How does Edgar Allan Poe engage the reader in A Tell Tale Heart?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By "engage," I think this question is asking about how Poe immediately grabs reader attention from the beginning of the story.  In my opinion, this is one of the hardest things to do in writing.  If a reader starts out bored, he/she is likely to become more bored as the story progresses; however, if an author can grab attention right away, that reader is likely to stay engaged for much longer.  

I will answer this question based on the opening two paragraphs of the story.  Poe starts to grab reader attention from the first "sentence."  It's not really sentence.  It's one word.  "True!"  The reason it is engaging is because it ends in an exclamation point.  That punctuation mark makes it seem like the narrator is yelling at readers.  It's very forceful, and we immediately wonder why we are being yelled at in the first word.  Going along with the punctuation/grammar angle, Poe also includes two questions in the first paragraph.  Asking readers a question is a solid way to grab reader attention.  Readers can't help but wonder about the question and attempt some quick answers.  The questions are made further engaging by the fact that they ask about the man's sanity.  

How, then, am I mad?

The above question is also asked immediately after the man admits that he can hear things from hell.  That will definitely heighten reader interest and curiosity, and make readers want to keep reading in order to figure out exactly what this guy could have heard from hell.  

I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. 

The second paragraph is engaging because it describes a really gross looking eye, but that is not what is most engaging about the paragraph.  The 2nd paragraph's most engaging line is the last sentence, because it ends on a cliffhanger.  The narrator tells his reader that he plans to murder someone.  Readers can't help but keep reading to find out if he does it and how. 

He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees -- very gradually -- I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.