The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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Is the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" death?

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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That is a super interesting question. I am going to assume that "Death" is the person that is sometimes known as the Grim Reader. He wears a big black cape and cowl and carries a big long sickle. Personally, I would say "no." The narrator of the story is not Death. Death is a mythological creature that causes someone's death when he/it comes to collect him. Being mythic makes me think that Death (Grim Reaper) isn't human. He's immortal and not subject to human illness and disease. The opening lines of the story introduce readers to a narrator that freely admits that he is sick and has a disease.

The disease had sharpened my senses— not destroyed—not dulled them.

I've always been under the impression that the narrator is some kind of servant for the old man. He obviously has night after night access to the old man, and this is another reason that I don't think the narrator is Death. I figure if Death himself/itself shows up, that's it. Death isn't likely to come back night after night trying to screw up the courage to take a life.

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The narrator of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," is not death. Actually, the tale is told using a first-person narrative voice. The narrator, who remains unnamed, is telling readers about a point in his life where his obsession with an eye causes him to commit murder.

The easiest way to define a narrative voice is to examine the use of pronouns within the text. Here are some examples of pronouns used to define the point-of-view within a text.

First-Person Pronouns: I, we, us

Second-Person Pronouns: you and your

Third-Person Pronouns: he, she, they, them, or using a proper noun (like a name) to tell the story of another person

In regards to this story, the first sentence of the story sets up the narrative voice:

TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

Here, the use of "I" defines the narrator as the one telling his/her own story. The use of "you" defines it as a story being told to the reader.

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