American writer Henry James believed characters are only as interesting as their responses to particular situations. The statement he made can be supported by many pieces of literature that we have encountered. The way a character reacts to the situation they are placed in can tell a lot about their true character. Two characters were placed in different situations in “The Tell-Tale Heart” written Edgar Allan Poe and “The Lottery” written by Shirley Jackson reactions will be discussed in this essay.
In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the tenant thought he would get away with the murder he had, but committed cracked under the pressure. Initially when the police offers entered the home he was he was able to keep his composure, but he slowly started to break. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
(Poe 390) At this point the man started to hear things in his mind. He was imagining the beating of the old man’s heart. Prior to his delusion the reader probably believed he would get away with the murder.
Finally the man can no longer take the sound of the old man’s heart beating beneath the floor boards. “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!” (Poe 391) I believe he told the officers about the old man’s body because his conscience got to him. If he was like most cold, blooded killers his conscience would not have told him he had done something wrong.
In “The Lottery” when the Hutchinson family initially draws the piece of paper from the old black box, Tessie continually pleads to do the redo the drawing of the names. She says, “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”(Jackson 267). Even though the drawing of her family’s name was done completely fair she tries to come up with some excuse. Even though her whole family, including her children, initially had the potential to be stoned she was the only one who wanted a redrawing done.
When Tessie’s realized she had the paper she did not even try to say goodbye to her family. Most people, even criminals today, would rather spend their last moments saying goodbye to their loved ones. Tessie on the other hand continually said, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right”(Jackson 269). With her continually saying this isn’t fair or right this shows she does not believe in the system her town used. When she first got to the lottery she made a joke about leaving the dishes, as if she was okay with what was about to take place.
When her family’s name was drawn her true feeling were shown. She obviously did not agree with having a human sacrifice in order to better her town’s chances of having a good harvest. Both the man from and Tessie were placed in some an extremely tense situation, and both reacted in a similar manner. The man cracked under the pressure of killing the old man and Tessie Hutchinson lost her composure when she found out she was the one who would be stoned. Henry James quote of “characters are only as interesting as their responses to particular situations” was confirmed from the above reading because both of the characters show a different, more interesting, side of themselves when they faced with a predicament.