Isolation in The Woman in Black

The theme of isolation is a common element in ghost stories. The protagonist is often trapped, alone and far away from help. In this story we see the theme of isolation from the very start when Arthur's step-family gathers around the fire to tell stories. His inability to participate sets him apart.

The young Arthur Kipps is taken away from his fiancée Stella and his life in London, to deal with the estate of Alice Drablow in a remote north eastern coastal town. We learn that the deceased spent her final years completely alone in Eel Marsh House, a place that is physically isolated from the community of Crythin Gifford. In fact, the house can only be reached during low tide via the Nine Lives Causeway and this is often inaccessible due to sea frets (cold sea fogs) that prevent visibility.

The woman in black is also isolated on many levels. She is always seen alone and her story is one of isolation from society and even her own child.

How is this shown in the novella?

In The Woman in Black, Hill shows the theme of isolation through:

  • the characters - Keckwick, the caretaker, and Mr Jerome, the agent, are both isolated in their own fear and Arthur Kipps is sent far away from his home and family
  • the setting - Eel Marsh House is physically cut off from the community
  • the structure - the story within a story structure (or frame story) isolates the ghost story
How does Hill show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Arthur is aloneArthur is isolated as the stranger in the village, as the only person who sees the ghost physically when he stays the night at Eel Marsh House.Until the very last second, it seemed that I was to be alone not merely in my compartment but in the entire train.From the moment he leaves London we are made aware of Arthur's aloneness. There is a sense that no one will be able to help him, and this seems unsettling.
Eel Marsh HouseThe house itself is at the end of a causeway that is cut off during high tides and bad weather.Neither could I see the causeway path, not only because of that but because the tide had now covered it over completely.The physical isolation of the place creates a sense of entrapment. This makes the eeriness of the house inescapable as we see when Arthur wants to leave.
Mrs Drablow lives aloneWhen Arthur and Samuel talk about Mrs Drablow, he refers to her isolation. This is emphasised by the fact that her funeral is barely attended."I gather she had no friends - or immediate family - that she was something of a recluse?"The isolation of characters and place is a key element that builds tension and fear in this story. We later wonder what role the ghost of Jennet Humfrye might have played in the isolation of her sister.

Analysing the evidence

How does Hill use the theme of isolation in this novella?

  • to create an eerie atmosphere
  • to build tension and fear
  • to explore, by contrast, the human need for love and family