Have you ever felt afraid, and not known exactly why you were afraid? The rational part of you will tell you there’s nothing to be afraid of, but the terror still lurks around the corner, in the shadows of your mind. That terror is the terror of nightmare, when the rational mind is asleep or off duty.
You’ve probably felt moments like that, in nightmares if not in waking life. Yet did you ever talk about it with anyone? Did you write it down in your diary? Did you put it into your novel or a poem?
I’m simplifying a novel – rewriting it for Japanese students of English – and there’s a scene in which a young woman becomes terrified without quite knowing the reason, and she flees the house and runs to a friend’s, even though it is very late in the evening, and even though that friend is living with his mother.
In fact, there is a very real danger to the girl, but she is not fully aware of it, or of its nature. It has to do with her uncle and the kind of life she lives with him: a life which, we learn gradually, is becoming moulded more and more by an uncle who seems to have very little real respect or sympathy for his niece, or for people generally, although he always sounds sympathetic, and talks grandly of universal brotherhood. It becomes clear to the reader that Uncle is smothering the girl, keeping her like a caged bird. Not only that, but the way he does it is by subtly laughing at the girl’s ideas and ambitions and hopes. When she says she wants to go to college, he laughs and says, “God made the elephant for toil and the mosquito for flitting about and it’s not advisable to experiment with the laws of nature, however, if you want to try it, my dear child….” He uses a similar approach when she talks of getting married.
Her fiancé has a sense that this is not healthy, and remonstrates with the girl, but she will hear not hear a bad word spoken about her Uncle. She handles his fan mail, you see, and she reads the letters of gratitude from readers for all the things he’s done. The girl thinks uncle is kind and understanding, but from the hints she drops, the reader (and her fiancé) sense that he’s not really kind at all.
So when the scene with the rustling paper happens, the reader can understand the cause of her horror: it’s her Uncle’s stifling, stifling the life out of her, mocking her own desires until she abandons them as puerile. Continue reading Rustling paper nightmare
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