Both short stories contain elements of Gothic literature. In Gothic literature, the ...
Charlotte Perkins Gilman authored the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" in 1892. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" was published fifty years earlier, in 1843. Although quite different, the stories have a striking amount of similarities.
Both short stories contain elements of Gothic literature. In Gothic literature, the protagonist is often cut off from others, either by their own devices or due to circumstances they can't control. Gilman's protagonist is cut off from the world due to the wishes of her physician husband, who thinks this isolation will cure her. Poe's protagonist is cut off from the world due to his madness, which he denies. Poe's protagonist is relating the story of what happened in the past, while Gilman's protagonist is experiencing things in the present. Gilman's setting, which includes a formerly grand ancestral home, is quintessentially Gothic, as is Poe's use of the secret hiding place for the body of the old man. Each story contains word choice which sets the atmosphere of horror and suspense.
In both stories, the narrators admit to suffering from a nervous condition. From Poe's short story:
"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."
In Gilman's story, the protagonist describes her condition as follows:
"I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition."
Each narrator fixates on something. In "The Yellow Wallpaper," the narrator fixates on the patterns in the wallpaper in her room. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator fixates on the old man's eye. It is left to the reader to infer exactly why the old man's clouded eye vexes Poe's protagonist. It's only slightly more clear in "The Yellow Wallpaper" why the narrator fixates on the wallpaper. All activities the protagonist might enjoy have been denied her by a husband who treats her as a child. She is left with only the yellow wallpaper in the room she doesn't want to be in. She fixates on the wallpaper, trying to find a pattern. Instead, she sees a creeping woman imprisoned by the paper.
Each narrator's fixation symbolizes something. In Poe's story, the old man's eye symbolizes the narrator's conscience. It's always watching him and knows even the deeds he commits in secret—deeds no one else could've known. In Gilman's story, the yellow wallpaper symbolizes a prison for the creeping woman who is trapped behind its undecipherable pattern.
Each narrator has good things to say about the person who vexes them. In Poe's story, the old man is kind to him. In Gilman's story, the narrator's husband, who can also be called her captor, is described as kind and loving. Poe's protagonist says it is not the old man who vexed him, just his "Evil Eye." He describes his kindness toward the old man, which readers can infer is reciprocated. Gilman's protagonist says this of her husband: "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction."
Each story allows the reader a glimpse inside the mind of a person who is mentally ill. We see the irrationality of their thoughts and behavior from their perspective.