Susan Hill’s authorial devices

  • Weather to mirror events and tension
  • Ending chapters on positive notes only to begin the very next with an immediate dashing of optimism.
  • Seeing the action almost entirely from Kingshaw’s perspective
  • Only once getting an insight into Hooper’s character and that a nasty one, his thoughts about the crow
  • Use of the 3rd person rather than the 1st to write in gives the feeling of voyeur and helpless spectator, it increases the reader’s emotional distance but to some extent also deepens the feeling of horror, much as we are made to feel in a horror film where the camera follows a pair of feet following the next victim and as viewer we are unable to shout out to warn them!
  • Realistic dialogue: particularly with the children the competitive element, one-up-man’s- ship, the descent into coarseness of language and name-calling just highlights the increased feeling of desperation on Kingshaw’s part. The adults is much more formal and stilted, partly because they are intentionally more two-dimensional more shallow but also to reflect their inability to think deeply and to empathise and not just with their children but even with each other they are coming at their relationship from completely different points of view and with different wants e.g. Mr Hooper basically wants sex and a mate who will respect his wishes he doesn’t really want an equal partner, Mrs K wants safety, security and someone to look after her for a change.
  • There is a lack of unnecessary detail which might detract from the vividness of the persecution she describes.
  • Time mostly flows in sequential order, except for the occasional flashback.
  • Short, clear sentences, easily understood.
  • Use of expressive verbs e.g. the rabbit ‘bumped along’ in the wood and Kingshaw begins to ‘prance’ on the castle walls.
  • Use of similes, the tractor like a ‘great beast’, comparison of the clown at the circus as like the crow which attacked Kingshaw.
  • All the senses used in descriptions : smell – the dolls’ room eventually reminds him of Miss Mellitt, and the sweet-rotten smell of the wood; touch – the cobwebs’ strands are sticky; sight and sound, even taste – the metallic taste of his own blood when pricked by the holly.
  • Recurring images: the crow; Mrs Kingshaw’s jewellery and clothes; the moths; death; the wood and the stream.
  • Physical descriptions of the characters: Mr H tall, thin and dark like Warings, gloomy, a failure, because even the house failed in its expectations. Mrs K is superficial, wears dangly earrings, jangling bracelets and shortens her skirts deliberately; another boy at Kingshaw’s school called her ‘an old tart.’ Charles is ginger-haired, taller than Hooper but unremarkable in both appearance and achievement – anonymous and that’s something he has cultivated to avoid being bullied before. He is fatalist with low self-esteem, constantly measuring his own success against others’. We see how often things have turned out badly for him in the past and yet he is not without friends. Edmund Hooper is never described physically only through things that he does and says do we gain any external impressions of him. He is isolated, solitary, detached, emotionless, cold and calculating, knowing and manipulative.
  • Dramatic irony – some of which are only obvious once we’ve finished the novel but the insight into the thoughts of the adults shows us their complete blindness; Kingshaw’s frequent references to his time in the wood and particularly the stream as representing safety and security; the repeated mantra, ‘it’ll be alright / this is all right / it will be all right…’ and it isn’t only Charles who says it.
  • Flashbacks – this technique allows the author to select and emphasise key events, helping to explain why characters think and behave in certain ways, shows how their lives have been shaped and influenced.
  • Characters’ thoughts – insight into characters through their thoughts enables the reader to understand and sympathise with them. It is significant that we almost entirely ‘hear’ Kingshaw’s thoughts and memories but occasionally we also hear Mr Hooper’s. Mrs Kingshaw is too shallow to reflect on her past, intent as she is on securing her future. The absence of Hooper’s thoughts and memories reflects his lack of conscience and maintains the inscrutability of his character.
  • Note – the structure is a deliberate device of the author; the episodic nature of the story reflects the boy’s view of the events which overwhelm him and his introspective thoughts and memories convince us of his isolation and persuade us to believe that suicide is his only means of escape.


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