I need help on writing an essay that uses these two short stories, "The Lady, or the Tiger" by Francis Richard Stockton, and "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Poe insisted that a short story must have every element lead to the conclusion, and the narrative contain many details to enhance the realism of the story and direct it to its conclusion, Stockton's narrative is lacking in the basic elements of real character development and a conclusion of plot, or denouement. And, yet, there are some similarities between these two tales. Both have elements of mystery and madness and the possibility of evil residing at the center of each human being. This "evil" is not in the sense of "bad," as in religious terms, but rather as what is termed "a species of psychological obsession."

  • mystery - The reader wonders about the motives of the narrator. After he kills the old man and the police come, there is great suspense. The princess is complex and it is difficult to determine to which door she points.
  • madness - Poe's narrator becomes deranged and kills the old man, then imagines that he hears the heart beating while the police are in his house. The king of Stockton's narrative is of such "exuberant fancy" that he controls the lives of his subjects by manipulating their fates with his "borrowed notions" of the public arena which acts as his hall of "justice." 
  • possibility of evil - Both Poe's narrator puts the power and life and deth in his own hands, and the barbaric king and his semi-barbaric daughter hold an excess of power over the lives of others, a condition for evil in their "poetic justice."

Poe, of course, is fascinated with the workings of the mind with respect to what is termed "hyperrationality" and a proclivity in human nature that cannot be explained away with rationality. For instance, the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" becomes fixated on the eye of the old man, perceiving it as the embodiment of evil, and after much examination of this "vulture eye," the narrator decides that the "evil eye" must be expurgated through death. Likewise, the king of an "irresistible will" and a certain hyperrationality, as well, insists that "the crooked be made straight," and the "uneven places crushed down"; that is, he, too feels the need to expurgate, although he supposedly provides the accused a choice by arranging for the person to stand in the arena and choose his/her own fate by selecting a door through which either a mate comes or a tiger. Neither choice is favorable; both involve a strain upon the emotions. In each story, the main characters suffer from a certain imbalance in their attitudes toward the lives of others, their sense of "justice," and in the evil that is at the core of their beings. 

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