Edgar Allan Poe claimed that the perfect short story should adhere to the following rules:
- Length: the story can be read in one sitting.
- Ending: the story should end in its climax.
- Unity of effect: the story should only have one mood.
To what extent is this true for "The Tell-Tale Heart?"
According to Poe's criteria, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is indeed the perfect short story. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Length: With less than twenty paragraphs, the story is short enough to read in one sitting.
- Ending: The story does indeed end with a climax. The narrator is unable to conceal his guilt any longer: he reveals to the policemen that he has murdered the old man and invites them to "tear up the planks" under which his body is hidden.
- Unity of Effect: From the beginning of the story, Poe creates a mood which is filled with suspense and evokes a sense of nervousness in the reader. In the second paragraph, for example, the narrator confesses that a murder is about to be committed and proceeds to describe the various plans and precautions he made. Later, the beating heart of the old man (the victim) reinforces this feeling of suspense, as the reader waits to see if the narrator will literally get away with murder.
Unity of effect also suggests that all of the details of the story contribute to the overall intention of the plot and theme, so this is evident in the story as well. Every details contributes a description of the either the man's actions through the murder or his mind after the murder. There are no sub-plots or extraneous descriptions which do not add to the overall effect (the single effect) of the story.
It is definitely short. It's only a few pages long. It is very tidy, with no extra detail. There is one mood throughout the story, and it ends in the climactic moment of the narrator's confession. By this standard, it is the perfect short story!
Poe definitely fulfilled his own rules in "The Tell-Tale Heart." It is very short and can be read in less than 30 minutes; it has a single mood, that of terror and murderous revenge; and it has a climactic ending, resulting in the murderer's guilty conscience giving him away.