Foreshadowing In The Tell Tale Heart
Does "The Tell-Tale Heart" contain any examples of foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing offers the reader clues or warnings about what will happen later in a story.
In the opening paragraph of this tale, Poe uses foreshadowing to hint that the sense of hearing, the supernatural and sanity will be important plot elements. The first-person narrator explains that his hearing is acute, and that not only can he hear things on earth but in heaven and hell, a declaration which hints at his insanity. At the same time, the narrator insists he is sane, but in a way that indicates that he has been accused of insanity: "How, then, am I mad?" he asks, noting that he speaks "calmly."
In the middle of the story, Poe zones in on and foreshadows the role of the old man's heart in the story. It is this sound that the narrator finds unbearable:
there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. ...It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! --do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror.
The narrator kills the old man because he can't bear the beating of his heart, confirming that this narrator is insane. This also foreshadows the ending of the story, where the beating of the dead man's heart, either as a sound the narrator hears from beyond the grave or in his own guilty imaginings, leads him to confess his crime.
Let us remember that foreshadowing is a technique used by authors where they deliberately plant clues at the beginning or in the middle of the story about what is going to happen later on in that tale. This is particularly true in this story, where the opening paragraph contains information that effectively foreshadows what happens to the narrator at the tale's close. Consider the following sentences from the opening paragraph and what they reveal about the narrator:
The disease had sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.
I must admit, I remember when I first read this story feeling incredibly confused by these lines. Why did the narrator include them? What was their point? It is only when we get to the end of the story and we see that the narrator is able to hear the still-beating heart of the old man that he has just cruelly killed that we can see how these lines foreshadow what happens at the end of the story. The narrator's claim that he has such excellent hearing foreshadows his descent into madness and his belief that he can hear the heart of his victim. Whether this beating is actually real or whether it symbolises his suppressed guilt is left to our own conjecture.