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Everybody loves a good story! We have been told stories since a young age; also as we grow up; we continue to be surrounded by them.
However, what makes a good and interesting story?
For me in order to answer this question, I have chosen three short stories to evaluate them, which are "The Tell Tale Heart", "The Monkey's Paw" and "The Landlady". The main ingredients of the three stories mentioned above are the genre, characters and the setting. The genre of the story doesn't have to be very sophisticated, but it should tell us about the aim of the story such as is the story aimed to make us laugh or cry?
The Tell Tale Heart:
"The Tell Tale Heart" is a short story is written by Edger Allan Poe in 1843. The interesting part of the story is the guilt of a mad man who hears the heart of the old man he has killed still beating.
Although the readers are given a rare insight into the mind of a mad man, but what is specially of interest is that this mad man is in obvious denial of his insanity and he acts like a child who has done something wrong and knows that the readers know it. In fact it is within the first two sentences of the story that the narrator feels he must convince to the readers of his sanity but not madness "Very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but what will you say that I am mad".
Another interesting point was made by the author the way in which the narrator talks fluctuate rapidly. When the narrator first defends his sanity, he seems calm, relaxed, and even intelligent. Then later like the above passage he seems to be rambling like a crazed lunatic.
It is the time when he is calm in his manner of speech, which he is in his deepest state of a denial, to the time where he almost convinced of his sanity. It is interesting to note beside the obvious fact that it is impossible to hear everything in the heaven and earth, the symbolism that can be found in his speech "I heard many things in hell". This statement is the narrator's subconscious.
After the narrator committed the murder of the old man, he started speaking about the precautions he took; precautions that he believed only a sane man could have taken. Where things really get interesting is when the narrator lunges in to kill the old man. "He shrieked once-only once". The scream of the old man something that could easily be audible to the neighbours causes the narrator no anxiety. In fact the narrator almost immediately shifts its attention back to the heart. He hears the old man's heart beating furiously, terrified for his life. It is however not the old man's heart which the narrator is hearing but it is his own heart.
The author does something very clever in the above part, he further portrays the narrator's warped sense of reality by describing the sense of anxiety that the narrator receives from the loudness of the old man's heart, fearing that it will wake the neighbours.
The greatest symbolism between a heart, the narrator's super hearing and a conscience comes at the end of the story. Where the narrator manages to convince the police officers that there is nothing suspicious at the house but then the heart comes into play once again. Clearly the narrator is not hearing an actual noise, but is suffering from the manifestations of his maddened mind. "Villains!" "I shirked," "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! - tear up the planks! - here, here! - it is the beating of his hideous heart". The narrator's insanity gives him away to the police, he can't take it any longer and he cries out his guilty confession.
Through the guise of the narrator's madness, Poe portrays the man's consciousness as the beating of his heart. In essence the narrator is hearing a physical representation of his own guilt. The fascinating, but convoluted, point of view through which the story is portrayed is masterfully done to the point where Poe has his readers picking through the madness to separate what is actually going on, from how the narrator perceives things are going on. Poe uses symbolism and point of view as his greatest assets, and expertly portrays the order to madness. In its genius simplicity, Poe uses the narrator's continuous denial to convince the reader of his undoubted insanity.
The Monkey's Paw:
"The Monkey's Paw" is a short story is written by W. W. Jacobs. The interesting part of the story begins when tragedy strikes the White Family, when Sergeant Major Morris brings a Monkey's Paw into their lives which is said to grant three wishes. This story had three main parts. These parts were the first wish, the first wish granted and the second and the third wishes.
The way author has used day, night and the weather at the beginning of the story immediately captures the reader's interest by explain that it is a bad day with nothing to look forward, when he says "the night was cold and wet in the small parlour of laburnum villa...". The majority of the story's scenes happen at night, leaving only a few scenes in daylight. During the night, the weather is never pleasant and often unsettling, but during the day the weather is decent. The author purposely sets the suspenseful scenes during the nighttime leaving the reader to expect something horrible to happen. The scenes that take place during the day are not as scary and do not have the same effect as those at night. The author's main reason for setting these scenes at night is to target the reader's fears. For example, the scene where Mr. White wishes for his son to come back to life is set at night to make it fearful and suspenseful. When their wish came true, it was a stormy night. There was heavy rain, thunder and lightning. If it had been set in the daylight it would not have had the same effect. The setting had been in the middle of nowhere it provides a feeling of isolation from civilization, and also when it at night it establishes the expectation that something could go wrong and therefore helps to build suspense. This makes the story better and interesting.
