What are the differences and similarities between "The Tell-tale Heart" and "A Rose for Emily"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are certainly lots of points of comparison we could draw between these two excellent tales, and I have posted the links to the themes section of the enotes study guide based on both of these texts to help you explore the comparison further. Both contain a murder, and both contain a very curious murderer. However, there are also significant differences. "The Tell-Tale Heart," for example, is told in the first person, which creates a compelling picture of a mad murderer, whereas the third person point of view of "A Rose for Emily" means we only see Miss Emily through the eyes of others, changing the narrative radically.

However, one area of central comparison that we could fruitfully analyse is the way that sanity and insanity are presented in both texts. It is clear from the introduction of "The Tell-Tale Heart" that the narrator obviously struggles with madness, in spite of his protestations to the contrary. Note how he introduces himself:

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? Hearken! and observe how healthily--how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

Are we seriously expected to believe the words of someone who, of his own admission, claims to be able to hear "all things" in heaven and on earth and "many things" in hell?

In the same way, what is discovered in the house after Miss Emily's death gives us cause to doubt that she was truly sane:

Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-grey hair.

The way in which this ending suggests that Miss Emily had slept next to the corpse of her former lover for many years after she killed him points at a blurring between the boundaries of sanity and insanity. Clearly Miss Emily presented herself as a "normal" woman, yet this grim discovery suggests some form of madness within her own character, just as the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is shown to blur the boundaries between the states of sanity and insanity.

Read the study guide:
A Rose for Emily

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