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The Red Room

The Red Room


by H.G. Wells

Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?

The ending of "The Red Room" is classic. What turns out to haunt the room? Drum roll…fear itself. And that killer last quote: "There is Fear in that room of hers – black Fear, and there will be – so long as this house of sin endures" (60). Can’t you just see the 40’s horror movie, with Boris Karloff delivering that line right as the credits come on to spooky music?

There’s quite a suspenseful buildup to the ending until the narrator announces what it is that really haunts the red room. We still never know what actually happened to the narrator up there. Was it all in his mind, or was there actually a ghost? When he tells the others that the room is "haunted," it sounds as if he’s going to concede, and admit – against what he said at the beginning – that there really is a ghost. But he doesn’t. The room is haunted by fear. No ghosts in this story.

Now you might think: "It’s just fear? I wanted a ghost!" Not so fast. If we take the ending seriously, what’s in the room isn’t "just" fear, it’s FEAR! Fear is far more terrifying than anything we could imagine. It’s dangerous. Fear killed the young duke, (who apparently fell down the stairs), and almost killed the narrator by making them lose their senses, and they couldn’t do anything to control it. That might be worse than your garden-variety ghost could manage. And what’s more, in spite of his initial boasting, didn’t the narrator lose the battle with fear? He couldn’t beat it. It’s just his luck that he didn’t fall down the stairs or otherwise mortally injure himself, like the duke did.

What about the dire pronouncement the man with the shades makes at the end? He proclaims that the red room will remain haunted by Fear until the house is gone. We think this suggests something else about fear. Fear isn’t just in one’s head; we should actually take that language of it haunting a place seriously. The eerie atmosphere and the dreadful history of the red room combine to make it a place that will scare whoever visits it, even if they "know" it’s not really haunted. What happened to the narrator will happen to anyone else who tries. Each additional person’s defeat by fear in the red room will only increase its frightful reputation.

If you’re also wondering about why the man with the shade speaks of the room being "that room of hers," you'll have to keep guessing. He must be referring to the young countess, but by the story’s end we still don’t know what happened to her.

One last thing: it’s interesting to note that both the narrator and the man with the shades personify fear (in addition to putting it in capital letters). Fear "followed" the narrator, and "fought" against him in the room, while the man with the shades speaks of it "lurking" and "creeping." That adds extra effect to the idea we’ve just developed. Rather than being "merely psychological," it might be more accurate to think of fear as an actively hostile force, which terrorizes individual people. Not that different from a ghost after all.

When all’s said and done, you might still feel let down about there being no ghost. In which case, here’s something else to think about. We get the conclusion that there is no ghost from the narrator, but it’s not clear how he knows that. Sure he and the guy with the shades, and almost certainly Wells himself (who’s trying to make a point), think there’s no real ghost. But what was blowing out all of those candles? What took care of the fire just when the narrator needed it? We didn’t have any mention of wind, besides one measly draft that makes one of the candles flicker (i.e., not nearly powerful enough to blow out multiple candles). And did the narrator really get so battered just from crashing into things? "The Red Room" answers none of these questions.

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