For a debate on "The Tell-Tale Heart," I have to say if the narrator is guilty or not and if he insane.

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator of the story is guilty of murder.  He kills the old man and then chops him up and hides his body parts under the floorboards in the house.  At the end of the story, he confesses to the police who come to the house to investigate strange screams that have been heard in the neighborhood. 

The narrator/murderer feels so guilty, he keeps hearing the beating of the dead old man's heart, he blurts out that he killed him and hid his body.   

Whether he is insane is the question for debate.  Many criminals try to get out of taking responsibility for their crime by claiming to be insane.  Although I think that the narrator is insane, he is very clearly totally in control when he decides to kill the old man. This is a premeditated murder, carefully planned.

Premeditated murder takes thinking and patience and planning.  The narrator stalks the poor old man, frightening him every night until he decides to kill him.

In my opinion, he is insane, because he thinks that the old man's sick eye is evil. 

"For an unknown reason, the old man’s cloudy, pale blue eye has incited madness in the narrator. Whenever the old man looks at him, his blood turns cold. Thus, he is determined to kill him to get rid of this curse."

Then after his crime, he hears the heartbeat, which is obviously inside his own mind.

So my verdict is: guilty and insane, lock him up and throw away the key!

Good luck in your debate.

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although the narrator has indeed committed murder, the question you're asking is whether he is to be considered morally responsible or not. In most Occidental societies, a person truly insane cannot be held accountable for his acts. Execution or a life sentence in prison is waïved for confinement in a psychiatric ward or mental hospital.

So finally, what is the difference? If a person cannot be rehabilitated, he will continue to be a public threat since he acts on impulse rather than reason. A "crazy" person cannot " learn" to be good. Isolation by confinement seems to be the only recourse to keep society "safe" from such specimens....

As to the moral aspect of guilt, this is also a slippery fish to seize. If a person has no control over his acts, he may be considered a dangerous criminal but not "guilty " per se, if guilt is indeed the opposite of innocence. That would be likened to convicting a person of careless driving in a car without brakes or a steering wheel!

There are some famous public trials where the defendent has pleaded insanity or senile debility to avoid prosecution. The Pinochet trials are an example of this; I'm sure with a little research you can find others.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the protagonist so carefully and methodically carried out this murder, it would be difficult for him to obtain the "insane" defense.  He carefully planned his murder and then had made the effort to hide it with great care.  He clearly IS insane, but in a court of law, due to the premeditation and the fact he could think clearly about how he was going to carry it out and dispose of the body, he would probably not be able to claim insanity.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator is clearly guilty of murder but what is important is that he considers himself sane. The purpose of him narrating the story is to tell the reader of his sanity as indicated by his careful and astute planning of the crime.

I think it is unlikely that the narrator would want to enter a plea of insanity. He may be content to be punished as his plan to evade detection was unsuccessful.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It might be nice in a debate to address the legal criteria for establishing insanity--could the accused appreciate the nature of the act was wrong. Clearly he knew his behavior was wrong. The plotting, planning, and subterfuge proved he knew he was committing a crime.

deancyril | Student

of course the narrator is not guilty he is just hallusinating things,imagine he is thinking that the "vultured-eye of the old man " gonna kill him is'nt it insane?       

and anyone insane is not accountable by the law!!!!!  

askaway534 | Student

tell tale heart the man is guilty but he cant trail for insane because in fact the man isn't insane. he is sane for these reasons : 

he knew exactly what he was doing 

he didn't have any mental problems before the incident 

his sences were sharp and a mentally ill persons would be dull or completly gone 

also he would have killed the man the first night but he didnt a mentally unstable person would have killed the first night by anxiety

anayagarcia22 | Student

the narrator is sane he knew what he had done and was guilty about killing the old man

lily44 | Student

I think it is interesting to note that our judicial system argues that any form of premeditated murder means by default that you are not insane. The narrator obviously has a distorted reality, he is not a 'normal' rational person by any means, but to what extent of his insanity caused him to kill, and just how can you measure if a person is unfit for society based on their mental status alone?

dassin | Student

i think the narrator is insane he said

"The disease had sharpened my senses"

it means he have a sick. at the time the narrator see the vulture's eye the narrator getting crazy and plan to kill the old man.

copernicus-1234 | Student

We believe that in a sane society there would be no murder. And only under the most dire necessity of self defense is killing justified. 

The main character shows both sanity and insanity. The fact of the murder points to insanity. The premeditation of it? Insanity with method, perhaps.

Humanity likes to believe in rehabilitation of the sick, but in the main character's case, who can guarantee that he won't kill again if released at any time? 

Those who believe in the death sentence I think believe that murderers are either evil or defective and need to be eliminated so that the rest of society can live with peace of mind. 

Who is completely sane? What does it mean to be so? One who follows all the laws, doesn't get in trouble, cries and laughs appropriately, shows up to work, is considerate, etc. Could we all claim insanity for any "insane" act? Is the question of whether the main character knows right from wrong relevant? 

What about the main character's personal history, which we do not know, could he be the victim of a dark past, and would this to some small degree forgive a portion of his guilt? 

According to today's laws, the main character shows premeditation, and that he realizes that he did something very wrong, thus making him guilty of murder. .... But is the write way of looking at it?

weddanever | Student

i think the narrator is said to be guilty of the act.  because this has cause him severe urging of his conscience, that made him insane.

kldoreo | Student

Of course the narrator is insane. What kind of sane person would kill someone? matter what they look like. The narrator thought that the old man's sick eye was evil??? And had a curse?? that does not sound very sane to me...but what are other peoples opinions.


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The Tell-Tale Heart

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