What is the cultural significance of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe is not a story of cultural critique. Instead, it is primarily a story of psychological suspense, showing its unreliable narrator's descent into madness. There are a few cultural phenomena we can deduce from the story, but they are not central elements of the narrative.

First, the story is set in a rooming house, which tells us something of the way that unmarried people of moderate incomes lived in this period. Both the narrator and the old man are relatively isolated and living alone, suggesting we are seeing a phase in the modern breakdown of the extended family; in antiquity or the middle ages, these men would have lived in a more communal environment, either on an estate where they worked or with their families.

Next, we can see this is a society that stigmatizes mental illness and has little in the way of public support for mental health. The narrator's insistence that he is not mad conveys a sense that he considers it almost worse to be thought insane than to be thought a murderer.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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