Influences of the past in The Woman in Black

Susan Hill explores how the past is inescapable in this novella. Arthur tries to leave his past behind and seems to feel secure at Monk's Piece with his family. However when he is reminded of his haunted past, he is transported quickly into a state of fear.

The woman in black is also trapped by her past. Because she was unmarried, her child was taken away from her as society demanded at the time, and she was heartbroken by this injustice. This is made worse when her child dies in an accident. Initially her blame is directed at her sister, but after death she takes revenge on the wider community as well.

How is this shown in the novella?

  • Arthur is haunted by his memories of Eel Marsh House
  • Jennet Humfrye is unable to let go of her memories of injustice, even after death
  • Eel Marsh House is a container for the past, with all of Mrs Drablow's papers tucked like memories into every drawer
How does Hill show this?EvidenceAnalysis
The story of Arthur Kipps' visit to Eel Marsh House is a memoryShe introduces his story in the present tense to show how fear has pursued the narrator.It would be easy to look back and to believe that all that day I had had a sense of foreboding.The narrator implies from the start that this memory will be presented as accurately as possible.
Jennet Humfrye is driven mad by her own pastSamuel Daily explains the story of the woman in black and how her revenge has affected the community.In some violent or dreadful circumstance, a child has died.The way in which the ghost takes her revenge repeatedly shows how affected she is by her past.
Eel Marsh House is a container of memoriesSusan Hill shows how Mrs Drablow kept pieces of paper in chests and drawers all around the house.There were ancient household accounts and tradesmen's bills and receipts of thirty and forty years or more before.These papers might be seen as representing an unwillingness to let go of the past. This is the same trait that causes the ghost to continue taking her violent revenge.

Analysing the evidence

What influences from the past does Hill highlight in this novella?

  • The story-within-a-story structure represents the long-term impact that events can have
  • Both Arthur and the woman in black are haunted by their traumatic memories
  • Other characters, such as Keckwick and Mr Jerome are also disturbed by memories of their past.
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