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Edgar Allen Poe's 1843 short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is about a young man who becomes mortally obsessed with an old man's creepy eye and ultimately kills him. Thomas Hardy's 1902 poem "The Man He Killed" is about a soldier who has become used to killing people just because they are on the other side of the war. Both of these narratives lend insight into guilt related to death, told by a person who is self-aware enough to tell the story in a first person narrative. Moreover, both of these stories have a similarly suspenseful tone that accompanies imagery of death and murder. Although one is a short story and the other a poem, Poe and Hardy also rely on a similar plot structure in which the narrator relates how and why he killed another man rather arbitrarily. In spite of these core similarities, there are also strong differences between "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Man He Killed." In spite of these differences, both Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Hardy's "The Man He Killed" use point-of-view, tone, and plot to discuss attitudes toward death and guilt.
A first-person narrator provides an intimate point-of-view that helps convey attitudes toward death and guilt. Both Poe and Hardy rely on their narrators to convey concepts related to death and killing. Told in the first person, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is more about the narrator than about the victim of the murder. In "The Man He Killed," the first person narration likely takes the reader's attention away from the victim and places it on the killer. Although the narrator in "The Man He Killed" was a soldier, his being a soldier does not necessarily make his killing morally justified. The narrator is telling his story because he feels, on some level, a sense of guilt. He muses about what would have happened if he and the other man had "met / By some old ancient inn," rather than on the battlefield. The first person narration allows Hardy to develop the character's sense of guilt related to having killed other people, even when that killing is socially sanctioned during wartime. The narrator in Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is not socially sanctioned to kill. His guilt is also poignant, because the narrative is told from a first-person perspective. The narrator begins with a few statements that reveal his guilt and paranoia. He states that he is "nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" From this point-of-view, the narrator prepares the reader to get inside the head of a madman as he kills someone and then tries to cover it up. The progression of the narrative is different from that of "The Man He Killed," but the first person narrative achieves the same goals in both of these works of literature by conveying attitudes toward death and guilt.
The tone of the stories is another literary tool that conveys attitudes toward death and guilt in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Hardy's "The Man He Killed." In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the tone is outright suspenseful. From the very first line, which is phrased in the form of a question, the reader wonders what the crazy narrator will do. The narrator draws in the reader by describing in his perspective, the brutal murder of the old man. Using a suspenseful tone allows Poe to keep the reader's attention, even as the murder takes place early in the story. "But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me --the sound would be heard by a neighbour!" The rest of the story is about how the narrator tries to cover up his evil deed, and eventually gets caught by the police. In "The Man He Killed," it is a solder who kills. Therefore, there is no police action or legal consequences to the murder that is described in the poem. At the same time, the poem has a suspenseful tone that encourages the reader to ponder the serious nature of war and death. Starting the poem with the phrase, "Had he and I but met…" the narrator sets up the reader for feeling the guilt and shame that he feels on killing…[continue]
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