of terror, I dashed at the alcove, then into a corner, and then into the window, relighting three, as two more vanished by the fireplace; then persevering a better way, I dropped the matches on the iron-bound deedbox in the corner, and caught up the bedroom candlestick.” and “Now and then one returned for a minute, and was lost again.” show a massive difference in sentence length. The long sentences in the story make the reader read them through quicker because other-wise they would run out of breath. This is a very clever technique used by many horror authors. Then the short sentences end the suspense of the one before it, and finally let the reader move on. Also, Wells uses a semi-colon to separate something happy and something sad and scary. “With this I avoided the delay of striking matches; but for all that the steady process of extinction went on…” he does this to maximise the impact of the sentence.
H.G Wells uses many methods of building up tension in “The Red Room” and therefore, successfully creates a “horror” atmosphere. For example, he delays giving the reader information to stall the vital plots. The genre of horror is portrayed very well in “The Red Room” and will definitely be considered when reading the short story.
I think that Wells creates a petrifying sense of terror and suspense in the short story “The Red Room” and grips the reader right into the story; the use of a tense atmosphere is flawless and stunning.
By Praveen Perinpanathan