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Suspense Tension And Mystery In Red Room English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3392 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Normally when you think of horror stories you think of stories with characters like Werewolves and Dracula in them. Edgar Allen Poe and H G Wells have broken the stereotype with these short stories, by telling different tales about the way people act when they are disturbed mentally. I don’t think this point is really very correct…Stoker was writing at roughly the same time as Poe and Wells…write “” perhaps? Wells explored the theme of an initially non-believer in the supernatural with “The Red Room” and in “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat”, Poe explores the human conscience. I have enjoyed all three of these stories because of the story themes as well as the way in which the high tension is created with a hint of the supernatural in both. All three of these short stories are written with the main character as the narrator but “The Red Room” is interesting because the main character is actually the innocent (although fairly arrogant) victim, rather than the murderer in Poe’s stories.

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There are several similar themes that run through these stories and the main themes in the “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” are that of mentally disturbed people being put into situations that bring out the worst in them and makes them and the reader very uncomfortable. The main theme in the “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” is the consequences of murder and how human nature can be viewed at its worse and how this can make a person become obsessed and, in the end, quite mad. In “The Red Room”, the reader also feels uncomfortable for a different reason and that is by feeling scared, especially due to the fact that the main character doesn’t believe that there are ghosts before he enters a spooky castle and then this slowly changes when he enters and his arrogance melts away due to strange happenings. The main theme of “The Red Room” is arrogance and this is built up to make the readers want the lead character to encounter a supernatural encounter (the story starts with the line “I can assure you” said I, “that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me”). I suspect that Wells describes the main character in such a way to make him sound pompous and arrogant so that the reader wants the main character to get his just desserts. In all three stories, the main characters as narrator are portrayed as unpleasant individuals, although to be fair the character in the “Red Room” is only arrogant, he doesn’t actually kill anyone!

The discomfort for the reader starts at right at the beginning of all of these stories and right away the reader is in the middle of a story that has already started (a bit like walking into a play or a film where you’ve missed the beginning). Get rid of everything in blue, and replace with “as they start in media res. ” For example, the narrator is speaking right away in “The Tell Tale Heart” and at first he sounds quite calm and rationale and then this slowly builds in to a bit a bit of a rant by a madman (as the narrator says himself, ” You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing”). All three stories have a gothic and dark feel to them; both of the Edgar Allen Poe stories have the main characters behaving in a most peculiar way due to them having a troubled lives or backgrounds. In “The Tell Tale Heart”, the main character is disturbed about an old man’s eye and as the culture at the time was such that people felt that if an individual had a deformity it meant that the individual was evil. The main character thinks that the man’s bad eye contained an evil sprit and becomes obsessed by the thought of his evil eye is meant for him. The theme is similar for “The Black Cat”- this short story has as its main character a guilt ridden person who gives himself up due to his overbearing guilty conscience. Interestingly, the deformed or disabled images come through in “The Red Room” with the two old men being described as having a “withered arm”, being supported “by a single crutch” and in the main anything old, disfigured or ugly would have the implication of being sinister or creepy and this is a similar to theme to yet another story of the time, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, whereby the main character’s evil and wicked deeds are not shown on his actual face, but shown on a portrait that he keeps in his attic. Erm…this is a bit of a Victorian thing…it would be better to say that the Victorians believed in physiognomy, which is demonstrated in The Picture of Dorian Gray (give example) and The Red Room, as you explained above.

The main character in “The Black Cat” is a guilt ridden psychopath who in the beginning of the story is acting as if every thing was alright (“I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition”), but at the end, becomes so obsessed with a white and then a black cat that he ruins everything in his life, including the murder of his wife. In the descent to madness, he says that “the fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer”. In both of Poe’s stories, there is an underlying theme implying that the police are a bit stupid and could not figure out who has carried out such a simple crime. I don’t see any truth in this point…both protagonists in Poe’s stories went to great lengths to conceal the bodies – indeed, this is shown in the stories. Therefore, one might excuse the police, It is also interesting to note that short stories like this were the only form of popular entertainment at this time, due to there not being any TV. Ahem, this point, although correct, is hindered by your suggestion that popular entertainment is TV. You may wish to say something more like there was not a comparable range of media for popular entertainment, of which TV is included. Whilst there would not be such high literacy rates then as there are now with a lot of poor or working class children having to leave school at the earliest opportunity in order to earn a wage, literacy rates were improving and more people were able to read and these authors were becoming more popular. Look up Education Reform Acts of the nineteenth century.

