The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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Is there any personification in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Personification is a literary device in which the author attributes human characteristics and features to inanimate objects, ideas, or animals. Personification allows the reader to connect and identify with nonhuman or inanimate objects, which offers a better image of what is happening throughout the text. Edgar Allan Poe personifies the old man's eye throughout the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by referring to it as the "Evil Eye." Poe gives the eye the human attribute of being evil, which evokes the terrible, wicked emotions that the narrator feels toward the old man's eye.

Poe also personifies the "world" by writing, "Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept" (3). The world cannot literally sleep, but this gives the reader the feeling of a calm, quiet night. By personifying the night, the reader has a better understanding of the atmosphere of the night that the narrator is describing.

Poe once again utilizes personification by writing,

All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim (5).

Death is given human attributes and referred to by the personal pronoun "him." Personifying death signifies an ominous image of a malevolent criminal who stalks his victims before taking their lives.

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Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is, I believe, just one example of personification in this story. Shortly after the narrator describes the moments following when his finger slipped on the lantern and made a small noise heard by the old man, he describes what he believes the old man to be thinking since he feels he can relate. He believes the old man has been trying to reassure himself that the noise he heard is nothing to be afraid of. However, the narrator says that his reassurances are in vain "because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim." Here, death is personified and given consciousness and intention, as well as the ability to approach its victim and cast its shadow upon the victim's body and soul.

This makes death seem that much more frightening, as though it considers its victim and "stalks" him ("stalking" never has a positive connotation); it makes death menacing and intentional, and it seems that this is how the narrator perceives death to be. He has no problem with the old man except his "vulture eye"—likely the result of cataracts, a malady associated with the elderly—and his association of the eye with vultures, which are associated with death. Therefore, it seems as though the old man is a reminder to the narrator of his own mortality (his obsession with time is also a clue to this), and so it is actually the narrator's own death that frightens him so much. He must kill the old man so that the old man can no longer remind the narrator that he, too, will one day grow old and die. Thus, the narrator's personification of death shows us how he views it.

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