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The Red Room

The Red Room

by H.G. Wells

Personifications of Darkness and Fear

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Both fear and darkness are frequently described as active, threatening forces in the story. For darkness, you can take your pick from any number of descriptions:

  • The shadow in the alcove at the end in particular, had that undefinable quality of a presence, that odd suggestion of a lurking, living thing… (33)
  • …the black shadow sprang back to its place there. (37)
  • While I stood gaping, the candle at the foot of the bed went out, and the shadows seemed to take another step towards me. (39)
  • …darkness closed upon me like the shutting of an eye, wrapped about me in a stifling embrace… (45)
As for fear, it gets the dramatic quotes at the end of the story:
  • "Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and overwhelms. It followed me through the corridor, it fought against me in the room----" (57)
  • It lurks there always. You can feel it even in the daytime, even of a bright summer's day, in the hangings, in the curtains, keeping behind you however you face about. In the dusk it creeps along the corridor and follows you, so that you dare not turn. (60)
What’s the deal with all of this personification of two abstract, nonliving things? Well, first, it certainly sounds cool. More importantly, though, it helps Wells give metaphorical meat to one of the story’s big ideas. Fear is uncontrollable, and is almost like an active evil force or spirit in the way it can strike at human beings and render them helpless. What better way to do that than describing it as alive? And since darkness and fear are so closely connected in the story, why not do it for both?

In addition, giving life to the darkness also lets us more directly into the narrator’s nervous state of mind: his fear makes him see threatening figures in the darkness and leads him to feel that there is some dark power actively attacking him.

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