What is Edgar Allan Poe's writing style in "The Tell-Tale Heart?"

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe's writing style also contains elements of the Gothic, a sort of subgenre of Romanticism. Gothic fiction is often characterized by fear, horror, and death. It is often very suspenseful and both showcases and produces intense emotion. The Romantics felt that strong emotions were a truer expression of the human experience than intellect or reason because we are born with the ability to feel deeply—it isn't something we have to be taught. Therefore, they reasoned, intense emotion is more fundamental to our existence than anything we have to learn. Few, if any, emotions are more intense than horror and fear, and so Gothic fiction developed, in part, as a way to produce these emotions in the reader.

Poe's stories, including "The Tell-Tale Heart," often showcase intense emotion in their characters and produce intense emotion in the reader. This story is particularly terror-inducing as a result of the narrator's lack of reasonable motive for his murder of the old man. He doesn't kill the man because he wants his money, because the old man was mean and awful to him, or any other reason that we might easily understand (if not condone, obviously). Instead, he kills, dismembers, and buries the man under the floorboards in his home because he hates the appearance of the old man's eye. Further, the narrator insists on his own sanity throughout, constantly seeking to justify his actions and failing to realize that it was the adrenaline-fueled pounding of his own heart that prompted him to kill in the first place.

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Poe used a specific term for the writing style he used; he called it Arabesque, which in literary terms means a prose style intended to cause feelings of unease and discomfort in the reader. Poe's writing style thus uses powerful descriptive words and phrases, and in this case, is couched in the frame story of a man confessing his crime to police. For example, when the narrator is explaining his plan, he states:

You should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight -- with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.
(Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart," xroads.virginia.edu)

Poe's descriptions here are meant, by the narrator, to reassure: see, he is not mad, simply thorough and cunning! However, in the telling and in the narrator's protestations that he is sane, he comes across as far more insane than he would had he simply confessed. The prose is almost, but not quite, "purple," using unnecessary words and synonyms, but instead each word is chosen carefully and specifically to add discomfort to the story. Poe uses this style in other works, most notably "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Premature Burial." Poe's writing also contains influences of gothic, melodramatic, and tragic styles.


ksoll525 | Student

Edgar Allan Poe uses many different literary devices in "The Tell-Tale Heart."  He begins the story with the use of irony.  In trying to prove to the reader that he is not mad, the narrator admits to having an acute sense of hearing.  He states that "I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell."  It is ironic that as a means to trying to prove his sanity, he reveals that he hears voices.  Irony is used at the end of the story when he and the officers sit in chairs on the floor where the old man's body is hidden. 

Poe also uses imagery when he describes the old man's eye.  The narrator says "One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it."

He uses more imagery the night of the murder.

" So I opened it -- you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily -- until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye."

In the following passage, Poe uses a simile to compare the beating of the old man's heart to the beating of a drum before battle.

"It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage. "  The heart beat caused his fury to increase just as a drum beat increases a soldier's courage. 

Poe also uses ironyin this line because the narrator is comparing his furry to a soldier's courage. 




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The Tell-Tale Heart

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