Comparison between The Tell-tale Heart Essay
Comparison between The Tell-tale Heart
The Tell-Tale Heart was written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1843. Famous for his scary novels Poe’s most famous work was the short story, The Tell-Tale Heart which depicts an anonymous narrator as he carries out his plan to murder a helpless old man. Misery was written by Stephen King in 1987 and it follows a similar theme of horror/thriller with similar characters in similar positions. King tells the story of a renowned author as he gets captured and tortured by a woman.
Both of these stories use different techniques through their plot, language and punctuation but they have much the same effect on the reader. In both stories, one of the underlying techniques for building up suspense is hidden inside a well thought out and structured plot. In Misery, the narrative switches back and forth between Paul the author, and his kidnapper, who is known only as Annie. This creates the main source of suspense in the story building it up by showing where each character is, what they’re doing and how close they’re getting to each other.
What adds to this suspense is the effect of hearing Paul’s thoughts directly. Even though the extract is written in third person, a fraction of the text is written in italics and it represents Paul’s thoughts. The writer does this for several reasons. To show things from Paul’s point of view and what he is thinking at the time in more detail , but also to underline how worried and panicked he is as things start to go wrong. By hearing Paul’s thoughts directly the reader gets to understand how fearful Paul is of getting caught.
Also concealed between the lines of the plot is the way the writer stresses the high stakes of what Paul was doing and what will happen to him if he’s caught. Right at the beginning of the extract, Paul compares what is happening to him, to his past childhood experience. Through this comparison, the writer introduces the possible idea of Paul getting caught and what will happen to him if he is. The flashback takes the reader back to when Paul had been twelve and decided to try some of his mother’s cigarettes. As the room filled with smoke, his mum returned in search for her forgotten purse.
We are not told about what his mother did to him when she caught him, but you can guess from the words “It will be more than a spanking this time” that it was going to be bad. This tells us that if he is caught by Annie in present day he would have to face terrible consequences. Paul compares these to situations because in both he’s attempting something and trying not to get caught. In the flashback he does get caught, giving a sense of foreboding to the rest of the story, making the reader think he might get caught again.
The high stakes are also shown throughout the extract in Paul’s actions and thoughts. His desperation in his attempts to get back into the room and lock the door and his attention to detail show how scared he is of getting caught, because of what he thinks will happen to him if he is. “Oh Jesus Christ, did you chip the paint, did you leave a track”. His thoughts also scream fear and anxiety in the way punctuation like question marks, exclamation marks and pauses are used. “did she hear that? She must have must have heard that! ”
These things are used very effectively as Paul stumbles upon problem upon problem as he attempts to return to the living room after failing to escape from his prison. He must leave everything the way it was to avoid suspicion from Annie, his kidnapper. However his luck doesn’t seem to be doing him any favours whilst Annie pulls up the driveway. His first problem was getting into the living room; the wheelchair was a very tight fit. On his first go he crashed into the side, “The wheelchair thumped against the right side of the doorway and bounced back a little”.
His reaction to this was one of great terror and panic, “Did you chip the pain? His mind screamed at him”. On his second try he got jammed in the doorway and wouldn’t budge. The amount of effort he put in getting through shows the reader how scared he was of the cost of getting caught. “The muscles in his arms quivering like overturned violin strings”. The other problem that he encounters is made clear to the reader, as Paul tries to close the door of living room. The door must be closed and locked in order to leave everything the way it was before Annie left it and avoid suspicion.
However whilst pushing the lock back with his thumb he meets an obstruction. Through panicked deduction he realizes the bobby pin he had originally used to unlock the door was stuck in the keyhole, stopping the lock from going back inside. These events contribute greatly to the suspense of the extract by giving Paul more chance of getting caught and keeping the story thrilling and fast-paced. In terms of pace I think that in Misery, as Paul encounters several problems on his return to the room, the story is more fast-paced and exciting than The Tell-Tale Heart.
In comparison with Misery, The Tell-Tale Heart is extremely slow and unhurried because as it is first person the narrator is describing everything in full detail and all his thoughts at the time. Plus most of the murder involved waiting. At the end of the extract Paul overcomes all his problems but as he sat in his wheelchair awaiting the untimely arrival of Annie, he looks down and realises that the box of Novrils is still in his lap. “The box of Novrils was still in his lap”. This final sentence in its simplistic form puts an end to Paul’s series of unfortunate events in a great climax of suspense.
The sentence is short and straightforward, leaving the reader to work out what will happen for themselves. There was no way Paul could do anything with the box without being seen because Annie was just on the other side of the living room door. If she found him with the Novrils (which were fictional painkillers) she would be able to guess what he was doing whilst she was out and he would have to pay the dire consequences of his actions. From the extract, the way Paul was reacting to every detail of the room, you would fear the worst for his life.
