In the three short stories ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’, and ‘The Ostler’, there are many similarities and many differences, for instance, ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ is quite a modern story is was written in about 1950, but the other two stories were written in the 19th century, so the language is quite different, Collins and Poe use quite gothic language, whereas Dahl does not tend to use any gothic language .
Another difference between the stories, is that we believe the villain in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is mad, he seems to live on his own (apart from the old man). This is also the same for ‘The Ostler’, Rebecca Murdoch is slightly more mysterious, but we do know her name and her gender. But we never actually see into the mind of Rebecca, whereas, we see everything from the viewpoint of the man in ‘The Tell Tale Heart’.
In ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’, we are not lead to believe that Mary Maloney is mad. We know quite a lot about her, we know that she is pregnant and this is what could have caused her to kill her husband, it could have also been her anger building up inside her as her husband was telling her he was leaving her.
Wilkie Collins has created a very strong, mysterious and frightening villain in his story, ‘The Ostler’. In the 19th century, this type of woman would have been very unusual, even up to the 20th century, as we see in ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ Mary Maloney still feels (as most women would have done) that her husband has full power of her, such as when her husband is about to come home Mary Maloney is waiting for him, “When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen and a few minutes later, she heard the tyres on the gravel.” Rebecca has a violent character, for instance in Isaac’s dream she tries to kill him with a knife, she also tries to do this when they are married.
Furthermore, we know that Rebecca is an alcoholic, which would be frowned upon even nowadays so in the 1800s it would have been shameful and rare for a woman to get drunk frequently.
She is a very mysterious character and we do not know much about her. She is Presented as quite ghostly like as she sometimes seems to just appear out of nowhere and seems not to ever make a noise , “speechless, with no expression in her face, with no noise following her footfall” this makes her seem almost surreal.
The reader is also alerted to another characteristic of Rebecca, she seems so innocent and beautiful, but she is not perfect with her looks, “she was a fair, fine woman, with yellowish flaxen hair and a droop in the left eyelid”, in those days they could have thought that a sign of the an imperfect soul.
Rebecca is also very dominant in the relationship between her and Isaac, in the 19th century this would have been very unusual, “she had taken position not only of his passions, but of his faculties as well, she directed him on every point”. This is a good representation of how she is in complete control of his life and everything that he does.
Therefore when a reader reads ‘The Ostler’, they immediately know that Rebecca is to be treated with suspicion as she is so unusual for her time . Her element of mystery makes the reader feel wary of her and we feel scared for Isaac as neither he or the reader knows whether she is a murderer and it was her in the dream or whether she is just an innocent woman who Isaac had just merely had a vision of in his dream..
However, evidence suggests that this dream was, in fact a fatal premonition, because there are too many coincidences, and the increasing violence of her temper confirms this, such as near the end of the story when she again tries to kill him, however this time it is far from a dream. Although it is very late in the story, it seems that Isaac still doesn’t believe that his wife and the woman from the dream are the same woman, as he refers to them as different people.
Poe creates a very realistic villain in his monologue, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, his character also has a mysterious air about him, we know nothing about him, not even his name (although we are not told his gender we will assume that he is a male) all we know is that he is mad. But he thinks that he is not and is obsessed by telling us and convincing us that he is not mad, “you fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing” he continues to say these sorts of phrases throughout the story, it seems that he is not only trying to convince us but himself too, he is paranoid by every little thing.
We know by the second paragraph that he is planning to kill, “I made up my mind to take the life of the old man” the way he says this in such a casual manner, as if it is something that is perfectly normal and the man is just a fly that needs to be swatted and killed, he seems to have no remorse over killing an innocent man.
He is very selfish towards the killing and feels that he is doing himself and the old man a favour by killing him. He sees no wrong in it and thinks he is fully justified to kill an old man ” and thus myself of the eye forever”
Another hint that the villain is insane, is when he is building up to the murder, “it took me a whole hour to place my head within the opening “. He then claims that a mad man would not be so cunning, but it is rather odd that he would take an hour to place his head into a door, in fact it seems rather like a thing that a mad man would do. Also mad men tend to think that they are better than anyone else and they have special powers, “Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers. Of my sagacity” He thinks that he is a good person for doing this and the old man would have thanked him.
He also seems not to feel anything once he has killed the old man, “He was stone dead, his eye would trouble me no more” if a right minded person had killed an old man, just like he had done, their first reaction would be guilt, sadness, terror or some sort of unhappy emotion, but his first thought was a selfish one, he was happy because he had so “cleverly” got rid of a man and he would be troubled no more.
We know that in the past the villain has had some sort of disease, he does not say what it was but we would assume that was a mental illness as he says, “The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all the sense of hearing acute” he proves the fact that he has an acute sense of hearing a few times in the story, “the beating grew louder, louder! The sound would be heard by a neighbour” the beating of the old man’s heart can not have been that extreme, so the villain is obviously hearing things, this could be the first sign of guilt that we see from the villain.
