The Red Room by H.G. Wells Analysis

Instructor: Karen Wolak

Karen has taught 4-8th grade English/Language Arts and has worked closely with adult learners for several years. M.Ed. in Adult Education.

Don't be fooled! 'The Red Room' by H.G. Wells may seem like a simple short story. However, it is difficult to understand the story's true meaning without reviewing its symbols. Let's look deeper at this deceptive work!

It's Not that Simple

Have you ever encountered a twist at the end of a story that made you reevaluate everything you just read? ''The Red Room'' by H.G. Wells seems very straightforward on the surface. It's very easy to miss its depth and meaning. You may read the story all the way through and think it's nothing more than a campfire ghost story. However, the dialogue in the last few lines of the story doesn't quite sync with the rest of the tale. It seems a bit dramatic for a story about a man who gets scared of the dark and accidentally knocks himself unconscious.

At the end, the narrator tells the caretakers that the Red Room is haunted by fear. Why fear? Why not just say he was scared of the dark? Furthermore, one of the caretakers calls fear a ''Power of Darkness,'' and ''a curse upon this world!'' He concludes, ''Fear is in that room. Black Fear…. And there it will be… so long as this house of sin endures.'' What is the caretaker talking about? How has the world been cursed? What is the ''house of sin'' that he mentions?

These passages indicate that there is more to ''The Red Room'' than we see on the surface and that this text warrants further examination. To understand ''The Red Room,'' we must first understand its symbols. Symbols are elements of a story that are meant to represent something else.

Symbolism: Darkness and Light

Did you notice that the narrator seems afraid at night, but the opposite during the day? In ''The Red Room,'' darkness is actually a symbol for fear. Wells establishes that darkness is a menacing presence through the use of imagery, or vivid visual descriptions. These are often created through personification, or the attribution of human-like qualities to non-human things. Let's take a look at a few examples.

Darkness is described through personification.
Darkness is described through personification.

Whenever the narrator is afraid, there is usually a description of darkness. He initially feels uneasy around the caretakers, and describes one as having ''a monstrous shadow . . . crouched upon the wall.'' As the narrator makes his way through the spooky corridor to the Red Room, his tension and fear begin to grow. So do the descriptions of darkness. A shadow on the tunnel wall seemed like ''one crouching to waylay me.'' Since darkness does not have a physical form in which it can ''crouch,'' and because darkness does not have the consciousness to plot to attack someone, these uses of personification make it seem more menacing. The darkness is described as a ''a lurking living thing,'' and we believe it due to the use of personification.

On the other hand, light is used to show protection and courage; the narrator feels safe in its presence. Light has power over the darkness. The narrator states that his candles make the shadows ''cower and quiver.'' The brighter the setting is, the safer he feels. When he fills the Red Room with candles, he finds the light ''cheering and reassuring.'' When the narrator awakens in the daylight, the feeling of fear vanishes. The light immediately establishes safety, which results in a more relaxed mood. Even the narrator's attitude towards the caretakers changes, and he cannot understand why he thought they were so dreadful the night before.

Light is a symbol for protection and courage.
Light is a symbol for protection and courage.

The Red Room

Knowing that darkness represents fear explains the narrator's claim that the Red Room was haunted by fear. But what about the caretaker's comments about fear remaining ''so long as this house of sin endures?''

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