illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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Describe the narrator in detail, giving your first impression of him. How has Poe defined this narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" through his own words and actions?

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An obsessive and tortured personality, the narrator describes himself as "nervous, dreadfully nervous" with a disease much like that of Roderick Usher in "The House of Usher": a nervous condition that increases the sensitivity of his sensations. Certainly, he is obsessive as he describes the "vulture eye" upon which he fixates with its blue film and hideous condition. Yet, at the same time, this narrator associates himself with this hideous eye as he, like the old man, suffers from psychological terror of the consequences of time. Thus, in a perverse effort to stop the terror of the narrator's own "I," he kills the old man, whom he professes to love, but also states, was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye....I knew what the old man felt, and I pitied him although I chuckled at heart.

When, after the narrator kills the old man, he continues to hear the counting of time in his own heart that he imagines is the old man's heart beating under the floor planks, he can bear this symbolic persistence of time no more and tells the police to tear up the planks. For, his terror of time does not relent, and it is his own heart that tells on him. Indeed, his killing of the old man's eye has not alleviated the persistence of his own "I" that answers the "tell-tale" beating of his heart which forces him to confess,

Almighty God!--no,no! They heard!--they suspected!--they knew!--they were making a mockery of my horror!--this I thought, and this I think.  But anything was better than this agony!

The narrator has a shared identity with the old man--that of the terror of time. So, even though he eliminates the "vulture eye" of the old man, the narrator cannot stop his own "I" from sensing the horror that remains in the beating of his own "tell-tale heart" which awaits Death, too.

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