In "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe, how does the story gain the reader's interest from the first sentence and continue to keep his interest until the end?

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Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Hooks" are imperative for any type of writing. Short stories, such as Edgar Allan Poe's "A Tell-Tale Heart," are no exception to this rule. Like many of his stories, Poe uses the second person "you" as well as suspense to engage the reader.

From the first line of the story, the reader is "hooked" by the attention-grabbing first sentence: "TRUE!—NERVOUS—VERY, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" Not only does Poe engage us with his use of an interjection in all capital letters followed by an exclamation point ("True!), but he also speaks right to us, addressing us with the universal "you." Additionally, he asks us a rhetorical question which is suspenseful in nature and peaks our interest. What on Earth did he do to give us the impression that he's crazy???

Throughout the rest of the story, his diction demands our attention by again speaking to the reader directly: "Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story." We are told to listen to his story, but he continues to lead us on without giving us the clear details for his rationale:

You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work!

When he finally does begin to give us details, he does so in a very drawn out process, detailing each night he enters the old man's chambers, which certainly adds to the suspenseful mood. It isn't until the eighth night of stalking his victim that he acts, and even on this night, he is very meticulous in detailing his progress. In fact, he is so patient in his act that a "watch's minute hand move(d) more quickly than did (his)." Standing in the chamber, he keeps "quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour (he) did not move a muscle." The reader is kept on his toes and feels the narrator's contained anxiety, yearning to learn his next move. 

Finally, even when he is visited by the police officers, the narrator keeps us in suspense through the use of dramatic irony. He states, "I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. " He knows what's under the floor boards. We know what's under the floor boards. BUT will the police ever find out???