Explain how Poe develops the creepy tone and builds the suspense in "The Tell-Tale Heart".

Expert Answers
bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe wastes little time in setting the mood in his famed short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart." From the opening sentences, he assaults the reader with an atmospheric barrage of evil thoughts and ideas. Dreadful nervousness, madness, supernatural senses and murder are just a few of the ideas presented in the first two paragraphs. He grabs the reader's interest immediately and continues to build the tension as his narrator tells the rest of his story. When the murder is finally committed, Poe does not stop there. The dismemberment of the body only magnifies the horror of the act, leaving the reader wondering what can happen next. But unlike the narrator of Poe's other short story of macabre murder, "The Cask of Amontillado," the killer in "The Tell-Tale Heart" has not covered all of his bases: His crime is not perfect; screams have been heard and police have come to investigate. More tension arises and the narrator's nervousness increases until he does the unthinkable: He cracks and reveals all.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" Edgar Allen Poe takes the reader on a journey of macabre suspense as he shows the murderer plotting his dreadful and evil plan. Part of the way in which Poe does this so well is in the narration. The narrator does not speak normally, but very, very scarily - he does not seem normal. For a start, he gabbles, talking so fast that we can barely read his words. This is a sign of mania and shows the brain working faster and faster in a crazed way. This has the effect of unnerving the reader, making him wonder where the story is going. The narrator shares his dreadful secrets about lying in wait, spying and about his hatred. When he pounces the language is sudden and sharp - a great contrast to the unnaturally dead calm of the waiting game that precedes it. These contrasts show the seesaw effect of psychotic type behavior and build suspense.

discussion | Student

Some of the suspense comes from the narrator's claims of calm sanity, which definitely clashes with his murderous tale. Notice how he has an almost obsessive fixation with time and sound. He notes exactly how many days and hours he stands outside the old man's door before murdering him. He details how he covered up his crime so methodically, creating a sense of shock in the reader. The narrator's insistence that he commited the perfect crime against a harmless, innnocent, unsuspecting victim (not to mention for a completely illogical and irrational reason) fills readers with paranoia. Further details about dismembering of the old man's body reinforces the reader's discomfort. Most of all, his attention to detail is creepy and suspenseful. 

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question