‘A Vendetta’ & ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’: Close or Distant? Essay
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Though it’s not exactly the case of ‘great men think alike’, yet, there is some similarity between the two short stories of two great storytellers of two different times, “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and “A Vendetta” by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893). It produces same reactions at times, as both are murder stories. Apart from that, each of them works with different themes and uses different type of presentations. Therefore this essay tries to find out such differences and similarities between these two stories, before reaching its own conclusion.
SUMMARY OF ‘THE TELL-TALE HEART’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ deals with a theme like ‘an ill mind can stretch itself to any degree under provocative conditions. ‘ Here the central character is a nameless person, who is actually a madman and full of strange behavior. He does not like his master because of dully eyes and that is why he wants to kill his master! Poe has written this story in first person, and that kind of storytelling raised more tension in the story, besides showing how the strange chemistry of human mind influences a person to kill someone, and then to confess about it.
In the story, the dull expression of the eyes of his old master irritates the person and that irritation finally turns into a desire to murder the master. So the servant keeps on recharging his desire by visiting his master’s room at the dead of night for several days and then finally kills the old man. All the while readers come to know about his strange mental condition through his confessions about hearing strange sounds or his frequent references on ‘madness’. That ‘madness’ carries the story till the end, when he kills and even cuts off the body parts of his master and hides them before revealing about everything to policemen.
SUMMARY OF ‘A VENDETTA’ The theme of this story can be anything that speaks about ‘how the intensity of human desire paves its way towards fulfillment’. Presented in third person narrative, this story shows that how with dedication, determination and application one can achieve an apparently impossible mission even under critical circumstance. The central character of the story, an old widow, finds her son Antoine Saverini murdered by a man named Nicolas Ravolati, who leaves the place at once.
The widow gets shocked, as she is now left alone with only a dog as her companion, save the black future. Yet she resolves to avenge the murder of her son and constantly ponders on that idea, in spite of the fact that she is weak, and has none to support her in her mission. However, it’s her deep desire to fulfill the mission that aids to her vision, where she finds an option like training the dog to kill. Once decided, she finds a novel way to train the dog, where she uses a dummy and an age-old idea of providing incentive to the animal after successful completion of the ‘murder rehearsal’.
This goes on for quite a few days before she gets convinced that the dog is ready to do the job, and then she goes out to find Nicolas Ravolati and finally meets him in the backyard of his new home. It is there she unleashes the dog to kill Ravolati and thus fulfills her mission of avenging her son’s murder. THREE QUALITIES OF ‘THE TELL-TALE HEART’ First person narrative Edgar Allan Poe has used first person narrative in Tell-Tale, which suits the story in many ways. Firstly, it has helped the writer to show the strange mental condition of the murderer through his own words.
Secondly, it has helped him to use clinical clues easily. The symptoms of madness in the man have been placed right from the paragraph (elements are identified in italics), which creates the background of the story. “TRUE! – NERVOUS– very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! But why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. how, then, am I mad? ”
Everyone knows that someone mentally ill often feels nervous and complains about strange things. Poe shows that to the readers through words and actions of the main character, where he openly admits about his nervousness or ‘hearing more than others’. Such victims of mental illness turn violent too – which we observe later, when he attacks and kills his master. At the end of the story, Poe makes the man complaint again about the strange crisis within him – “I could bear those hypocritical no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! —and now–again–hark! louder!
louder! louder! ” Effect of Madness This story tells its readers about how strange, painful and unpredictable a madman’s life can be. It is always difficult to use madness as a main issue in a short story, but a master storyteller like Poe has mixed it in such a way that readers are bound to be sympathetic to the murderer in the end. All over the story Poe produces enough of dialogues and actions to convince the readers about the helpless condition of the murderer (clinical clues placed in italics). “I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror.
It was not a groan of pain or grief—oh no! – it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me”. It is that sad tune of madness that rings on all throughout the story and touches the heart of the readers. Bizarre Motive The motive of murder is bizarre, which clearly shows the unfortunate mental state of the murderer, who even admits that right at the beginning of the story.
