In The Tower by Marghanita Laski we have the theme of fear, control, freedom, perseverance, ,change and perseverance. It is often considered as one of the scariest short stories ever written. And there is no ghost involved.
Fear :Fear is highlighted by Caroline’s hesitancy to explore something new outside the protection and overarching influence of Neville, thus trying to break the shackles, and feel liberated, unfettered. As she moves deeper into exploring the tower, fear keeps tightening its grip, and in the later stages when she reaches the top and decides to return,fear overwhelms her to such an extent that hurling herself from top and ending her life seems like an easy way out of the predicament for Caroline.
Control and freedom: Neville presence in the story is in the form of flashbacks. He is not present in the story that revolves around the tower but till exerts an influence over his wife. She works in his timeframe. Where they travel, what they explore, what is considered appropriate, which language to absorb, is all dictated by Neville, his job and and associated pride.
Change: The name of the tower and desolate surroundings gave her an uneasy feeling. Caroline was 30 minutes travel away from the safety provided by the living under shadow of Neville, still she decided to explore the tower. This shows her desire fro change that she suppressed for long. As she moved closer to tower, the desire for change became stronger and kept gaining strength as she explored it further.
Perseverance:In the conflict between what Caroline was supposed to do(go back to the safety provided by her life revolving around Neville), and what she desired, the latter won. Though a part of her pulled her back, she persevered and despite multiple hindrances reached the top of stairs at step number 470. As the milieu kept getting bleaker and hopelessness grew to the point where she started considering hurling herself from top to death, she still managed to keep her sanity and remain steadfast in her determination to reach the bottom of the tower.
Through the setting Laski manages to highlight to the reader the fear that Caroline feels while she is climbing both up and down the tower. Though Neville is not present in the story he still has the ability to control Caroline and she appears to be working off Neville’s time frame (his meeting and getting back home). This could be significant as Laski could be suggesting that Caroline is not only controlled by Neville but that she lacks the real freedom needed to live her life. Something that is also clear to the reader by the way that Caroline is bored when she tours the country with Neville to see some of the country homes.
It is as though Caroline is obliging Neville because it is her role to do so. Though ironically when she is climbing the tower she has all the freedom in the world. The ascent of the tower is also interesting as symbolically Laski could be suggesting that Caroline is reaching the pinnacle when it comes to gender roles. She is the equal of a man. She has overcome her fears and is not being controlled by anyone.
There is also no doubt that Neville would disapprove of Caroline’s activities. Mainly because he is unable to control Caroline’s environment. Though what happens Caroline is sinister she still nonetheless has the freedom to be independent of Neville while she is climbing the tower. However this independence comes at a price. Caroline is lost forever as soon as she begins to descend from the tower. Something that is noticeable to the reader by the fact that Caroline climbs down more steps than she originally climbed up when she began to climb the tower.
It may also be a case that Laski is exploring the theme of perseverance. Despite being afraid Caroline continues to climb the tower. Even though the rewards are not as she would expect them to be. When Caroline reaches the top of the tower there is no moment of realisation or epiphany. Nothing has changed. Which may symbolically suggest that despite all the difficulties a woman may encounter to reach the top of the gender ladder. Things will still be the same. Women will never be the equal of men. Despite the struggles they might endure. This could be significant as Laski might be suggesting that at the time the story was written the efforts of women to achieve equality or to be on par with men would be fruitless. If anything things would remain the same. Something that is a little bit clearer to the reader when Caroline begins her decent sitting down on the steps. It is as though she is unable to move or that she may be somewhat paralysed. In reality Caroline has achieved her goal and nothing changes and if anything the descent is more frightening to Caroline than the ascent.
Use of Foreshadowing and symbolisms :What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Laski appears to be using foreshadowing when Caroline and Neville are looking at the portrait of Giovanna di Ferramano. Neville compares Caroline to Giovanna who died aged only eighteen and the reader is assured that Caroline herself when she descends the tower is also due to meet an unfortunate end. Which may be the point that Laski is attempting to make. She could be suggesting that despite the passing of time the roles of women have not changed. They still remain subservient to the male regardless of any efforts that they might undertake to change the status quo.
Another similarity between Giovanna and Caroline is the fact that just as Giovanna died mysteriously so too will Caroline. Though Caroline has tried her best to control the environment around her (the tower) she has failed in doing so. Which may suggest to some readers that symbolically Laski is highlighting a woman’s inability to control a male dominated environment. Caroline’s life is to end with her crawling or walking around in circles (descent) with no fixed point of change (exit) being available to her. Just as many women prior to Caroline have attempted to achieve change very little if anything has actually changed.