The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Repetition In The Tell Tale Heart

In "The Tell-Tale Heart" how does the use of repetition relate to the conflict?

Expert Answers info

Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2016

write6,847 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

The conflict in this story is between the narrator and nature. It isn't the old man he conflicts with; it's the man's "vulture eye." It is likely that the "film" over the old man's eye is caused by glaucoma, a disease of the elderly (those nearer death), and vultures are often associated with death as well. Therefore, it seems that the sight of the old man with his old person's disease reminds the narrator of his own mortality. Human mortality is a fact of nature, and so it is really nature that the narrator is in conflict with because he fears death and acts to remove any reminders of it. Repetition in his narrative draws attention to his unstable mental state as it raises tension and illuminates the conflict.

On the night that the narrator finally kills the old man, he says, "there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton." He believes it to be the sound of the old man's heart, but we know that this cannot possibly be true: he wouldn't be able to hear another person's heart beating from all the way across the room. Later, after he has murdered and dismembered the old man, the narrator uses almost exactly the same language to describe what he believes is the old man's still-beating heart. He says, "It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton." We understand that he cannot possibly be describing a sound made by a dead man's heart, and so it must be his own heart that he hears and misinterprets in his fear. These lines both rely on the auditory imagery of a watch ticking, and timepieces in literature are very often symbolic of human mortality, especially in Poe's stories. This fits here, as we begin to understand that it is death the narrator really fears, and it is his own heart that he hears ticking away his life—he...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 666 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,159 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Arts

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

jack1995 | Student

Poe used lots of repetition in the stroy. The narrator insisted that he is not mad, in fact, because of his repetition we concluded that he is mad.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial