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The stories are similar in mood, setting, and plot.
One of the elements of a short story is mood, which is created by foreshadowing and diction (word choice). Both stories have a similar mood in that they are Gothic tales, describing murder. They are basically both horror stories. Look at the clues that something is wrong in “The Landlady.” There is foreshadowing throughout the story. As soon as he rings the doorbell, the landlady is there. She seems to be watching him, and he has a “compulsion” to follow her, saying “the desire to follow after her into that house was extraordinarily strong.” When she says the room is all ready for him, it seems kind of creepy instead of homey. The room is too cheap. Also, there is no one else there.
“Just hang it there,” she said, “and let me help you with your coat.”
There were no other hats or coats in the hall. There were no umbrellas, no walkingsticks – nothing.
She also says she does not have visitors often in her “nest.” At a bed and breakfast? Warning bells! Several times Billy implies that she is crazy. When he looks at the guestbook names, he recognizes them.
“I’m almost positive I’ve heard those names before somewhere. Isn’t that queer? Maybe it was in the newspapers.
By the time that Billy learns that none of the guests have left, and all of the pets are stuffed, the suspenseful and gloomy mood has been well established. Things get more grave as we learn that Billy is about to die.
The mood in “A Tell-Tale Heart” is also suspenseful and creepy. The narrator spends a great deal of time describing the amount of time he takes to open a door, and also the beating of the heart while the police are interrogating him.
Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. 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!
Words like “hellish” and “terror” add to the mood of excitement and suspense, and also increase the reader’s understanding that the narrator is indeed mad. You are rooting for the police, and hoping that he will get arrested. It also creates somewhat of a sympathetic mood, because although the man is a murderer, you know that he is not a sane one, and you feel for his pain.
The setting of the short stories is not identical, but there are some similarities. Both stories take place mostly at night, in spooky houses. They are both sort of boarding houses. In one case, a woman takes in borders for one night, and in the other case, the old man is an actual roommate.
When Billy Weaver first approaches the Bed and Breakfast, it looks very welcoming, with its yellow chrysanthemums.
He went right up and peered through the glass into the room, and the first thing he saw was a bright fire burning in the hearth. On the carpet in front of the fire, a pretty little dachshund was curled up asleep with its nose tucked into its belly.
Billy thinks that animals are a good sign, which is ironic because this animal turns out to definitely not be a good sign, when he realizes it is stuffed. Clearly Billy is not quite a reliable narrator. He thinks he knows what is going on, but he does not really get it or see the signs of his upcoming demise. The reader does, and knows the foreshadowing means Billy's doom.
In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the setting is the house that the man and the old man share, and it too takes place at night and in one night. The stories were published about 100 years apart. We do not have much detail about the house here, but we know that it had wooden floors!
I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye --not even his --could have detected any thing wrong.
Both houses are dominated by their insane killers, and both become houses of horror.
In each case, we have a visitor or roommate who is murdered because he trusted someone. While the narrator in one story seems to have quite a few murders under her belt, the other narrator is describing his first. Crazy characters are something both stories have in common!
The narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” decides to kill his roommate because of his evil eye. Despite all of his protestations that he is insane, it is clear that he is mad by his behavior.
I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.
This murderer, who is also an unreliable narrator because he keeps insisting he is not mad, is obsessed with the fact that the eye is evil and claims he does not really want to kill the man.
In “The Landlady,” as we know, Billy’s landlady kills him by giving him tea with cyanide. In each case, the not quite sane character believes that he or she has the right to kill the other character. Billy wanders into the landlady’s house and ends up stuffed. The Old Man is already living in the narrator’s house in “Heart” and ends up dead because the narrator obsesses over his evil eye. In each case there is no reason to suspect that these people are dangerous until they actually kill, except that they may seem a touch strange.
The elements of foreshadowing, suspense, and characterization dominate these short stories and create the gloomy mood and Gothic atmosphere. Mad characters and unreliable narrators add to the effect.
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