Read the following extract from The Red Room by HG Wells:
The long, draughty, subterranean passage was chilly and dusty, and my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver. The echoes rang up and down the spiral staircase, and a shadow came sweeping up after me, and one fled before me into the darkness overhead. I came along the landing and stopped there for a moment, listening to a rustling sound that I fancied I heard; then, satisfied of the absolute silence, I pushed open the baize-covered door and stood in the corridor.
The Red Room by HG Wells
What sort of atmosphere is Wells trying to create and how does he do this? Can you use the IDEAS technique to help you write your answer?
The writer creates an atmosphere of fear and tension from the beginning of the extract. He describes 'the subterranean passage' as being 'draughty' and mentions that it is 'chilly and dusty'.
This creates a creepy and ghostly atmosphere that helps make the reader feel tense as the passage is underground, giving a sense of it being dark and possibly difficult to escape from. The cold and dust give us the idea that no-one has been there for a long time so he probably wouldn't be able to call for help.
The fact that the character only has a candle to light his way adds to the tension because we know that the draught could blow it out and he would be left in darkness, something we would associate with the unknown and with something frightening. The way the echoes 'rang up and down the spiral staircase' and the fact that the man 'stopped for a moment' because he thinks he hears a sound, adds to the ghostly effects as it builds up more of an impression of his surroundings by adding sound.
The description of the shadows also helps to create a sinister atmosphere as they make it even harder for the man to see what's ahead.
The writer uses literary techniques such as personification to describe the shadows, for example, writing that they 'cower and quiver' and 'came sweeping up and…one fled'. Bringing the shadows to life in this way creates an even more tense and disturbing atmosphere, as they seem capable of feelings. They ‘cower and quiver’ suggesting fright. The use of ‘fled’ gives the idea that the shadow wants to escape the situation. This could imply that the narrator is frightened and himself wishes to escape.
All of this makes the shadows sound somehow alive, or perhaps like ghosts. The words used are all linked with fear, so that even the shadows seem to be afraid of what's in the corridor. This, along with the sounds and darkness ahead, helps Wells create an eerie setting and a very tense atmosphere.
Have a look at this extract about 'Northland Wild' from a 19th-century novel by Jack London called White Fang:
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.
White Fang by Jack London
How and why does the writer create an atmosphere of cold and loneliness?
The narrator tells of a cold, empty landscape, 'a vast silence reigned over the land'.
This makes it seem as if nothing is moving or even living for miles around. The silence 'reigned', giving an impression of the power and majesty of ‘The Wild’.
There is more use of the personification of nature when the trees 'lean towards one another, black and ominous in the fading light' and the forest 'frowned', giving the impression of a cold and rather threatening atmosphere, creating tension.
The use of 'lean' and 'frowned' to personify the trees and forest gives the impression that nature and 'The Wild' are a negative force and the trees leaning towards one another blocks out the light, referring to the ‘black’ and ‘ominous’ atmosphere. It is a place without hope.
The fact that the narrator refers to 'the futility of life' implies that nothing can grow here and nothing will. It shows the true power of ‘The Wild’. This certainly seems to be the writer’s overall intended purpose when you bring all of the techniques that he has used together.