“The Tell Tale Heart” has a very sudden tension building moment, with the atmosphere switching from very calm to sudden excitement and you can feel the adrenalin pumping in the killer’s body when the narrator / main character saying that he is going to kill the old man. Poe uses quick, short sentences : “It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!” and this helps build the tension. The story opens with the main character as the narrator of the story and trying to justify why he had to destroy the “eye”. “Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees I made up my mind to take the life of the old man”. He also tries to make it clear that he is not mad by stating “you fancy me mad-mad men know nothing”. This indicates to me [to you? What an absurd idea…as I explained in one of your other essays, you and I have no place in an academic essay. Get. Rid. Phrase in the passive instead…”this may be indicating”] that the author is trying to show that the character is quite arrogant and that the character wants us to think that he is fighting evil and the fact of him being able to think of ways to defeat it .He is saying that mad people are not well educated [I’m sorry? Nietzsche, one of the cleverest men to have lived, was mad. I myself am hardly the sanest of people (OCD, anorexia, perfectionism, anxiety, emotional instability) and am simultaneously “well educated”. In a more contextual manner, it is clear (especially in The Black Cat) that the mad men are clever], and the fact that any sane person would have acted the same way as he did. At the end of the short story, when the police come round to the house, the heart beat that the narrator hears becomes quicker and quicker (“but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -louder -louder!”). This is supposed [supposed? Why isn’t it? I think you could have better phrased this…”This represents the guilt building….] to represent the guilt building up in the main character’s head; it also represents the supernatural element found in each of Poe’s stories. The heart beat can also be seen as the old man’s spirit or soul calling out to the police, to make sure that the main character / murderer is caught. In this story Poe has played on the fact of the character imaging that he is hearing the heart beat because the police can not hear it. The final sentence, “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -tear up the planks! here, here! -It is the beating of his hideous heart!”, I think, has a really tortured ring to it and the reader almost feels sorry for the madness of the narrator.

“The Black Cat” also has a very similar plot device in building up tension; everything appears to be calm and alright with the main character explaining his situation (just like “The Tell Tale Heart”), “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief”. The writer also builds up the tension when he explains that he was always described as “My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets.” Also, the fact that “I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own.” Makes us believe that he is a “normal” happy man and we would be shocked to discover anything bad about him. However, this suddenly changes when he recalls that one evening when he returned home drunk, he “took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket!” He actually deliberately cuts out an eye from his pet cat. This leads us to believe that the main character is actually mad and has something wrong with him. The tension reaches its height when the main character not only tries to kill another cat, but actually kills his wife by burying “the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan”. Now we know that he is actually a madman and especially as the torment of what he has done leads him to showing the police the corpse of his wife through his conscience playing on his mind and him finally knocking down the wall and exposing the body. Another strong tension point is when the cat reappears and has the gallows shaved into its fur. For both of the stories the main characters feelings do not change until the end, when the mad man in “The Tell Tale Heart” is ridden with guilt and the mad man in “The Black Cat” feels that he has to clear himself of the deeds he has committed. This is shown by the quote “today I would unburden my soul”.

I think that the author of “The Tell Tale Heart” lets the reader think that the main character is very clever because he allows him to use a lot of intelligent language, as well as allowing him to use a lot of argumentative language as though he is desperately trying to plead his case. Ah ha! You’re being inconsistent…the protagonist of this story is as mad if not madder than the protagonist of TBC, but this one is clever and educated? See my earlier point. For example, when he says, “I think it was his eye! Yes his eye!” This is to try and shift the blame and make the reader feel that the main character is trying to persuade them that he had no choice and that the reader would have done the same in the circumstances. Saying, “Yes his eye” is intended to show that he had figured out a motive for killing the old man and that in fact that he must have been provoked in the first instance. I think that the main character comes across as being very insecure because he is always trying to explain or justify why he acted why he did, and is also trying to persuade the reader that he is not mad and that he is in fact a good person. This is shown because he always explains his actions after detailing what he did in the story. “I loved the old man – I had no desire for his gold”. This can be understood in one of two ways by the reader; firstly, the reader can see him as being absolutely mad or secondly, he could be seen as someone who was disturbed and who needed help and sympathy. By saying that he “loved the old man” shows that he didn’t want to kill the old man and the fact that his obsession with the “evil eye” made him do it or that the man isn’t the problem, it’s his “eye”. Interestingly, all of the other characters in “The Tell Tale Heart” do not really play a major part in the story and this is also true of “The Black Cat” – the only other character is the wife because she gets murdered by the main character. This builds up a lot of tension when he does this due to the wife did not commit any offence to the man it was just the man wanted to kill. This is true to a certain extent in “The Red Room”, although the other characters do add to the story telling.