“It is impossible to tell how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night”. Or “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it”. These lines clearly show the uncertainty in the man, and also indicate the motive is bizarre. On the other hand, this bizarre motive is significant to know more about how mental illness works in a person; and from that angle, it has to be a conscious creation of Poe. THREE QUALITIES OF ‘A VENDETTA’ Third Person Narrative Maupassant has used third person narrative to tell this story.
Third person narrative always has the scope to cover a big picture, and Maupassant’s genius has utilized that possibility to a great level. The details of the surroundings of the town Bonifacio, the place where the widow lived with her son – all influence the readers to identify the helplessness of a lonely widow who desperately wants to be at peace by killing her son’s murderer. Just two lines from the story can serve as an example. “The widow Saverini’s house held for dear life to the very edge of the cliff; its three windows looked out over this wild and desolate scene”.
It is as if, Maupassant says to the reader – “Look at this poor, lonely lady, who is living on the edge by all means, yet she is out to win justice.. ” Clear Motive Behind the Murder The widow’s motive is clear and concise, that she is out to avenge the murder of her son – in other words, to find peace by accomplishing her mission. This is why the widow is calm and devoted to the task cut out before her. “For three months she trained the dog to this struggle, the conquest of a meal by fangs”. This statement proves the fact that she is seeing it as a mission, of which murder is just a part to complete the circle.
This determined approach of the widow heightens the tension of the story, while winning sympathy for her. Maupassant Used Interesting Old Tricks Using ‘incentives’ in the training of animals is an age-old practice among circus trainers or the farm-keepers. Maupassant successfully used that idea in the story to provide the much-needed solution for the widow. “One night, as Semillante was beginning to moan again, the mother had a sudden idea, an idea quite natural to a vindictive and ferocious savage”. And “She had taught the dog to rend and devour it without hiding food in its throat.
Afterwards she would reward the dog with the gift of the black pudding she had cooked for her”. And “As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would tremble, then turn her eyes towards her mistress, who would cry “Off! ” in a whistling tone, raising her finger”. It is this novel idea that takes this story to a new level from where it takes off towards the climax. This ‘incentive’ technique in fact proves to be the backbone of the story, because without it, the widow could not have fulfilled her mission with the help of a dog. SIMILARITIES
From a readers’ point of view the similarities between these two stories can be placed in the order like below: Application of Interesting ideas Both Poe and Maupassant have chosen interesting ideas to build their story – and this treatment may be considered as a similarity. Though their ideas are far from close to each other (madness and ‘incentive’ technique), yet they serve the same purpose for their respective stories – they add dimensions to the readers’ interest. There is another such similarity – that is about the murder methods – while one uses a dog, other opts for a bed.
Ability to sustain readers’ interest The flow of events in both the stories is well planned and they hold readers’ interest till the end – between which the detailing involves the reader with the event. In Tell-Tale, the monologues invite the readers to realize the helplessness of a person who fails to decide on what to do with his aimless mind, while Vendetta inspires the readers with its detailed account of the determination of an old widow. Same Structure Structurally both the stories are similar, though category wise Vendetta is somewhat closer to ‘twist’ category and Tell-Tale belongs to ‘tale’ category.
Yet, the stories are well plotted, where Poe wants to show the negative effect of brain and Maupassant wants to show positive power of brain. Both the stories have fewer characters and have background elements working in their favour (madness and determination). CONCLUSION Though both the stories produce similar emotion at times, they are written almost from an opposite angle, where Tell-Tale is a story of an unfortunate madman and Vendetta is a declaration on the power of human mind.
From this angle, these two stories are just the opposite, as Poe shows us, almost like a doctor, how helpless humans are, when their brains malfunction, while Maupassant tells what a human can achieve with brain-power even under difficult conditions. However, good stories tend to be puzzling, and that allows anyone to consider these two stories as two sides of the same coin on the ground that both deal with the power of mind, be it ill or good. Ends