Explain why Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" has been such a succesful gothic horror story.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" broke new ground with his tale of gothic horror and psychological terror along with his technique of what he termed arabesque.  In fact, Poe's psychological thriller became a benchmark for future authors of psychological realism such as Ambrose Bierce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the contemporary author of thrillers, Stephen King.

In its many narrative twists and turns--arabesque--Poe manages to raise the level of tension in his story to great heights.  Interestingly, there is even an "arabesque" of character regarding the narrator as some critics sugget that the old man is a doppelganger, or double, for the narrator, and that the narrator's loathing for the man represents his own self-hatred or fear of growing older.  For, the eye of the old man is identified by the narrator as a curse upon him; so, if he can be rid of the eye, he will be all right.  In contrast to the old man, whose eye is blind, the narrator's senses are sharpened to the point of becoming torturous.  Thus, in order to quiet his senses, the narrator hopes to end those of the disfigured old man.  Yet, in another arabesque, the narrator's desire to kill becomes skewered to his own guilt, dark side, and terror of his increasing madness.

There are also more twists and turns in Poe's marvelously woven narrative that increase the horror of this gothic tale.  For instance, there are contradictions in the narrator's loving the old man and his enjoyment of the terror in the man as well as his pity for the old man while he "chuckled at heart" at what he is about to do. Finally, after he has killed the old man, his sharpened senses with which he feels superior turn against the narrator, tortuing him as he realizes the horror of his own act:

Oh God! what could I do?...They were making a mockery of my horror!....I felt that I must scream or die!

In other aspect of Poe's technique of arabesque, the psychological changes in the narrator parallel the physical events. The death of old man, rather than removing "a perverted aesthetic" tortures the narrator and destroys him as the horrified narrator confesses his crime in his desperate attempt to join the old man in death. Truly, the intracacies of arabesque and resulting crescendo of tension serve to create an absolutely mesmerizing tale of gothic horror in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

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