A short story is a type of story writing that was very popular during the Victorian era. It can be written in any style or genre, from horror to romantic. Writers of short stories had to keep to certain specifications though, which in some ways, limited them but also told the story as it was and gave a lot more effect on the reader. The stories usually contained two to three main characters and a few settings. For example, Elizabeth Gaskell uses three settings in her short story ‘The Sexton’s Hero’, Lindal a small bay-side village, St Peter’s church where the story starts and Morecambe Bay its self.
A short story must have small amounts of detail about both the setting and the characters. This makes the story tell only the very basics. Elizabeth Gaskell was a very faithful woman to her husband, which was exactly what was expected from a married woman in the Victorian age. She was so devoted to her vicar husband, that she never used her first name; hence she is always referred to as Mrs Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell always used settings that she knew and been to, so she could create the best effect on the reader. It gave us a sense of realisation and made us think as she would have done when she first saw that place.
Mrs Gaskell was a devoted Christian and she believed that all form of violence was wrong and should never be used. No matter what. This belief is shown in the character Gilbert Dawson. She makes the reader very sympathetic towards Gilbert due to his beliefs. He refuses to use violence and because of that belief, he is shunted from the whole of Lindal The story ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ is about the dangers of Morecambe Bay, but the bigger picture tells us that no matter what a setting looks like, it can still pose a huge threat to anyone, even a strong man like Gilbert Dawson, who’s strong belief in God caused him to risk his life for another.
The story is about how the Sexton’s jealousy made him turn against one of his best friends, all because the girl he loved, Letty. She had her eyes on another man, Gilbert Dawson. Gilbert had the same trade as the Sexton, making osiers for the Liverpool coopers so they were normally very close friends. To win Letty’s eye, the Sexton challenged Gilbert to a fight, which he turned down. This was a very un-heard of thing in Lindal and Gilbert was then rejected from all of village life, leaving him isolated and alone.
Gilbert at the end of the story then sacrifices himself for the married couple Letty and the Sexton because he has given up on life and doesn’t want to live rejected for the rest of his existence. ‘Beyond lay meadow green and mountain grey, and the blue dazzle of Morecambe Bay’ describes the author in the opening to the story who ‘cannot speak adequately’ about the view before them. ‘Innumerable lichens, ferns, ivy of most tender green and most delicate tracery, and the vivid scarlet of the crane’s bill’ Mrs Gaskell carries on to describe.
This whole opening is so full of colour and beauty that we don’t think that it is possible for anything bad to happen at this place. That is one way how Mrs Gaskell pulls her readers in to believe that this story is going to have a happy ending. The whole opening gives the ending of the story a great amount of effect as we aren’t prepared for what is about to happen. The setting is more than coincidental for this story line, even though the setting is made out to be very beautiful, its meaning of being set in a churchyard is a lot more sinister than the reader thinks.
It shows us that no matter how beautiful a place is, you cannot forget the dangers, because if you do, it will surely take you life. Just like Morecambe Bay. We first have dialogue from a man asking another person what he would define as a hero, which sets the theme for the story. It makes us also think about what we would define as a hero, someone who would fight for their country or someone who would risk their life to save other people or both. This question could be asked us at the very end of the story, just to make us think about the character of Gilbert Dawson and the good he has done for people in the story.
During the first third of the story, the Sexton talks very highly of himself, saying that he were the ‘cock of the village and ‘strapping a chap I was’, both of these show us that he wasn’t very well educated. But completely contrasting, he talks about himself as an old man, showing lots of modesty and emotion in the way he speaks. He says that ’till the tears came so thick to my eyes, I could gaze no longer. ‘ From this we can tell that whatever has happened, he regrets it and that something terrible happened in the town to make him cry.
This is one case of many when Mrs Gaskell uses foreshadowing to tell us that something bad is going to happen, this makes us slightly nervous as we don’t know what is going to happen and to who. The Sexton explains how Gilbert was grave, but Letty was ‘so merry and light’ which could have been said out of jealousy as Letty did like Gilbert and the Sexton wasn’t very happy about it. It makes us wonder if he is a spiteful person and if he dwells on the past. We can tell that the Sexton loathed Gilbert for him being with Letty, by what he says. ‘Lord God forgive me!