Discuss the contrast in tone and plot between Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Virginia Woolf's "A Haunted House."

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Both stories share many elements, but their overall effects are quite different.

1. Both stories share the element of being watched. In the Poe story, it is the "vulture" eye of the old man that triggers the narrator to murder; in the Woolf story, the ghostly couple search for a "treasure" throughout the house, ending with their watching of the sleeping couple in the bed.

2. Both stories are about houses that hold a secret. In the Poe story, it is corpse of the old man hidden under the floorboards. In the Woolf story, there is a similar mysterious "treasure" that the ghosts seek.

3. Both stories create a tone of paranoia. In the Poe story, the narrator's dread of the old man's eye becomes a kind of mental illness. In the Woolf story, the paranoia has less to do with the characters in the story than in the reader; absent any clear sense of what the ghosts are doing, the reader is tempted to "fill in the blanks" with what the ghosts might be doing.

Ultimately, Woolf's story is significantly more ambiguous than Poe's. If we understand that the point of Poe's story is to create a certain feeling in the reader, the point of Woolf's story is less clear, and in fact much of its appeal comes from puzzling out what might be happening. It is significant, too, that while the Poe story ends with the narrator's frenzied confession to the police, the Woolf story ends with the sleeper/narrator realizing that the secret of the house was the "light of the heart," or the connection between the spirit world and the affection that has accumulated in the house over the years.

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These two short stories are wildly different from each other in both tone and plot. In order to avoid doing the entire assignment for you, I will discuss the primary differences only.

In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the unnamed narrator recounts in past tense the chronological, linear plot of how he murdered his landlord and was subsequently caught for his crime. This means that the plot is conventional in structure. It has a clear exposition (the narrator explains he is not mad), climax (ticking sound), and resolution (tearing up the floorboards).

Woolf’s “A Haunted House,” however, does not have a traditional plot structure. In fact, Woolf’s story lacks any recognizable plot, and it reads like a montage of images instead. There are no major events, and there is there no particular character development like there is in Poe’s story. The effect of this is disorienting for the reader, because it requires one to piece together details in order to understand the meaning of the story.

Now, looking at the tone of each story, one must examine the author’s attitude toward the subject. To ascertain this, it is best to look at the connotations of the diction used. Poe’s tone is ominous and manic. The narrator’s apparent mental disturbance is reflected in the first paragraph with words like “dreadfully,” “nervous,” and “hearken.” In context, the rapid succession of the narrator’s thoughts using negative words underscores his manic tone. In addition, the use of punctuation, including exclamation points and dashes, indicates an excited mental state in which the narrator interrupts himself frequently. This tone only intensifies as the story progresses.

In contrast, Woolf’s tone in “A Haunted House” is somewhat ambiguous. For the first several paragraphs, the neutral diction and lack of details establishes a narrative ambivalence. Then, the tone becomes nearly inscrutable, with phrases like “my hands were empty” and multiple quotations with no clear speaker. This neutral yet mystifying tone mirrors the narrator’s experience of her dream.

Ultimately, these stories are divergent in plot structure, tone, and even style.

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