In "The Tell-Tale Heart" what does the narrator hope to accomplish by telling his story? Does he succeed?
This is directly what my Literature professor asked us, and I'm very unclear as to what it means. I wasn't sure what the purpose was. He says there are two.
The main purpose behind the narrator telling the story is to prove that he is not mad. He is quite defensive about being considered a loony, and asks, "How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story." He even clarifies a bit later, saying, "Now this is the point. 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!" Throughout the rest of the story, he repeats several times that sentiment-that we should not think him mad. The second purpose might be to try to convince us that there was indeed a beating heart that he heard. He tells us that "The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute." So, he is trying to prove that he had heightened senses, and as a result, actually did hear a beating heart. And, it is the beating heart that did him in, nothing else-not his conscience, not his malintent towards the old man, nothing. The beating heart drove him to the final act of murder, then to confession. Those are two possible motives for telling the story. One other might be that a lot of Poe's narrator's are pretty perverse, egotistical people that like to brag about their murderous conquests. Ego, or pride, showing off his genius, could be another one.
At the beginning of the story, the narrator asks, "(B)ut why will you say that I am mad?" So one of the reasons for telling the story is to show that he is sane. He says he is sane because we can "observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story".
Obviously, once we hear his story, we are convinced the narrator is mad. He certainly does not accomplish this objective. His second objective seems to be to justify the killing of the old man. He tells us that he loved the old man and that he had never been "wronged" by him. However, the narrator says he killed because the eye of the old man made "my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye." He does succeed in this objective because we know he murders the old man. The irony is that, murdering a person just because of his eye defeats the narrator's first objective because it shows us just how crazy the narrator really is.