Is the narrator in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"  a reliable source of information?

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brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ is in the form of a dramatic monologue delivered by an unidentified first-person narrator, who is, to answer you question, an absolutely unreliable source of information for many reasons.  The first reason is that the narrator suffers from a mental disorder that the reader can easily determine alters his perception of reality.  Claims of phenomenal hearing are easily discernible as psychotic delusions.  In addition, the narrator’s inability to recollect when or how the idea of committing the murder and the fact that he never reveals the actual identity, in terms of his relationship to his victim, other than to say that he loves him, also suggests the fact that there is something wrong with the idea of killing the victim (more than just the fact that murder in general is wrong).  It is also very unusual that the one thing that bothers the narrator and drives him to commit the murder, more than anything else, is one of the old man’s  eyes, “a pale-blue, film-covered eye like that of a vulture”, that disturbs him greatly to the point that he called it an ‘‘evil eye.” Futher evidence of his unreliability is the fact that, after his brutal murder and disposal of the body, he begins to hear a noise that he believes to be the heartbeat of his victim, and he eventually leads the police to the body where they find the body and the old man’s ‘‘hideous heart’’ still beating.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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