Jacobs has made this story interesting because the reader attention got drawn into by listening to Sergeant Major Morris' travels in India and the mysterious tale of The Monkey's Paw "Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps" as the Sergeant Major said. Jacobs makes the tale even more intriguing by the way the Sergeant Major tells the tale about The Monkey's Paw but then goes on to being reserved about it.
Another interesting part is that all the previous owners of The Monkey's Paw remain unknown, and the only thing that is revealed is that something horrible happened to them. The Sergeant Major only mentioned about one of them, as he talked about his wishes "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death". The three wishes are also spaced just right, so that the events in the story can take place the way they do. The first wish's horrible results are enough to create more tension in the plot, but leave enough wishes for there to be hope of fixing it. The second wish serves to complicate the plot further, yet leaves the third wish as an option to fix it.
The author adds depth and more excitement to the story by injecting suspense and mystery at almost every turn. From the beginning, he uses somewhat vague dialogue and intriguing character reactions to create tension. For example when Mr. White questioned the Sergeant Major about The Monkey's Paw, he replied "Leastways, nothing worth hearing". This shows the Sergeant Major Morris' discomfort while speaking of The Monkey's Paw draws the reader in and keeps them hooked. The audience can understand the uncomfortable history surrounding the strange talisman. This tension exponentially has increased when Morris suddenly threw The Monkey's Paw at the fire and he said "Better let it burn". At this moment, the military man's true fear and hatred of The Monkey's Paw reveal themselves. The entire climax of the story also radiates pulse pounding suspense.
The author controls the reader's perspective and interest through the story by other methods as well. The previous owners of The Monkey's Paw are a great example of irony. Something bad happened to them, whenthe Sergeant Major reveals. This creates a fearful image to the reader's mind and the reader is looking for something similar to happen to the White's family. Even though the White's expected their magical money to come falling from the sky, when Herbert said "Might drop on his head from the sky".
At second and third parts of the story the reader's attention focuses on Mr. and Mrs. White, and not the events that take place outside their house. The reader never really sees how the wish on the paw caused their son's fatal accident, or whether or not he was brought back to life. It could all be a coincidence but because of the perspective the reader is forced to take, the story seems more sinister and powerful than it might have otherwise. This effect is used to its fullest extent when the lost son is apparently brought back to life. The knocking on the door was believed to be him, even though Mr. White didn't believe to be him, as he said to his wife "For God's sake, don't let it in", but the last wish was made before the door was opened. It's possible that he was never there at all, despite what the characters in the story believe.
The author never really reveal what was the last wish but one can assume that he wished he had never made his second wish. The end of the story is open and leaves us to come up with an end of our own.
Conclusion: the author has managed to use a good connection between each part of the story, which captures the reader's interesting by explaining how the White's in the beginning of the story are content, yet skeptical of the magical properties of The Monkey's Paw. Through the events of the story, their world has turned upside down, and in the end they are wrestling on the floor for control of the same Monkey's Paw. Their previous happiness is converted to despair and sorrow in just ten days.
"The Landlady" is a short story which has an unexpected ending by Roald Dahl. The writer uses clever structure and effective characterization to create such a surprising and satisfactory ending.
I think the author has set the time and weather in condition, which creates an atmosphere of suspense and a sinister in the story. Billy arrived in Bath at 9pm and it is a time when darkness takes over light, as dark represents evil.
"The moon was coming up out of a clear starry sky". This quote is associated with strong things happening creating evil as the atmosphere changes and it shows the start of a supernatural suspense.
"The air was deadly cold and the wind was like flat blades of ice on his cheeks". Roald Dahl's word choice is excellent and chillingly describes the opening scene. By the use of words, such as: 'cold', 'deadly' and 'blade' the author gives us clues, hinting at Billy's, the main character and his fate. The weather was not pleasant because the wind was sharp and "deadly cold". "Flat blade" is associated with knife which is related to evil because it causes people to bleed when cut.