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The use of language in the two Poe short stories is very complex, which could make the readers think that, if the characters are speaking after they have committed such evil deeds, this would lead us to believe that they would be some kind of evil genius, which would be a popular stereotype of the time. Give an example…I think Professor Moriarty would be a good choice. The stories are written in common literary language of the nineteenth century. For example, in “The Tell Tale Heart” the author uses language such as “he had never wronged me, never given me an insult”. This shows that he is well educated and well spoken and I think, as the reader, clear at getting his views and descriptions across. In “The Black Cat”, the language and the dialect is the same, with the use of fairly old words and or quotes such as “conspicuous” and “unburden my soul”. I use the word conspicuous with shocking frequency…say the style is old, not the words. As far as I remember, there are no archaic words in TBC or TTH. These are fairly old linguistic terms and a man who uses them must be well educated. But this point makes no sense. Old, indeed. And if a modern man were to use them one could consider his reading list to be classic literature, indeed. However…if the man in question is old…he’s just speaking? And reading contemporary literature…like if you were to speak how Stephenie Meyer or Terry Pratchett does. This can show us that he is well educated in his plans and schemes. It’s fair to say that the characters both use complex language, and that this demonstrates their intelligence. Equally, in “The Red Room”, the dialect used by the narrator is fairly complex, “Eight-and-twenty years,” said I, “I have lived, and never a ghost have I seen as yet” and the dialect of the others shows that they are poorer and of a lower class; the old woman replies “Ay,” she broke in; “and eight-and-twenty years you have lived and never seen the likes of this house, I reckon”. All three of these stories were written and read by Victorians to entertain them, you can tell this by the amount of old words that have been put into these stories and the syntax. Obsession, the link to madness and ghost stories in general, were very popular and highly entertaining because of the links to the supernatural world. It was as entertaining to so many Victorians due to the fact of Victorians being more prone to belief in the supernatural as institutions that relied on belief over reason, most notably the Church, were more popular in this time than currently.

There was also a very moral point of view with these stories by showing that evil deeds will always be found out and if people do any bad deeds then they will avenged by the dead person’s spirit or by the power of God. Another message within “The Black Cat” was the moral message that the evils of alcohol can destroy a good man and make him into some kind of monster (“But my disease grew upon me –for what disease is like Alcohol!”), which the Temperance (or anti-alcohol) Societies that were popular at that time would have found a good, moral message.

“The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” have very similar themes as each other; however they have very different themes to “The Red Room”. The common theme between all of these stories is that they are all connected to the supernatural. The common themes of the “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat are firstly that the main character is an “evil person” but that that person narrates the story and tries to convince the reader of his sanity and that what he did was justifiable and indeed right. Secondly, both stories have the common theme that the main characters have not got a valid reason for the crime they committed – the motive is all in their heads and it is simply the creepy differences which disturbed them both to kill. Thirdly, both murderers get caught and therefore do not get away with the crime they committed. This also leads the reader to the moral that crime never pays no matter if you’re ridden with guilt or even if you’re over confident – you will still get caught. The main message of “The Tell Tale Heart” is the fact that a guilty conscience will always give you away in the end, even if in theory you are not actually caught by police or anyone else, you will give yourself away.

The tension in the stories is built up by the use of narrative and short, quick paced sentences that reflect the mood of the three main characters. I think that the heart beat at the end of “The Tell Tale Heart” is very effective at mimicking the build-up of guilt in the main character’s mind and it is not clear whether he can actually hear the dead man’s heart beating (the supernatural side of the story) or if it is actually his own heart beating so fast because he is becoming increasingly tense and nervous about the dreadful deed that he has committed (the moral side of the story). In “The Black Cat”, again the lead character hears what he believes to be the muffled cries of his dead wife but as fate would have it, it is the actual cries of a live cat (“by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman –a howl –a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell “). “The Red Room” has the lead character talking to himself to try and control his fear “This won’t do!” said I, and first one and then another candle on the mantelshelf followed. “What’s up?” I cried, with a queer high note getting into my voice somehow. At that the candle on the wardrobe went out, and the one I had relit in the alcove followed”. Of the three stories, I think that “The Black Cat” is the scariest because it has such a normal everyday husband and general nice man becoming an axe-wielding maniac, but ultimately being found out through guilt.


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