The sentence finishes the extract with an ominous feeling for what will happen to Paul when discovered, leaving the story with a suspenseful cliff-hanger. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the way the plot builds up tension lies solely with the narrator and the way he recounts the story of how he killed an old man. The narrator starts the story by trying to convince and persuade the reader that he is indeed sane and not mad. This in itself is mysterious; what had he done that needed persuasion on others behalf to credit as sane. The narrator then introduces the idea of a murder by first establishing the motive behind the crime.
The narrator states that he killed the old man (the victim) whom he loved, on the basis that he had and eye that resembled that of a vulture. “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” The motive is ridiculous and in no way should it inspire an act of murder. By first introducing the idea of a murder through the murderer’s motive, the writer allows the reader to make up their opinion on the sanity of the narrator at the beginning of the story whilst enticing the reader’s imagination leaving them wondering what else this madman will do.
So already the reader would have a set opinion on the narrator, and the narrator’s behaviour throughout the rest of the short story would do nothing but solidify their suspicions of a troubled individual who is mentally ill. This is not only because he/she is constantly trying to prove their genius thinking behind the murder, but also because they believe that this genius and cunning must surely grant them their sanity. “Would a madman have been as wise as this?
” At the end of the story the narrator (lulled into a false sense of security by his soon to be short-lived success) permits the entry of several policeman into the very room where he had committed the murder, after they came knocking to investigate a mysterious noise heard by one of the neighbours. Not only does he let them sit in the room, but also on the very floorboards where the cut up parts of the dead body lay hidden beneath. Though this just maybe a sign of over-confidence, it is bordering on madness and another reason for the reader to doubt the judgment of the narrator.
If all this strange behaviour isn’t enough to chill the reader, then the murderer hallucinating should be. His guilty conscious gets the better of him and he thinks he can hear the imaginary beating of the stopped heart of the dead old man. The narrator succumbs to the noise by confessing to the clueless police sitting in front of him, that he had killed the old man who had lived here. “”Villains! “I shrieked, “Dissemble me no more! I admit the deed! -tear up the planks! -here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart! “” The narrator’s insane behaviour throughout the story adds to the horror atmosphere of the text.
As a final sentence, I would say that Misery ended better than The Tell-Tale Heart in terms of suspense, because it leaves more unexplained questions in reader’s mind. This is probably because Misery is an extract and still in the middle of its story, and The Tell-Tale Heart finishes with its last line. As an ending I do believe that the final sentence of The Tell-Tale Heart is satisfying as it gives the reader the bare minimum information for the reader to deduce what happens to the murderer after he confesses instead of just saying that he was arrested and went to prison.
After analysing both plots, overall I think that the plot of the Misery extract builds up tension better than The Tell-Tale Heart solely on the belief that it is it’s faster-paced therefore much more exciting. The effect of the chosen narrative for The Tell Tale Heart, which is first person and from the narrator’s point of view, lets the reader into his/her mind and see their motives and thinking behind an atrocious crime. First person is perfect for The Tell Tale Heart because looking into the murderer’s mind is exactly what the reader needs to get a proper grasp of the plot.
The disadvantages however, are you do not get to find out the gender of the murder because it’s all “I did this” and “I did that”. Also you don’t find out what the old man is feeling or what he is thinking. For Misery however third person is used and that also suits the story quite well. This way you’re aware of both Paul and Annie’s actions at the same time. If it was first person and from Paul’s point of view, since Paul couldn’t have known exactly where Annie was and what she was doing and how close she was, the reader would be clueless and the main way the plot builds up tension would be gone.
If it was from Paul’s point of view, the focus of the narrative will no longer switch between Paul and Annie, therefore eliminating one of the ways the plot creates a gripping atmosphere and seriously lowering the suspense levels. The disadvantages of third person are made up for by being able to see Paul’s thoughts directly. Other than the plot, language is the main source of suspense used to create the atmosphere of the two texts. In Misery, the writer has chosen to use individually effective words that remind the reader of death whilst describing something that is completely unrelated.
Phrases such as “stopped dead” and “inside the guts of the lock” and “Wasn’t it enough she killed the phone? ” In all these occasions, the writer could’ve used simple, non-death associated words, but instead he used the words “dead”, “guts” and “killed”. All these words inspire the thought of death in the reader’s brain, and although it is not directly mentioned it subconsciously arouses the idea of Paul’s death in the reader’s mind. This adds to the overall horror and suspense of the extract.
In The Tell-Tale Heart individual words are also used to set the mood of the text but in a different way. Instead of death-connected words, the writer has used long and soft sounding words to slow the pace of the story and calm the mood. “I undid the lantern cautiously – oh, so cautiously – cautiously” The use of the word cautiously, which is a long and soothing word, slows the pace of the story down and set s a calm atmosphere. In terms of adding suspense to the text, I believe that Misery’s use of death-related words is more effective.
