The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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Compare and contrast the narrator's point of view at the beginning and the end of the story. Note any differences and the possible causes behind these differences.

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"The Tell-Tale Heart" is written from the first person point of view throughout, but the narrator's personal point of view, in terms of his tone and his feelings about the events he narrates, certainly changes quite considerably.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator seems confident and calm, but also somewhat defensive. He invites the reader to "observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell ... the whole story," and yet he repeatedly asks, "why will you say I am mad?" and "How, then, am I mad?" His repeated insistence that he is not mad implies firstly that there might be, in the story that follows, evidence to the contrary, and secondly that he is in fact insecure about his own state of mind.

The confident tone the narrator tries to establish at the beginning of the story quickly becomes boastful. Indeed, the narrator says to the reader, "You should have seen me," and "Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust in." He is referring here to his careful entrance into the bedroom of the old man, whom he unashamedly admits to killing. The fact that the narrator boasts so proudly about his murder of the old man certainly undermines his previous assertions that he is not mad.

At the end of the story, as the narrator hears the old man's heart beating relentlessly and increasingly loudly beneath the floorboards, his point of view becomes much more frantic, whereas before it was calm, honest, and defensive. His frantic tone is implied by the disjointed syntax of his speech, and also by the repetition of exclamation marks. For example, describing his fear that the police officers might hear the dead man's beating heart, he writes, "no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!"

At the beginning of the story, the narrator defensively rejects the accusations of madness which he assumes will be leveled against him by the reader. At the end of the story, he acknowledges that he "foamed ... raved ... swore," and that he "argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations." Here, he seems to have let slip any pretense of sanity and describes behavior which is clearly quite mad.

The main reason for the narrator's altered point of view is his guilty conscience, symbolized by the relentlessly beating heart of the murdered old man. The narrator's conscience refuses to let him rest, and it presses upon him so forcefully that he can no longer, at the end of the story, sustain the appearance of sanity he projects at the beginning.

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