The Tell-Tale Heart Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
Start Your Free Trial

As the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" begins, the narrator admits to being “very dreadfully nervous,” but he denies being mad. What is the first argument he offers to show that he is not insane? Explain how his argument and the examples he offers counter rather than support his assertion that he is sane.

The first argument that the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" offers to show he is not insane is his claim that his sense of hearing has become so powerful that he can hear sounds from hell. Later, as he plans and carries out the murder of an old man because he was terrified by his "evil eye," he continues to cite the care and deliberation with which he did so, as evidence of his sanity.

Expert Answers info

Adam Mangum eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write240 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

At the beginning of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," he anticipates the reader's assumption that he has gone mad: "But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do say that I am mad?" He attempts to refute this conclusion by declaring that his mind has never been clearer:

Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Is it not clear that I am not mad? Indeed, the illness only made my mind, my feelings, my senses stronger, more powerful. My sense of hearing especially became more powerful.....I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard sounds from hell!

The narrator's proud assertion that his hearing is so powerful that he is now able to hear sounds from hell suggests that he has completely lost touch with reality, if it was ever within his grasp.

He describes his fear of the "evil eye" of an old man which reminds him of that of a vulture. He is so terrified, in fact, by the man's eye that he has become obsessed by the idea that he must shut this eye forever by killing him. Again fearing that this might strike his reader as evidence of madness, he offers as evidence of his sanity the patience and restraint which he planned the murder of the old man.

With the sound of the old man's beating heart resounding like thunder in the maddened ears of the narrator, he finally murders him by suffocation. Yet again, he congratulates himself on his sanity by commending the extreme care with which he dismembered the man's corpse and concealed it beneath the floorboards.

But finally, when the police arrive to search the premises after being alerted by a neighbor, it's the narrator's madness-induced heightened power of hearing that reveals the evidence of his crime.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial