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In the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe, the perception of the narrator is a marvellous example of how a madly disturbed person can be both crazy and yet highly intelligent at the same time. The narrator is clearly deluded, as the circumstances he is describing seem so at odds with what he is telling us, the audience. Yet, there is method in his madness and this gives awy the theme. For example, his language and demeanour is all over the place, urgent and panicky and madly impatient one minute - yet cold, calm and cool as a cucmber the next. He has lucid moments where his clarity of thought and coolness of planning even manges to convince the visitors that he is a perfectly normal host. But his guilt and paranoia are bound to win through in the near-perfect crime..
The narrator is full of the praise of his own sagacity, a terrible parody of the true sagacity of a Dupin or a Legrand. For what he takes to be ratiocination is in fact the irresistible operation of the principle of his own perversity, the urge to do secret deeds, have secret thoughts undetected by the otherwise ever-watchful eye of the old man. This and other demonstrations of the narrator’s imbalance come at the very beginning of the story, and provide the context in which one can evaluate everything else that he says and does.
The teller of Poe’s tale is a classic unreliable narrator. The narrator is not deliberately trying to mislead his audience; he is delusional, and the reader can easily find the many places in the story where the narrator’s telling reveals his mistaken perceptions. His presentation is also deeply ironic: the insistence on his sanity put his madness on display. The first paragraph alone, brief as it is, should provide fertile ground for one to find evidence of his severe disturbance. From there, one can find subsequent manifestations of his madness—his perception of the old man’s eye as a thing in itself, independent of its admittedly benevolent possessor; his extreme attention to details and matters that others could find insignificant is not irrelevant; his fixation on a single objective for an insanely long period of time; his need to flaunt his brilliance, even if only to himself, by inviting the police into the house; and so on.
Is it his own heart that the narrator hears at the end, or is it the wholly imaginary manifestation of his own guilty conscience? No one can say for certain, and perhaps no one should.
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