The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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What central ideas about the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" does Edgar Allan Poe intend readers to infer based on the textual evidence of the story?

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Poe intends his readers to infer that the narrator of the story is not sane. Evidence of this is the narrator's question: "but why will you say that I am mad?" Normally, people don't start a tale with a defense of their sanity. In this case, however, whoever he is telling the story has told him he is mad, from which we can infer he has engaged in strange, irrational behaviors. He admits he has been "nervous." He also admits to behavior that seems to support the idea of madness: he says he has heard "all things" in heaven and in hell. As most people don't hear from the great beyond, this is worrisome.

Furthermore, the actions he describes doing in the story seem utterly irrational, the work of a madman. He kills the old man in the dead of the night for no other reason that he has an "Evil eye." This is not the action of a sane person.

Finally, he also hallucinates, hearing the beating heart of the dead man he has buried beneath the floor boards. It grows so loud that the narrator finally confesses to the murder. This hearing of the heart is very strange, to put it mildly. It suggests the narrator is consumed with guilt and has lost touch with reality. Dead men's hearts can't beat and the police in the room hear no such noise.

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