Date of Submission
Comparative Literary Analysis of “The Lottery” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” Short Stories
“The Lottery” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” short stories are in one way or another linked through their theme. A theme in a literary work refers to the central idea that the author of that particular work intends to bring out (Marcus and Nichols 629). Notably, the theme comes through different subjects that come from various aspects of human experience including love, death, war, conflicts, and so on. Therefore, the theme seeks to offer understanding, observation, insight, presentation, and observation of the subjects (Chaitkin 68). Comparatively, themes are akin to the thesis in essays. Looking keenly at the two short stories, it is evident that the theme of death carries the day. In both stories, there is death towards the end of the story. This essay presents a comparative analysis of “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allan Poe through looking at the development of the theme of death through different literary elements such as symbolism, foreshadowing, and point of view.
In both stories, the theme of death is developed through the widespread use of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a literary element commonly used by authors to suggest the yet to come plot developments (Stobaugh 420). As a literary element, foreshadowing can be used in developing the theme through placing clues either at the beginning or the middle of a story. Besides, when Old Man Warner talks of corn, it directly indicates that there might be a sacrifice, which in itself must involve death (Jackson). In the case of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the sentence of the first paragraph by the narrator portends death at the end. The narrator states that “The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed–not dulled them (Poe). 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.” It is only at the end where is the mention of the still-beating heart of the old man when it becomes valid as there is the death of Tessie Hutchinson, which is a major theme. In the context of “The Lottery,” the children were packing stones in their pockets and piling them in the square. This is a direct foreshadowing of the death that later materializes. In both cases, Poe and Jackson have successfully used foreshadowing in developing their theme of death.
Another literary element used in the development of the theme of death is symbolism. Symbolism refers to the use of diverse symbols in pieces of literature to exemplify ideas and qualities through giving the symbols unique meanings contrary to their literal meanings (Knowles no pagination; Marcus and Nichols 238). Outstandingly, in both stories, symbolism is widely used to either justify the death or show why death had to occur. In “The Lottery,” the title itself is symbolic of the seemingly retrogressive traditions that the people are holding and are very reluctant to change. It is held annually and involves death to appease the gods for good harvests after June. There is also another important symbol, the black box, which is also a symbolism of the connection of the people to the tradition. Critically, the black box would also mean evil or death. The names of the characters are also symbolic Mr. Graves signifies the bringer of death, as he helps Mr. Summers in preparing the event through bringing the three-legged stool. Mrs. Delacroix, a French name for the cross, later hurls a huge stone at Tessie Hutchinson despite cordially treating the latter on her later arrival to the venue of the lottery. Still, yet, there is symbolism in the boys gathering round stones which show that the tradition of killing innocent people has to be passed from generation to generation.
On the other hand, in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator uses the symbol of the eye of the old man is used as a symbol of the essence of the old man and it also has powers. Just like the use of lottery as a rationale to kill the villager who chooses the marked paper, the eye of the old man gives life to the decision of the narrator to kill him (Jackson). According to the narrator, it is the eye that has evil. The eye was revealing something, not about the old man, but about the narrator. The use of the lantern shows the lack of comprehension on the part of the narrator to the extent that the narrator can see the eye. It then fuels the intent of the narrator to murder the old man. In a much similar context, the fact that the black box had been changed and some traditions as well, could have given reason to end the lottery, yet the Old Man Warner is adamant that it cannot be dropped as in other towns. Therefore, it is evident that both foreshadowing and symbolism have been used in developing the theme of death.
In sum, both of the stories have successfully used the literary elements of symbolism and foreshadowing in developing of the theme on death. Most importantly, in the two stories, the death is not natural, and the victims are also innocent. However, despite their innocence, they die because of the held beliefs of their perpetrators. In “The Lottery,” Mrs. Hutchinson died because of tradition while in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the old man dies on account of the narrator seeing evil in his eyes.
Chaitkin, Carol. Let’s Review. 4th ed. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, 2010. Print.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Mankato: MN Creative Education, 2008. Print.
Knowles, Elizabeth. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase And Fable. [Oxford]: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales. New York: Signet, 1998. Print.
Marcus, Laura, and Peter Nicholls. The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.