Dahl creates a very different villain in his short story ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ . we know a lot about her and if she were a real woman, she wouldn’t be the sort of person you would expect to be a villain. She is very different from the villains in the other two stories, as she has a more justified reason to kill, her husband is leaving her (we do not know why) and she kills him, she is also pregnant and this could have helped with the killing, as most pregnant woman can do some very strange and awful things and would probably not do them otherwise.
At the start of the story she seems like the perfect housewife, she sits and waits for husband to come home and makes him a drink. She seems to dote on her husband and hangs on to every word he says, she clearly loves him and would be most, 1950’s men’s dream wife.
The relationship is presented as a happy one at the start but if you look a bit closer there are hints even right at the start of the story that she may be a bit sinister, “the drop of the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil” this seems to be a strange word to use when describing someone’s beauty, another hint that that she may not be pure and innocent is, “and the eyes with their new placid look, seemed larger, darker than before”. This could be a sign that there is something within her that makes her capable of murder.
We feel that Dahl wants us to like Mary Maloney and feel sympathy towards her, “Watching him all the time, with those large, bewildered eyes” this description of her makes her seem vulnerable. Also her first thought of what is going to happen, if people find out about her killing him, is the baby, “What about the child? What were the laws about murders with unborn children?”
Although what she did was a very unexpected killing and she certainly had not planned it, she was still very level headed and thought about what she was going to do straight after she kills him, “her mind became clear all of a sudden, she began thinking very fast”
Right at the end of the story, the writer creates an interesting twist and we see a bit of a evil side to Mary Maloney as she gets the police officers to eat the leg of lamb in the oven (which was the only evidence that it was her that murdered him), the police officers joke, while they are eating the lamb, that the evidence is properly right under their noses, “and in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle” this is an effective ending, as we see another side to the character.
Dahl’s villain is very realistic, one that some women may be able to relate to, she differs from the other villains, by the fact that you could actually imagine her being a real person, but the story line is not very realistic and I could not imagine that situation actually happening.
Whereas ‘The Ostler’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ have villains that you would not find in everyday life. These two stories could possibly contain some of the supernatural their villains have many similarities, such as Rebecca and the villain in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ both had unjustified killings (Although Rebecca did not actually succeed in killing Isaac either times) The narrator in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ murdered the old man because he had an “evil” eye and we do not know why Rebecca attempted to murder her husband.
Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins both have an atmosphere of suspense and horror in their stories, they both build up and maintain the suspense in different ways.
In ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ it is a very slow murder and we sit waiting for it to happen. Poe uses many different techniques to show the horror and the suspense, such as the sentence structure, the sentences become very short as the villain becomes more angry and loses control of the situation.
He also uses dark language, as does Collins, there is a lot of gothic language in both stories (something that ‘Lamb To The Slaughter does not have, as it is a modern story set in modern times and does not need the gothic language to make it a horror story) such as in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, “Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror” and in ‘The Ostler’ “The bleak autumn wind was still blowing, and the solemn, monotonous, surging moan of it in the wood was dreary and awful to hear through the nights silence”, this is a good quote to show how ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ has a lot of personification in it, here the wood is represented as a real living object that is screaming.
Poe and Collins both use setting to create an atmosphere of horror, in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, “amid the dreadful silence of the old house” and in ‘The Ostler’, “The first house he found to inquire at was a lonely road side inn, standing on the outskirts of a thick wood”. The reader gets an image of a little shack in the middle of nowhere, barely standing up under the weight of the heavy rain and the wind late at night. This use of gothic language is typical of 19th century horror writers, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ also has dark language, “death had stalked him with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim” this is very effective as it is just the sort of language that you would expect to come across in a horror story.
Both Collins and Poe use dashes to show the terror that their victims and the villains endure. “No human eye – not even his – could have detected anything wrong.”
Poe also uses repetition a lot in the building up to the murder, “I undid the lantern cautiously – oh so cautiously, cautiously” This puts an empathises on that certain word to show the tension.
In ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ There is very little atmosphere of horror as Dahl does not use any techniques, such as repetition, gothic language or imagery, so we do not get the typical feeling that one gets when reading ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ or ‘The Ostler’
However there is some suspense in ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’. Like when her husband is going to tell her something, “he had become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head down so that the light from the lamp beside him, fell across the upper part of his face. She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye” This leaves the reader on the edge of their seat, wondering what will happen next. Another bit of suspense is when she has just killed her husband and we are waiting to see what will happen to her.
A major difference in the way the stories are structured between the three tales is in ‘The Ostler’ Collins uses a very good technique by opening with the ending, this is a good way to engage the reader, as it wants to make us read on and find out what is happening to the ostler as he seems to be having a very disturbing dream and the author gives us a detailed description of the man, that leaves us asking question about what had happened to him to leave him with “prematurely wrinkled cheeks” and a withered woe-be gone face”
As a conclusion, the two villains in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Ostler’ are in fact looking closely, similar and the techniques the two authors use are also similar, these two stories differ greatly from Roald Dahl’s story, ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’. The story that is best in building up the horror and suspense is ‘The Ostler’ as the story has the most mysterious character.