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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial