Fear in The Woman in Black

Fear is a human response to the threat of danger or harm. In this story there are different layers of fear and responses to it. In the first chapter, when Arthur Kipps is reminded of his ghost story, he runs to the garden, with his heart pounding. Susan Hill uses these physiological manifestations of fear throughout the book.

When Arthur talks to Mr Jerome about seeing the woman in black in the graveyard, the man clutches at his wrist and seems about to collapse. Later, when Arthur sees the woman outside Eel Marsh House, his knees tremble and his flesh creeps with fear.

We see how Arthur is transformed throughout the story by his fear. He starts as a rational young man; by the end he is reduced to a feverish and paralysing state of terror.

How is this shown in the novella?

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

  • physiological responses to fear - sweating, pounding hearts, weakness
  • the long-term effect of fear on Mr Jerome and Keckwick
  • the power that the woman in black has in death to control people through fear
How does Hill show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Arthur is initially determined to hide his fearWhen he speaks to Mr Jerome about needing assistance at the house, he refuses to accept his own feelings.I tried to make light of something that we both knew was gravely serious.This denial of fear seems to heighten it. Arthur is afraid, and feels the danger of going against these instincts.
Physiological responses to fearShe describes in detail the various bodily responses to fear.I sat up paralysed, frozen, in the bed, conscious only of the dog and of the prickling of my own skin.These responses are the beginnings of extreme fear. This draws out empathy for the narrator - we feel afraid with him.
The woman in black controls people with fearJennet Humfrye takes control in death that she did not have in life. She uses fear to take her revenge.She directed the purest evil and hatred and loathing, with all the force that was available to her.This energy that comes from the ghost is frightening. The rumours that a child dies every time she is seen create the long-term fear that Mr Jerome, Keckwick and eventually, Arthur Kipps experience.

Analysing the evidence

How is Arthur transformed through fear?

  • he is a rational, optimistic character from the city at the start of his story
  • being haunted by the woman in black fills him with fear and drives him to madness
  • the fear stays with him long into his future, disturbing times that should be filled with joy and celebration