In the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe, from whose point of view is the story being told?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. To say the narrator is unreliable is a bit of an understatement. The narrator is mentally unstable. He goes to great pains to justify his obsession with the old man he lives with. He tries to give rational reasons for killing the old man. But he clearly feels the guilt and/or anxiety following his crime. The narrator claims to love the old man but he is obsessed with the man's eye. And this is the reason he gives for killing the old man. 

The pun on "eye" is significant here. The narrator says (and perhaps has convinced himself) that it is the old man's eye that is driving him to a mad obsession. But using the pun of "eye" and "I," Poe suggests that the obsession is all in the narrator's mind. Therefore, the narrator is not plagued by the old man's "eye." Rather, he is plagued by himself ("I") and some psychosis in his own mind. The narrator later obsesses about the beating heart. And this shows his obsession with time: the ticking clock. In a way, the narrator is trying to defeat time. By killing the beating heart, he kills time. He is also trying to defeat or escape from his own mental instability; he must therefore fix his "self." By killing the "eye," he kills the "I." The paradox here is that his obsessions with his self eye/I and time heart/clock lead to self-destruction. 

genovese eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narration in "The Tell-Tale Heart" is in the first person. However, the relationship between the narrator and the old man is not clear.  Was he the old man’s son?  His servant?  Did the old man serve as a father figure?

When the police are summoned by a neighbor who heard a shriek, the narrator explains that the shriek was his own from a dream.

The narrator does claim to be a hypersensitive person. But is he?  Or does he imagine it?  Which begs another question: did the narrator kill the old man, or merely imagine that he did?

He does say that the old man knew him, but by what means is not revealed; the narrator also says he had never been as kind to the old man as he had the week before he murdered him.

The narrator mentions mad, madman, or madness seven times in this short story. He is exact and obsessive in his description of the murder, and the events and planning that led up to it.

Who is the narrator speaking with during the course of the story? This other person is not identified either.  It could be argued that the narrator is speaking with himself, or perhaps a doctor, a prison warden, a judge, or a newspaper reporter.  Poe leaves much unsaid in this short Gothic horror tale, which serves to heighten the timbre of the terror described.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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