In Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," to whom could the narrator be telling this horrible story?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allen Poe regularly employed first-person narration in his horror stories.  Such narrative device is used in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Black Cat.”  Each of these stories is told first-hand by a narrator, and each of these stories involves insanity.   And, in each case, it is left to the individual reader to decide to whom the narrator is speaking or writing.  In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator is presumably writing in a journal, or possibly relating his story to family and friends back home.  In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the presumed audience could be the narrator himself, as if penning his thoughts from the darkness of the cell in which he has been confined following his revelation to the visiting police officers of his act of murder.  Or, he could be telling his story to a prison psychiatrist who, like the young doctor, John Seward, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is compelled to listen daily to the protestations of the criminally insane, particularly, to the character of Renfield, so the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” could be attempting to convince a psychiatrist of his sanity in direct contravention of all he says regarding his crime.  Poe’s story begins with just such a protestation:

“TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? . . . Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”

“The Tell-Tale Heart” provides little information on the story’s background, save for the narrator’s obsession with the old man’s deformed eye and the effect it has upon him:

 “One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold . . .”

We know nothing of the relationship between the old man and the narrator, although it can be surmised that the younger man is a nephew tasked with caring for his aging uncle, or, possibly, a servant whose mental state has diminished by virtue of his daily exposure to the old man’s eye.  Poe chose not to provide such details, just as he chose not to specify to whom the narrator is speaking or writing.  The continuous references to his mental state [“Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me”], however, argues for the theory or suggestion that the audience is either a psychiatrist to whom he is discussing his act in great detail, a detective to whom he his similarly relating his crime, or to unidentified future readers of a journal in which he is writing.  The identity of the intended audience is left to the individual reader to decide.

Chantelm | Student

Edgar Allen Poe writes most of his stories  in first person, he doesn't exactly target a person but he writes jus to share about his experiences. Sometimes it is easy to believe that he's talking to himself. He expresses himself and writes about what he is going through. He is not in a good mental state in most of his writing because he doesn't speak about anything pleasant.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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