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Why does Edgar Allan Poe use an unreliable narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart?"I'm trying...

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krystle-barnett | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 30, 2011 at 10:41 PM via web

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Why does Edgar Allan Poe use an unreliable narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart?"

I'm trying to understand why Poe would write the narrator as unreliable when the narrator is trying to prove himself sane and reliable. I'm also trying to understand the purposes of writing with an unreliable narrator.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 25, 2012 at 4:07 PM (Answer #1)

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Not only does "The Tell-Tale Heart" have an unreliable narrator, other stories of his (for example, "The Black Cat") do as well. One could support Poe's use of the unreliable narrator as something which mirrors his own turbulent life.

The importance of the unreliable narrator in "The Tale-Tale Heart" comes from the attack the narrator makes upon the readers. He immediately accuses them of thinking he is mad. Not only does this put the narrator on the defensive, it puts readers on the defensive as well. Readers tend to be shocked about the nature of the narrator's crime: the murder of an old man based upon his eye. Many readers believe that murdering a person based upon an eye is insane. Therefore, compounded with the fact that the narrator claims sanity, readers tend to believe that the narrator is, in fact, insane.

Essentially, readers do not wish to think that a sane person could murder another based on only an eye. The unreliable narrator allows readers to accept the heinous crime based upon the narrator's insanity. By making the narrator unreliable, readers are able to come to terms with the fact that the narrator is trying to ignore his mental instability. In the end, it is his unreliable nature which allows readers to accept what has happened. The use of a reliable narrator would force readers to think that normal people could commit horrendous actions--something they (assumedly) do not wish to do.

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