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In no way whatsoever can the murderous madman of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," be considered a hero. A hero is defined as "a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities." Poe's narrator has none of these characteristics. He kills the weak, old man in the middle of the night, an act that shows no bravery. He appears to act as a servant to the old man, showing no traits of nobility. It takes him a week to gain the nerve to commit the murder--certainly no show of courage. His only ability appears to be his ghastly skill at dismemberment. At the very best, the narrator could be considered an anti-hero--"a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like." However, most literary anti-heroes exhibit some redeeming qualities, but such is not the case in Poe's character.
Of course the narrator can be seen as a hero. He is after all attempting to destroy the "Evil Eye," a "vulture eye," a "hideous veil" that conceals and breathes all that is evil in the world. To the narrator, the eye must be destroyed for the eye represents a perverting force that terrorizes the narrator. Yes, it takes him a while to build up his courage, but modern heroes--with the exception of comic stereotypes--take their time turning into heroes.
It could even be argued that the narrator attempts to destroy a piece of himself, a good/evil that is attached to his soul.The old man may represent all that is either good or bad about the narrator's soul.The corpse is but pieces of his personality that he wants to destroy or bury. And this is why the hellish tattoo can be heard only by the narrator.
I would agree that the narrator is not successful, but he does attempt to change his position in the world. He doesn't sit casually and judge in literal fashion all that he sees. He attempts to take charge of his situation in the world. He is an actor in life, one who denies his fate and pushes forward. It is not necessary for a hero to fit into a hero cookie-cutter mold for him/her to be considered a hero.
"Bullgatortail" suggests that readers should take a literal interpretation of the story. However, he fails to realize that the narrator is crazy! In literature studies, this is a classic unreliable narrator. Readers cannot simply trust that this narrator is telling the truth about anything that he says.To suggest that the narrator is simply a coward or an anti-hero is to limit Poe's creative potential and reader imaginations as well.
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