illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

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Can mentally ill people similar to those in "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Fall of the House of Usher" be found nowadays? If so, who are they?

Yes, people today still deal with the same kinds of mental illnesses suffered by Poe's characters in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher." They might have various types of anxiety disorders that prompt them to violence, or they might have something else, like schizophrenia, a personality disorder, or paranoia.

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Yes, it is possible to find people today who are equally as ill as the main characters in these Poe stories. The narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" suffers perhaps from thanatophobia, or death anxiety, as he clearly fears his own death to an extreme degree, suggesting that he hears the death watch beetles in the wall at night, developing this obsession with midnight (symbolic of the death of day), and so forth. When he hears the old man, whose death he plots, groan in fear, he says,

Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, [just such a groan] has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me.

The old man seems to remind him of death—with his advanced age, his blindness, and his "vulture eye" (even the bird is associated with death)—and so the narrator feels the need to rid himself of the old man so as to rid himself of the reminder that he too will die someday. Surely people who fear death so significantly still exist.

Roderick Usher, on the other hand, is the product of many years of incest. It is possible that he suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or even some form of personality disorder. His mental illness seems likely to have arisen from the many years of incest in which his family has engaged, as his sister suffers cruelly as well. Clearly, people still deal with these disorders and illnesses today, though typically much more successfully than the Ushers.

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