In that sentence, the other thing that calms the mood is the use of repetition. As the narrator repeats the word “cautiously”, it emphasizes the fact the narrator was cautious and it shows the narrator’s arrogance in their actions. However repetition is used for other purposes throughout the short story. “It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant . . . It grew louder I say, louder every moment” This phrase contains a lot of repetition as the narrator is trying to stress how quick and loud the beating heart was.
The repetition also allows the writer to show how agitated the narrator is getting, because of the fact it was getting quicker and louder, but also because he thinks that the reader doesn’t believe him. A clear sign of insanity. In Misery repetition is used for similar reasons, but instead of agitation it’s to show the characters desperation, in phrases like “Caught! I’m caught! Please God, no God; don’t let her hurt me God” and “Come on . . . Come on . . . Come on”. In the first quote the repetition of the word “God” shows that he’s really desperate and has started to pray to God to help him.
The second quote is similar as he is repeating the words “come on” as he gets more and more distressed. In misery what are also used to emphasize a point are superlatives like “in the grip of the greatest terror he had ever known”. This superlative highlights how bad the experience was for Paul. I believe that The Tell-Tale Heart’s use of repetition is more effective than Misery because not only does it build up suspense but also it shows signs of madness in the narrator’s behaviour which does not occur in Misery. This helps the plot on the whole build up tension.
There is a great variety of long and short sentences in both stories. In both pieces of text short sentences are used to slow the pace of the text down. In the Tell Tale Heart it shows that the narrator is calm and unrushed. “But even yet I refrained and kept the lantern still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless”. However, in misery short sentences are used to emphasize what’s happening in the sentence. “It was her”. This sentence just highlights the fact that it was Annie pulling up the driveway, and it makes the reader think about the consequences of these events.
Although both are successful in creating suspense, I believe that Misery is more effective. Long sentences are usually used to keep the story going and build up the suspense. In Misery however, long sentences also show that Paul is panicked and rushed. “He sat in his chair, eyes half -closed, hoping madly that he had gotten the chair back where it had been(or at least close enough to it so she wouldn’t notice), hoping that she would take his drenched face and quivering body simply as reactions to missing his medication, hoping most of all that he hadn’t left a track”.
This humungous sentence shows how worried Paul is of getting caught and it’s a great way to build the suspense because it allows no pauses. In The Tell-Tale Heart, long sentences aren’t used as effectively to build up suspense. In both pieces of text, there is a lot of punctuation used effectively to add horror and tension. The Tell-Tale Heart is first person and from the narrator’s point of view, so exclamation marks and capitals are used for his thoughts when he is angry and or shocked. “They heard! -they suspected! -they KNEW! -they were making a mockery of his horror!
” The exclamation marks and capitals are emphasizing his thoughts, showing his rage and disbelief, whilst the dashes allow no pause and add suspense as he moves from one revelation to another. In other occasions, exclamations are used to show the narrator’s surprise and wonder at his own brilliance and ingenuity. “Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! ” The Misery extract however, contained only a couple of exclamations, used only to show that Annie was shouting to Paul in the living room so they were less effective than ones in The Tell Tale Heart.
In The Tell-Tale Heart, because the narrator is recounting a story, it is almost as if he is having a conversation with the reader. At the beginning of the story, the narrator begins by asking numerous questions on whether or not the reader believed he was mad or not. “How then am I mad? ” The effect of these questions and question marks makes the reader feel as if he had contradicted the narrator in some way and the narrator was having an argument with them. This is a good way to show the madness of the narrator from right at the start of the story.
Question marks are also used in Misery however for different reasons. Phrases such as “did you chip the paint? ” and “did you leave a track? ” are used as another way to show Paul’s desperation but also to show his own uncertainty as he starts to panic. For these reasons I believe the use of question marks is better in Misery than in The Tell-Tale Heart. Another aspect of the punctuation in Misery is the use of pauses. “Come on . . . come on . . . come on” and “Never . . . never in time . . .
She’ll hear” are two good examples of where the writer has used pauses to give a sense of desperation and anxiety to Paul’s thoughts. To conclude this essay, I would have to say that the extract from Misery by Stephen King is more effective than The Tell-Tale Heart in the way it creates an atmosphere of horror and suspense. It does this by using and expert blend of individually effectual words, well structured plot, effective narrative, well thought out and carefully placed punctuation, and a wide range of long and short sentences.
Although The Tell Tale Heart does contain most of the techniques stated above, one thing I think Misery does better, and what makes it the better piece of text, is hidden inside its suspenseful plot line where Paul is constantly in a state of desperation and anxiety and in almost immediate danger. This I think is lacking in The Tell-Tale Heart, the sense of immediate danger, and is what makes the extract from Misery the perfect horror/suspense text.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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