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The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Can you provide an example of verbal irony from "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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Verbal irony is when the narrator says something that contradicts their true feelings or intentions. Essentially, verbal irony is when a statement has an underlying meaning that contrasts with its literal meaning. In the short story Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator mentions that he plans on killing the old man. He goes on to say,

"During all of that week I was as friendly to the old man as I could be, and warm, and loving" (Poe 2).

This would be considered verbal irony because the narrator is anything but loving and warm. He is plotting to kill the old man, yet describes himself as "loving." A loving person would never plot to commit murder.

Another example of verbal irony takes place after the narrator buries the mutilated body. The police arrive and the narrator comments,

"I took them through the whole house, telling them to search it all, to search well" (Poe 4).

The narrator obviously does not want the police to search everywhere because if they did, they would surely uncover the old man's body. The narrator simply tries to avoid suspicion by making this contradictory statement which also classifies as an example of verbal irony.

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Verbal irony occurs when the speaker's meaning is opposite from the actual meaning of the words. Since the entire story is told from the narrator's point of view, his version of the story as he recounts it could be considered 'verbal.'

For example, the narrator boasts about his kindness to his intended victim:

"I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him."


"And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone and inquiring how he had passed the night."

In the above quote, irony of the narrator's inquiry is doubly-creepy, because he knows exactly how the old man passed the night--he was in there watching him the entire time.  Again, verbal irony occurs as the narrator is praising himself to the reader for being pleasant to the old man when he is simultaneously plotting his victim's death.

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