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The literary element of mood portrays the atmosphere of the work through its words and descriptions in order to create an emotional response within the reader. This allows the reader to develop an emotional attachment and interest in the story, as well as to better understand the characters’ feelings or emotional situations and the work as a whole. Mood is one of the major literary elements which brings life and emotion to a story. There are several ways to portray the mood throughout the literary work – including the setting, tone, diction, and theme of the story. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” both use mood effectively.
One of the earliest ways for mood to be created in a story is through the setting. The setting can provide a background of the character or the events which take place. Since the reader will typically learn the setting early on, it provides one of the first key introductions to the story and overall mood. “The Yellow Wallpaper” starts out with a brief introduction to the setting; and later on in the story, the narrator describes their temporary home in greater detail. Through Gilman’s description of the upstairs bedroom and the wallpaper, the reader begins to get an understanding of the narrator’s unease and disgust with the wallpaper and a feel for its importance to the story. As the story progresses, the reader can sense an eerie and foreboding feeling of what will come. As in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the mood of “The Tell-Tale Heart” can also be expressed through the setting. The setting, although somewhat vague, plays a valuable role in the story’s plot and mood. Although the old man’s house is never described to the reader in detail, Poe uses descriptions such as “his room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness” so the reader can get an idea of the character’s surroundings to visualize the scene (284). Even though a minor description is given of the old man’s house in “The Tell-Tale Heart”, there is the common similarity of the setting between the two stories. Both narrators are at a house which isn’t theirs, and the role of the houses relate back to the character’s emotional state and apparent insanity. This occurrence could indicate one of the similarities between the two stories’ overall moods, as well as the feelings and actions of the characters.
Another method of creating the mood of a story is through the writer’s tone. The tone of a story and the attitude of the writer is what brings about the reader’s emotions and feelings throughout the work. The point of view of the writer can play a major role in how the reader relates to the story or characters. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” are told through first person as the events of the stories are occurring, so everything is being viewed from the character’s perspective. Through the first person perspective, the reader is able to better understand the character’s feelings and emotions than if it were being told through a third entity. In the two stories, it doesn’t take long for the reader to figure out the mood of the story and understand the narrator’s current state through their descriptions. Poe and Gilman wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” through the point of view of someone who comes across to the reader as insane (or one who is becoming insane). This sense of insanity and the overall writing style help add to the reader’s interest and emotional appeal to the story, along with fully developing the mood.
Mood can also be created through the use of diction. Diction is the writer’s word choice in order to convey characters’ emotions and depict places, events, and other characters. How the author chooses their word choice plays a large part in the reader’s feelings towards the character or event. In many of Poe’s works, he often uses repetition of words or phrases to portray the mood of the story and the character’s mental state. Similarly to how Poe often uses repetition of words and phrases in many of his stories, Gilman repeats numerous phrases expressing the narrator’s dislike towards the wallpaper. Both stories are written through first person, and both narrators sound more insane than sane. In “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the narrator constantly keeps insisting throughout the story that he is not mad and how he will calmly tell his story. Whereas in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman’s word choice throughout the story consistently make the narrator sound as though she is frantic and on the verge of going insane in that bedroom (if not already insane). The descriptions Gilman gives in relation to the setting and the narrator’s feelings toward the wallpaper also add to the overall effect of her word choice. Critics suggest that – rather than Gilman simply stating the artistic failure of the wallpaper – the way the wallpaper is described as a grotesque figure “transforms her narrative into a disturbing, startling, and darkly ironic tale” (Hume 477). Gilman’s detailed description of the wallpaper leads readers to become captivated by it while also leaving an ominous feeling in the back of the mind. The diction of the story is what allows the reader to get put inside the character’s head in order to understand how they think and feel.
Another common way for mood to be created in a story is through the overall theme. Theme is considered to be the main idea or meaning behind a story. Often times, the theme can be left to be determined by the reader since it is not typically stated outright. The two stories portray a dark and ominous theme, and there are several examples throughout “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” of the common theme of insanity. Among many of Poe’s stories and poems, insanity is a frequent reoccurrence. According to one critic, Poe creates a theme in his works “where the lines between sanity and insanity blur in a nightmare atmosphere” (Witherington 472). “The Tell-Tale Heart” creates an insane and nightmare-like feeling in the reader, speaking to the reader as though they have now become an accomplice to the murder the narrator has committed. Similar to the atmosphere of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Yellow Wallpaper” creates an atmosphere of fear and insanity which entertains its readers. This idea of insanity in both stories is a major theme since it would be considered a significant and repeated idea in both stories. The setting, tone, and diction of a story can all play a role in the reader interpreting the theme; and all of these literary methods help to create and determine the mood of a story.
Mood is one of the literary elements which has a major role in a story and the reader’s emotions and thoughts on the story. The mood ensures the reader’s interest and emotional attachment to the story, as well as their comprehension of any messages being conveyed from the writer. Similarities in the moods and ideas of two stories will allow the reader to make connections between the two, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”. A well-developed mood will add depth and value to the writer’s work. Both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” are memorable and stir up similar thoughts and feelings in the reader due to the frequent similarities between their settings, tone, diction, and theme.
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