illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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Providing specific examples, what are Gothic features in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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The genre of gothic fiction, and gothic horror in particular, is generally understood to originate with the publication of Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto in 1764. Some elements of gothic horror include heightened emotion, the macabre, the mysterious, and themes of death, decay, and insanity.

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The genre of gothic fiction, and gothic horror in particular, is generally understood to originate with the publication of Horace Walpole's novel The Castle of Otranto in 1764. Some elements of gothic horror include heightened emotion, the macabre, the mysterious, and themes of death, decay, and insanity.

All these are present to a remarkable degree in "The Tell-Tale Heart." Insanity is an obvious motif, since the highly unreliable first-person narrator (who is, at the very least, overflowing with heightened emotion, as he himself admits) continually accuses the reader of thinking that he is mad. This begins with the very first sentence:

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

This accusation is repeated throughout the story, increasing the reader's certainty that the narrator is paranoid and delusional with each repetition.

The old man's continually open eye, and the derangement it occasions in the narrator are both macabre and mysterious. So is the beating of the heart under the floorboards. The reader may well regard this as one of the narrator's paranoid delusions, but it is never clear what is really happening. The mystery remains unsolved.

Finally, the old man dies violently, groaning with that mortal terror which "arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe." Disconcertingly, the narrator says he knows the sound well and has often groaned like this himself. This only increases the reader's conviction that he is deranged.

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