“A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Poe: The Stories of Mental Illness

The topic of mental health is not only studied by psychologists but is also widely used by authors in fiction. Psychological problems and mental disorders are complicated and understood differently by various authors. The following essay will examine and explain the differences and similarities in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe in terms of literary devices and meanings.

The narratives of the stories are distinct as the events take place under complex circumstances. Miss Emily of “A Rose for Emily” dies, leaving behind the old house filled with death and sorrow. Her neighbors describe her as a miserable loner whose father died shortly before her fiancée left her. The author gradually unveils Emily’s plans and activities throughout her lonely, private life. The final paragraphs of the story reveal the truth about Emily’s personality and her destructive nature. In contrast, the unnamed murderer of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is overwhelmed by paranoia from the beginning of the story and has plans to murder the old man with a “vulture-like” eye. The protagonist is determined to commit the crime, and he tries to appear confident despite his nervousness. The ending of the story would not surprise the reader, as the character is suffering from anxiety, making it hard for him to conceal the murder. Eventually, the character’s fast heartbeat leads to the nervous breakdown and gives him away.

The point of view is different in the stories by William Faulkner and Edgar Allan Poe. On the one hand, in “A Rose for Emily”, the author utilizes the first-person-plural point of view, so the narrator is not a single person. The story is told by a group of people living in the same community as Emily, which is the way of presenting the reader with an honest and accurate overview of the events. On the other hand, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is written from the first-person-singular point of view with the narrator being the protagonist of the story. The narrator may be considered unreliable, as he often tries to convince the reader of his sanity while describing gruesome details of the murder he committed.

It is important to mention that the stories share similar central characters. Both protagonists suffer from different psychiatric disorders, which eventually turn them into brutal murderers. Mental illness manifested in Miss Emily’s fear of loneliness and the voice inside of the narrator’s head in “The Tell-Tale Heart” serves as the antagonist in the stories. Thus, Emily’s depression and the unnamed murderer’s paranoia drive the characters crazy and make them commit the crimes without regret or remorse. Both protagonists are round characters since their personalities are continually developing and become more complex as the story unfolds.

The stories take place in similar settings in the form of the old houses haunted by personal tragedies and nightmares. As such, the decaying house of the Grierson Family is a metaphor for a grave hiding the family’s secrets, including the dead body of Homer Barron. Similarly, the setting of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is the dark house with wooden floors which belongs to the elderly man killed by the narrator. The theme of both stories is the fragile nature of human mental health. The authors use the narratives to demonstrate the devastating effects of psychological problems and mental illness on the personality. In “A Rose for Emily”, Miss Emily deals with obsession and loneliness, while the murderer in “The Tell-Tale Heart” suffers from paranoia. Thus, the stories portray the characters as victims of psychiatric problems rather than villains.

The foreshadowing is used by both William Faulkner and Edgar Allan Poe for creating the reader’s anticipation about future events. For instance, in the case of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, foreshadowing is hidden in the title, which refers to the protagonist’s fast heartbeat. Moreover, the narrator’s repetitive assurance of his sanity is a possible foreshadowing of his eventual nervous breakdown at the end of the story. In the same way, “A Rose for Emily” gives the reader a clue about the murder of Homer Barron when Miss Emily buys arsenic at the drugstore or when the neighbors complain about the smell.

“A Rose for Emily” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are similar in terms of symbolism, as both stories are rich in symbols. For example, William Faulkner uses the rose in the title, referring to the notion of love that Miss Emily needs after her father’s death and the disappearance of her fiancée. Additionally, the Grierson Family’s old and ugly house may be regarded as the symbol of depression, mental decay, and death of both Homer Barron and the Old South with its pride. Similarly, “The Tell-Tale Heart” contains meaningful symbols such as the eye and the heart, representing the narrator’s paranoia, anxiety, and emotional instability.

All in all, both stories are examples of fiction addressing the theme of mental health and its feasibility. The stories have many similarities, such as mentally-unstable protagonists, grimy settings, and the authors’ masterful usage of foreshadowing and symbolism. However, as the point of view and the plot are different, the stories offer distinct perspectives on the topic. Overall, the stories might be considered as valuable literary works demonstrating how human personality changes under the influence of a mental disorder.

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