Pick three (3) of the stories below and write 5 paragraphs on the themes for each of the stories.
"The Storm" by Kate Chopin
"Araby" by James Joyce
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"The Tell- Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
For your first selection, discuss how it depicts man vs man. For your second selection, discuss how it depicts man vs. nature. For your third selection, discuss how it depicts man vs. himself.
[Please note that educators at Enotes do not compose essays. However, we are glad to offer ideas and discussion to assist in these efforts.]
MAN vs.MAN - "The Yellow Wallpaper"
This semi-autobiographical short story was written to expose the repressive treatment of women in the 19th century under the femme covert law and as a critique of a treatment by Dr. S.Weir Mitchell know as "neurashthenia" that was prescribed to women who had postpartum depression, or as it was sometimes called, nervous depression. In addition to the prescription of sensory deprivation and rest as a cure, the woman narrator has no voice in her own recovery; for instance, her husband "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in a man...He scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and put down in figures." The narrator's husband is so insensitive to his wife's artistic needs as she requests a room overlooking the garden and reading materials and her desire to walk in the garden, instead confining her to an old nursery with no outside view and hideous and unsymmetrical yellow wallpaper. Consequently, she becomes so trapped inside her depression that insanity becomes seductive:
I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion....And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern....I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?
So trapped does this woman feel that she can only free herself from her conflicts with the repressive husband and doctor by traveling into the tortured recesses of her mind.
MAN vs. NATURE - "The Storm"
There is no question that the forces of nature affect living beings. The moon, the ions in the air, and other natural phenomena affect energy and moods. Thunderstorms create these ions and in "The Storm," the fear of the storm, which raises Calixta's emotional level. Then, with the nearness of Alcée, for whom she has already experienced erotic feeling at the Canadian Ball long ago, Calixta
...glanced up at him [and] the fear in her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous desire. He looked down into her eyes and there was nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss. It reminded him of Assumption.
In addition, the lovers channel their fear in conflict with the storm by means of their erotic act as it distracts them from their fears and translates their emotional surge from this fear into an erotic exchange.
MAN vs. SELF - "The Tell-Tale Heart"
One interpretation of this story is that the narrator perceives in the "vulture eye" of the old man an inspection of the disturbances within his own mind. For, he declares his love for this man, but then in the "swift, untempered logic of the mad" his is led to murder the old man in an effort to acquire some inner peace for his tortured mind. However, his act is ineffective as his continued psychological terror makes him "hear" the "the hellish tattoo" of the dead man's heart. His inner torture becomes so great that to resolve this conflict within himself, the narrator shouts out his guilt:
"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!--tear-up the planks!--here, here!--it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
Additional ideas for composition can be gleaned by reading critical essays that are available on this site. See the links below.
Each of these short stories are great examples of how conflict enhances a narrative. A great example of man vs. man conflict can be seen in Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." The conflict exists between the narrator and her husband as to what treatment will help her represents the man vs. man conflict. In the ending, the narrator dancing over the fainted body of her husband embodies how the conflict between both husband and wife forms the narrative. The conflict between how the husband and his social order view what is best for the wife at the cost of what the wife perceives as essential for her improvement displays the conflict between individuals.
The idea of human beings against nature can be seen in Chopin's "The Storm." Calixta's emotional condition is heavily influenced by the storm's presence:
She went and stood at the window with a greatly disturbed look on her face. She wiped the frame that was clouded with moisture. It was stiflingly hot. Alcee got up and joined her at the window, looking over her shoulder. The rain was coming down in sheets obscuring the view of far-off cabins and enveloping the distant wood in a gray mist. The playing of the lightning was incessant. A bolt struck a tall chinaberry tree at the edge of the field. It filled all visible space with a blinding glare and the crash seemed to invade the very boards they stood upon.
Chopin shows how the natural world stands against individuals. Calixta is poised against nature with "a greatly disturbed look on her face," helpless to stop the "crash" and "blinding glare" with which she is confronted. The natural world operates without taking the individual into account. In this light, the conflict between individual and nature is evident.
The conflict where an individual is poised against themselves, a setting where a distinct and real struggle emerges within the individual. The narrator's love of Mangan's sister is one where there is a conflict within himself:
Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.
There is a demonstration of an internal conflict within the narrator in how he feels strong emotions for Mangan's sister, but how he can never bring himself to articulating them. This conflict concludes the story in a form of self division where the narrator sees himself outside of his own identity, reflecting an intensely internal conflict evident: "Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger." In this ending, the internal conflict within the narrator, one where man vs. himself, is displayed.