What is “Great Literature?”: “Araby” vs. “The Tell Tale Heart”
“Great literature” is a heavily debated term. For an eight year old boy, I’m sure “Captain Underpants” is considered one of the best books in the world. When I was in middle school paranormal romance books seemed to be all that mattered in the world of literature. But, does that really mean these books are “great”? I think, that for a book to be great literature it needs to be more than simply a reader’s favorite. Popularity alone shouldn’t determine a book’s “success”. But, that leaves still the question of what does make something great literature? So many factors come to mind such as the work’s publication period, the impact it makes on society, and the responses it invokes in individual readers. However, to weigh one of these factors above the other or not take all individual circumstances into just consideration feels like an unfair assumption. Each book needs to be treated differently and all individual factors must be considered. To argue that one book is “better” than another in most cases simply feels wrong. Although, there are exceptions such as a lack of clarity or proper construction. When writing is far from great it is obvious. But, when both books both offer something of merit it is often near impossible to distinguish which is “better” literature. One such case is that of Joyce’s “Araby” when weighed against Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart”. Both seem to display incredible skill and composition. While it is an incredibly difficult decision, I feel that “Araby” has some factor that seems to make it more appealing and at least in my opinion “better literature”.
Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of the most popular and influential stories in the Gothic fiction genre. But, Joyce’s “Araby” portrays a unique perspective of childhood in Ireland. While the Poe story is extremely entertaining, “Araby” speaks to a specific period of time in a specific culture in such a way that makes it an incredibly important literary work. “Araby” and the series of short stories it is from portray the perspective of feeling stuck in Dublin during the early 20th century. “Araby” shows a little boy unable to achieve his goals because of circumstances beyond his control. Meanwhile, “The Tell Tale Heart” offers an utterly disturbing, though not quite emotion evoking, account of a man’s descent into madness. “Araby” attempts to discuss major cultural issues faced by society during that time period, while “The Tell Tale Heart” is an interesting piece that fails to make any obvious statement.
Both stories are quality pieces of work, and I personally enjoyed reading “ The Tell Tale Heart” more. But, in my opinion it is obvious that “Araby” is the more culturally important and impactful work. I do not know which work will live on for future generations or if either will, but if “Araby” does live on I believe it could help future generations better understand the 20th century culture in Ireland. Depending on the future culture, it should also be relatable in a way that “A Tell Tale Heart” never could. While “The Tell Tale Heart” tells the story of an insane man and his journey to murder, “Araby” displays an almost universally relatable character who invokes sympathy in readers. “Araby”’s perspective on being trapped by circumstance makes it an important cultural piece, and surely a work of “great literature.