The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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Discuss what makes the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" and its narrator so thought-provoking. Cite specific evidence from the text to support your ideas.

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Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is an exploration of the theme of madness. It is perhaps so thought-provoking because the protagonist's madness is so inexplicable and so terrible. Indeed, he states early in the story that the old man "had never wronged" him and had "never given [him] insult." The narrator stumbles upon a possible motivation when he says, "I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!"

It is terrifying to think that someone can be driven to murder on so slight a provocation and even more terrifying that somebody might be driven to murder with no provocation at all. Possibly the only explanation we have left, if we discount the provocation, is that there must be something awry with the protagonist's mind. This is thought-provoking because it suggests the possibility that if something can go so badly awry with one mind then it can go as badly awry with another.

At the end of the story, the mad narrator hears the heart of the old man beating, "louder - louder - louder" beneath the floorboards. The beating heart could represent the narrator's guilty conscience, refusing to leave the narrator in peace. Eventually he can bear it no longer, and, deciding that "anything...[is] more tolerable" than the incessant noise of the beating heart, he confesses, screaming "I admit the deed!"

He demands that the police officers rip up the floorboards and put an end to the "beating of [the old man's] hideous heart." This ending to the story is thought-provoking because it suggests that even the most irrational of minds can not emerge unscathed from the most terrible of crimes. In this sense it is a rather optimistic ending. It suggests some sort or degree of moral balance.

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