The Theme of the Haunting Past Chapter IV of The Moonstone

July 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

One of the main themes developed in the passage from the novella “The Moonstone,” by Wilkie Collins, is the indelibility of memories and by consequence, of the past. The past comes back to haunt the present constantly throughout the passage, building tension as well as gripping the reader’s attention. The author uses setting, style of narration, characterization and imagery to enhance the theme of the haunting past. The passage suggests that the work is a fictitious novel due to the form of prose as well as its lack of factual reference. The beginning of the passage contains great amounts of description and clearly introduces the theme of the haunting past in the novella. The walk taken by Rosanna is described as “horrid” (line 2), “melancholic” (line 3), “the loneliest” (line 4), “the ugliest” (line 4): these adjectives clearly set the mood of sadness, pensively and isolation in the prose. The reader realizes through the facts that the setting is characterized with human feelings and following that the description of the setting is also applicable to the character of Rosanna. Rosanna appears as wanting to disappear, something that can be linked to the idea that she is craving to forget the past. The repetition of “quicksand” in the description reinforces this idea as quicksand forces objects and humans to sink and keeps them trapped under the earth, making them disappear. The concept of the haunting past is also represented in the description of the tide which is said to “cover the sand in silence” (line 14). The tide can be seen as representing the present which covers the past symbolized by the sand temporarily, but never completely, meaning that time dilutes memories but never manages to eliminate them. It is also important to note the contradiction that exists in the description of the landscape in the first lines of the prose; “Our house is high up in the Yorkshire coast” (line 1) and “low cliffs of the loneliest and ugliest little bay” (line 3-4) symbolize the characters’ contrast in mood, behaviors and mindsets. This is underlined by the use of the words high and low which are antonyms. The reader instantaneously associates high with positive connotations such as happiness and lighthearted and low with opposite connotations such as unhappiness and pressure. Moreover, the walk is associated with cliffs showing the instability and insecurity of the character Rosanna who chooses to take that path. The narrative voice reinforces the theme of the haunting past. The narrative voice used by the author is that of the first person narrator through Mr.Betteredge’s eyes which is effective in pulling the reader into the narrative in a short period of time. Mr. Betteredge is describing in the passage an experience that he has directly lived. The use of the past tense makes clear that he is describing a memory and at the same time, puts the reader in an unforgotten past. In a sense, it could be said that the past lives on in the narrator’s memory as long as he continues to remember what happened and these things still exist, are real. In fact, the past, the memory occupies a part of his mind and forms part of his personality. Given the wealth of details that the narrator uses to describe both the place and the action, we can assume that this is still very vivid in his mind and nothing has been erased by the passage of time. This also means that this event was an important milestone of his life as it was the case for Rosanna who recalls in the passage that “My past life still comes back to me sometimes” (line 41). In conclusion, the narrative voice is a literary mode that is used to introduce the world of the past while emphasizing the importance of memories and their continued presence. Characterization is also used to enhance the theme of the haunting past in the extract. Rosanna is characterized as a girl of a young age as she is described wearing a “little straw bonnet” (line 25), lonely, something that can be seen by the fact that she ventures to a place where no boats and no children ever go.Mr. Betteredge finds her “all alone” (line 26), and the fact that her best friend is now an anon, alienated from the world, something reinforced by her physical problems: she is described having a “deformed shoulder” (line 26) and from a low social status which can be inferred by the fact that her handkerchief is of “cheap cambric” (line 37). Rosanna is a servant, probably 13-14 years old as it was typical in Victorian times. The fact that she is young and from a low social status leads the audience to see her as innocent and fragile. Moreover, her position further underlines her loneliness and isolation as servants were set apart from social events and led a monotonous life. Rosanna is said to “turn her head away from” (line 28) Mr. Betteredge which shows that she wants to hide and conceal something she is afraid of, e.g. the past, as she is described “looking out on the quicksand and the sea” (line 27-28).Mr. Betteredge is portrayed as a reminiscence of the past “When you come to my age […]” (line 35). Old people are traditionally full of memories that they carry around with them; they are mostly looking at the past as their future will be short and limited while their past is rich and full. This is pitted against the young Rosanna, arousing the reader’s interest and curiosity as it is unusual for such a young girl to be so tormented and so much marked by the past, something that would be totally normal for the old Mr. Betteredge. The reader wonders what has happened. This shows that the author considers that the past is essential not only for the elderly, but also and especially for young people because they find it more difficult to change, adapt as the old, represented by Mr. Betteredge, are fully aware of their defects: “I’m a slovely old man, and a good deal of my meat and drink gets splashed on my clothes” (line 45-46) and are cognizant that you cannot go back and change the past, you have to forget the past and look forward “[…] your past life is all sponged out. Why can’t you forget it?” (line 44). Since Rosanna is unable to accept that the past cannot be revived or changed, she continues to cry about what it was.The imagery used in the passage further increases the theme of the haunting past. The first imagery in the passage is the “melancholy plantations of firs” (line 4): this is an unusual association as firs are usually found in forests rather than plantations. Firs are evergreen trees with leaves that look like single flattened needles. They need very small maintenance and have high resistance qualities. The firs represent memories from the past as these ones are a source of pain to Rosanna and can no longer be altered. This imagery simulates Rosanna’s emotions in the reader’s mind, making them feel her short life, the melancholy she has of the past as well as the pain that she endures every time she reflects on her memories. The passage concludes with the imagery of a stain from which grease was removed but where a little dull place was left. “The stain is taken off but the place shows, Mr. Betteredge – the place shows!” The stain represents the mark left on Rosanna’s soul by the horror of the past. The grease represents the pain she felt when her past life was taken away which is slowly vanishing with time. However, a dull place is left meaning that the past is indelible; we can never get away from our past. The use of the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence highlights Rosanna’s suffering and turmoil.The haunting past is the key theme in this passage, something that can be noted in the description of the setting, the style of narration used by the author, the characterization of Rosanna and Mr. Betteredge as well as the imagery evoked in the passage. In my opinion the resolution that Rosanna comes to at the end of the passage is correct: the past leaves an indelible mark on our soul. Nevertheless, in my opinion, Mr. Betteredge is also correct: one should forget the past and look forward as the past cannot be rewritten. I am fond of the very detailed description of the setting at the beginning of the passage as it creates a painting in my mind, which strongly resembles to the British art of the 18th Century.

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