How does Edgar Allen Poe's life connect to "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I seriously doubt that Edgar Allan Poe based any of the events of "The Tell-Tale Heart" on his own personal experiences. Poe may have had his mental demons, but he was apparently never involved in any murder scheme. Some critics believe that the story evolved from Poe's own "unbalanced" mental state.

His literary executor, R. W. Griswold, wrote a libelous obituary in the New York Tribune vilifying him as mentally depraved. Even as late as 1924, critic Alfred C. Ward, writing about ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ in Aspects of the Modern Short Story: English and American argued that Poe ‘‘had ever before him the aberrations of his own troubled mind—doubtfully poised at all times, perhaps, and almost certainly subject to more or less frequent periods of disorder: consequently, it was probably more nearly normal, for him, to picture the abnormal than to depict the average.’’

Most critics disagree with the above comments, however, and declare that Poe had none of the unstable characteristics shown by his most famous creations. One critic did see a connection between his two characters (Fortunato and Montresor) in "The Cask of Amontillado."

The Poe biographer William Bittner claims that the two characters in the story "are two sides of the same man Edgar Poe as he saw himself while drinking.’’ 

Most likely, as other critics have pointed out, ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ was "basically self-explanatory" or a ‘‘tale of conscience."

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