In the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe, what is the mood throughout paragraphs 1-11?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart" has a beginning that immediately pulls the reader in. A lot of that is due to the mood and tone set by the unreliable narrator.

Quick explanation of terms:

The mood of a story is how the story is making the audience feel. A scary story will have a frightening mood, a love story might have a romantic mood, etc.

The tone of a story is how the narrator feels about the subject. Think of this like someone's tone of voice. If someone says, "Wow, what an interesting story!" when you say something, your reaction will be much different if they are using a sincere, honest tone than if they are using a sarcastic tone. 

Now, in the beginning of "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator uses a strong tone, which helps to create the mood. The narrator's tone seems to be manic, or overly excited. Readers will notice the way the first few paragraphs are written. There are a number of exclamation points and repeated words: "It's true! Yes I have been ill, very ill," and "Listen! Listen and I will tell you how it happened." These two examples from the first two paragraphs of the story suggest a person who is so excited to tell his story that he is stumbling over words and yelling.  

This manic tone creates an uneasy or unsettling mood in the reader. As you read all the repeated words and exclamation points, you wonder what has this guy so worked up. It could be something positive, but some of the words he is using make you think not. For example, he is trying to convince you that he is not insane: "why do you say that I am mad?" Furthermore, it seems like he is actually insane when you hear his claims: "I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard sounds from hell!" (paragraph 2).

As the story continues, the narrator describes his actions. Again, both the actions the narrator is taking and the frantic, obsessive tone he uses to describe them heighten the sinister, threatening mood of the story. For instance, he compares the old man's eye to "the eye of one of those terrible birds that watch and wait while an animal dies, and then fall upon the dead body and pull it to pieces to eat it" (paragraph 3).

There are a ton of examples to use as evidence for the mood of this story. One more quick tip though—when identifying a mood or a tone of a text, the more specific you can be, the better. I used to tease my middle school students—everything they read was either "happy," "sad," or "creepy." Notice how I avoided the word "creepy" to describe "The Tell-Tale Heart"? Use a thesaurus to get the perfect word to precisely describe the way the story is making you feel—it will help make your analysis deeper. 

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

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