The Gothic genre is a style of film and literature that expresses themes of madness, death, darkness, romance and obsession. Although Rebecca and The Tell- Tale Heart are fitted to the Gothic genre, the composers have conveyed similar themes in different ways. Obsession in Rebecca is that of Mrs Danvers, who is obsessed to the point it drives her mad. She would do anything to bring Rebecca back. Whereas in Poe’s short story the narrator is so obsessed with the eye of an old man he would do anything, including commit murder to get rid of it.
Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rebecca is a psychological thriller that uses cinematic techniques such as pathetic fallacy, characterization, motifs and lighting to convey gothic themes of madness and obsession. In contrast, Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Tell- Tale Heart uses literary techniques such as narration and figurative language to successfully convey these same themes. While both composers convey Gothic themes of madness and obsession they communicate each with different techniques. Also the characters that they have created are portrayed as dealing with madness and obsession very differently.
In the film Rebecca, the different characters Max and Mrs Danvers are used to explore the Gothic theme of madness. Hitchcock manipulates the frame in key scenes, by making Max’s body language suggest his nervousness, worry, anger and the need to ease himself. Max goes on to acknowledge, “Perhaps I am mad”. This declaration sums up the theory that something bothers Max, and that it is obviously taking a toll on him. Hitchcock depicts the sincere and loyal personality of Max as hiding something which changes his personality and domineering status. This is used to explore the gothic theme of madness and the effects that it has on Max.
However, Mrs Danvers’ obsession leads her to commit acts of madness. Towards the end of the film Mrs Danvers burns down the mansion while she is still inside, inevitably killing herself in an attempt to bring justice to the long dead Rebecca. The final scene of the burning mansion and the screaming Mrs Danvers is symbolic of her madness, which was dangerous and not dissimilar from satanic worship. Poe’s The Tell- Tale Heart, also explores the gothic theme of madness. By writing in first person, Poe makes the story very narrow, as it fits only the narrator’s thoughts and reasoning.
The narrator repeatedly claims he is not mad and that it is not madness that drives him, but instead it is the right thing to do. But he continues to question, “How then, am I mad? ” Although there is only one point of view throughout the story, the narrator seems to talk to readers. He tries to persuade readers who are essentially his conscience that he is sane. Rather than convincing readers that he is sane, he verifies that he is indeed mad. By writing in first person, it is easy to understand what is going through the narrator’s mind. He emphasizes his madness and denial.
Towards the end of the story the narrator behaves as if he is haunted and guilty, “I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer”. He begins to imagine things that aren’t really there and reaches the point at which he can no longer hide his secret. Hence he is essentially confessing in the hope of freeing his conscience. Poe’s character is one who denies madness, whereas Hitchcock’s character embraces the idea. In addition, both Hitchcock and Poe successfully convey the Gothic theme of obsession. Hitchcock develops the menacing and lingering Mrs Danvers as a conniving character with an unnatural adoration for Rebecca.
This is made apparent when Mrs De Winter catches Mrs Danvers in the room of Rebecca. The room has been kept to the precise orders of the late Rebecca. Mrs Danvers admiringly recounts all Rebecca had requested, “I kept her furs in here… Put it against your face. It’s soft isn’t it? You can feel it can’t you? The scent is still fresh isn’t it? ” The relationship between Mrs Danvers and the late Rebecca quickly escalates to become one that transgresses the normal. Mrs Danvers continues to hold onto the obsessive relationship and twisted love she shared with Rebecca.
Mrs Danvers still longs for Rebecca who is no longer alive. The tone and language that Mrs Danvers uses when speaking to Mrs De Winter is short and proper. She seems to deliberately want to make Mrs De Winter feel uneasy with herself and incomparable to Rebecca. Even though Rebecca is dead, she is an increasingly large figure throughout the film. Her power is not drawn physically, but from the relationship she had with Mrs Danvers and the loyalty Mrs Danvers has for her. With the presence of Mrs Danvers, and the motif of her ‘R’ embroidery, there is a heavy feeling of Rebecca still being alive and never going away.
The obsession that Mrs Danvers has for Rebecca may not be one of violence and hate, but it is still menacing, off-putting and frightening, right up to the end. The obsession in Poe’s short story and Hitchcock’s film both end similarly. The main character from The Tell- Tale Heart has an unhealthy obsession just like Mrs Danvers, “It haunted me day and night… I think it was the eye! Yes it was this! ” After ridding himself of the eye, a motif on the narrator’s obsession which is similar to the motif of Rebecca, his obsession has only shifted to concealing the crime he has committed.
The narrator focuses all his power and attention to an eye, which causes him much annoyance, and an unbearable need to destroy it. His obsession with the eye and how it makes him feel, leads him to agree with himself in that it must be stopped. It is as if his obsession clouds his judgment of what is right and wrong. Even though Poe conveys the old man as how the narrator sees him, a reader can interpret the true nemesis as being the narrator. Poe conveys the narrator’s obsession by emphasizing every thought that has crossed his mind and how he spends much time and energy, taking care to deal with his obsession and fear.
Eventually Poe’s character like Max also tries to conceal his crime but ends with a guilty confession. In conclusion, the key characters of Rebecca and The Tell- Tale Heart all portray the Gothic themes of madness and obsession. Each character plays a different role; Mrs Danvers is drawn up as a conniving madwoman who meets her deserved death. In contrast, Poe’s character is mad from the beginning as a result of an unhealthy obsession. He meets his own end voluntarily as he confesses his guilt.