Billy is seventeen; this is another good reason, which is given by the writer in the story. Why? Because it is evident from the story that Billy is mature since he is making his own sensible decisions and is starting a good job but in reality he is young and vulnerable boy. He is also sociable, handsome and generally a likable person. There are several suggestions in the paragraph to back this up. He enjoys darts, likes going out. The writer introduces him the perfect teenage boy to readers. The problem is he catches the eye of the landlady, an original and unusual character to commit murder.
Roald Dahl uses the setting to the condition that without it the story wouldn't work. If it was set in the modern day we would have the problem of communication via internet or mobile phones. In the modern day Billy's mum or the people receiving him in his new job would have phoned the next day when they didn't hear from him but at the time when the story is set there was a lot less communication between people and it is likely that he would not have been missed for a long while after his disappearance. Instead he is stuck, unknowingly, at a strange "BED AND BREAKFAST" with a psychopathic old lady but no form of communication with the outside world. That is what makes it interesting. Therefore Billy's mood is unpleasant in Bath because "He didn't know anyone who lived here". This shows that Billy is a lonely person in the strong city called Bath so he would have nobody to turn to for help or assistance, therefore he is not happy.
Roald Dahl manages to keep us interested the whole way through. By starting with the ice-cold weather and going on to talk about the perfect, good looking teenage boy. He draws us in with enticing clues put in here and there throughout the story like little hints of horror or "spookiness".
Billy comes across a "swanky residence" with porches and pillars "but the white facades were all blotchy and cracked". A slight twist, not everything is as it seems in the fancy place and all of a sudden he comes across an illuminated sign. When he looks closer in the window he sees "cosy furnishings" and a beautifully designed, welcoming, window. "And now a queer thing happened to him", this is where the story takes and important turn when the strange and supernatural that has been building up declares itself out in the open.
We think that whatever happens now can't be right. The sign "BED AND BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST" stops him from going away, "holding him, compelling him, forcing him" to stay where he was. Before he knew what was happening he had rung the bell and "then at once" the door was opened and he was being welcomed, almost simultaneously into a warm and comfortable house by an elderly woman, unsuspecting.
In the story she is described as looking like "your best friend's mother". Roald Dahl also says, with good use of parenthesis, "She was not only harmless - there was no question about that - but she was obviously a kind and generous soul". Billy obviously has complete trust in the landlady and it is clear that he doesn't expect that she is going to turn out to be mentally deranged.
Gradually we get tantalizing hints as to how Billy is undoubtedly going to die (even though it is never actually said). The landlady looks Billy up and down as if she fancies him but when we look at other clues - the cheap accommodation, she doesn't want to break any laws at this stage in the proceedings - it seems to be something else and we want to know what.
At last we see the picture coming together from all the clues we have pieced together. Billy is sure when he reads the guest book that he's heard the names before somewhere and when he thinks he is positive that they were linked in some way. When he mentions this to the landlady she changes the subject and seems unnaturally anxious to persuade him to drink his tea. Billy looks at the names and notices that the dates are over a year apart and the latest two years ago! This is very suspicious and warrants closer inspection. He asks the landlady herself about this but she says she is very "choosy". What gives her plan away to the reader is when she tells Billy that they are still in the house "both together". When she says, about Mr Mulholland, "and there wasn't a blemish on his body", even Billy is surprised. We are finally relieved of the burden of guesswork when she tells us that both of her extremely lifelike pets are stuffed.
We know that the landlady has probably been preparing to stuff Billy because of all the clues we have had and she smells funny, a mix between old leather (preserved or dried skin) and vinegar(used to preserve food by pickling), the tea tastes like almonds, a type of poison.
We know what's going to happen to him and it seems as though the landlady has been waiting for the chance for some time because the bed covers were tucked back for him and a warm hot water bottle had been laid inside the bed before he arrived even though she had had no guests for two years.
Roald Dahl never has to say any of this but we understand it all by the end anyway, this is what makes the story so interesting.