The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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In "The Tell-Tale Heart," how is atmosphere developed in the paragraph beginning: "Presently I heard a slight groan…."

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belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This paragraph is an excellent example of the narrator using his subjective experiences to explain what he sees and hears. He thinks that the "groan" from the old man is in response to an over-active imagination that cannot slow down or see an optimistic response, because that is his own experience. The reader knows that this time, the fear is for a real reason; not a creak in the night, but for a murderer with a specific plan.

I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart... His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not.
(Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart,"

From this point, the narration is focused on each single moment, from opening the lantern to the final struggle; a suspenseful atmosphere comes from the strain of waiting, waiting for the narrator to act and for the scene to come to a close. Instead, it is dragged out, not boring but almost painful; each moment the narrator expects to be caught, but is in fact entirely in control of the situation. The narrator also expects the old man to be afraid for his life, and the reader becomes afraid in sympathy for the old man.

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reiton | Student
The author uses a suspenseful tone. This creates a bit of tension or anxiety on behalf of the reader. The use of word "groan" indicates suffering, adding to the anxiety. The subjective point of view creates a sense of proximity to the suffering and the sensation that this a very personal experience the author is about to share. The reader waits in anticipation to discover the cause of the "slight groan.".
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