Tell Tale Heart and the Yellow Wall Paper
There are similarities between the two stories “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe, and “The Yellow Wall Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Even though their writing styles are far apart they deal with a similar issue. Both authors deal with the fragility of the human mind. Both stories are very interesting and hold you to the core perhaps it is because any truly sane person knows that there is a little madness in all of us. Maybe that is why many people still read their stories today. In the story “The Tell Tale Heart” the narrator wants to show the reader that he is not insane.
As proof, he offers a story. In the story, the initial situation is the narrator’s decision to kill the old man so that the man’s “evil” eye will stop looking at the narrator. Every night for one entire week the narrator goes to the old man’s room, ready to do the dirty deed. But, the sleeping man does not open his eye. Since the man is not the problem, just the eye, the narrator cannot find it in himself to kill the old man if the offending eye is not open. While spying one night the narrator made a noise, by accident, this noise causing the man to wake up – and open his eye.
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This is not much of a complication, seeing as though the narrator wanted to kill the old man anyway. The police show up and the narrator remaining calm and collected, even giving them a tour of the house. Eventually the guilt takes over and the narrator starts hearing things, thinking that the noises might stop, he tells the cops to look under the floorboards. The police then find the man’s cut up body. In “The Yellow Wall Paper” the narrator begins her journal by marveling at the magnificence of the house her husband has taken for their summer vacation. The narrator is suffering from “nervous depression”.
We also learn from the very beginning that the narrator’s husband makes all of the decisions for her. The narrator wishes to spend her time writing and socializing, she expresses her own opinion to her husband, but she is overruled on every count. Her husband, John, tells her that she must rest. John does not take his wife seriously; this leads to the narrator’s repression. Forced to lie in bed all day and take it easy, the narrator becomes obsessed by the wallpaper and is drawn into trying to interpret it. She imagines a woman trapped within the paper. The narrator decides to strip ff all of the wallpaper in her room, this is the moment of ultimate rebellion for the protagonist, and she is taking action towards independence. When John comes home to find the door locked, he begins freaking out. When he finally gets into the bedroom the narrator’s actions are so extraordinary and shocking that her husband faints. Through everything that is going on the narrator keeps creeping around the room in circles stripping all of the wallpaper off to free the woman that is trapped within. Throughout both stories there are many common threads. Both stories are dealing with apparent madness.
In both we find it difficult to discern actual events from those that occur only in the imaginations of the narrators. Right through both stories the narrators are trying to convince the reader they are sane. “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wall Paper” both have a common theme of sublimation and repression. The sublimation is critical in each story, and could be argued to be the core of the story. In both stories the narrators are obsessed with something. In “Tell Tale Heart” the narrator is completely obsessed with the old man’s “evil” eye, and in “The Yellow Wall Paper” the narrator is utterly obsessed with the wallpaper.
Both narrators are totally convinced of the reality of their obsessions. In this quote from “The Yellow Wall Paper” it establishes the narrators fixation early on and most certainly foreshadows the course the narrator will take, “It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough constantly to irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of (sic) contradictions. ” (Gilman, pg. 27) Both authors concentrate on making plausible the obsessions of the protagonist. Poe, in a much stronger shorter work, succeeds with voice and style, “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation. And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously—cautiously (for the hinges creaked)—I undid it just so much that a single ray fell upon the vulture eye,” (Poe, pg. 37) Gilman builds her narrators disintegration more slowly, showing the obvious sublimation of er frustrations into her unhealthy fascination with the wallpaper, “There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wallpaper. I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see. There are things in that paper than nobody knows but me, or ever will. ” (Gilman, pg. 330) Poe is more straightforward, he leans heavily towards the fact that the narrator is mad, underscored by his frequent denials, “How, then, am I mad? Hearken!
And observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story” (Poe, pg. 37) Although these stories have many similarities they are also different in many ways. “The Tell Tale Heart” is more straightforward. From the beginning you have no doubt that the narrator is a mad man. Nevertheless, the story makes you wonder. The narrator is believable, the tale is compelling, the reader gets caught up in the telling. At first as the reader, we believe that he believes, the tale itself is questionable, and then we begin to separate his delusions from what actually occurred.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the obsession slowly develops, beginning with the suppressed resentment of her husband. It takes the form of journal entries rather than an oral tale, and this alters its credibility. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a feminist text. Gilman’s motivation was to tell a story about a woman’s struggles against male-centric thinking and societal normalcy. A feminist text points out deficiencies in society regarding equal opportunity, and the reader is aware of this motive. In this story the main character is repressed by her husband.
This text contains clues about Gilman’s perceptions of the treatment and roles of women. It is the wallpaper, though, that is the focal point of the story, and it holds many metaphors for the discrimination and oppression of women. The use of an unreliable first person narration in “The Tell Tale Heart” serves a number of important functions. By telling this story from the viewpoint of a deranged person, Poe can provide us with insight into that character’s motivation in committing murder.
The delusions of the narrator’s imagination unconsciously plants seeds in his mind and those seeds grow into a nightmare situation for which there is no room for reason and results in murder. I think that even with two completely different writing styles Poe and Gilman both write on the fragility of the human mind. They illustrate how even the sanest among us are not immune from madness. Their stories are still timely today because no one has mastered or discovered that secret to sanity.