illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What is Gothic about the setting of "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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A Gothic setting is characterized by being unheimlich or unhomelike. An unheimlich setting is anxiety-provoking and turns the familiar into the unfamiliar. For instance, a haunted house takes an ordinary house and defamiliarizes it, making it creepy.

The house that the narrator lives in with the old man is creepy....

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A Gothic setting is characterized by being unheimlich or unhomelike. An unheimlich setting is anxiety-provoking and turns the familiar into the unfamiliar. For instance, a haunted house takes an ordinary house and defamiliarizes it, making it creepy.

The house that the narrator lives in with the old man is creepy. Much of this is because most of the action takes place at night—at midnight, in fact—when the narrator sneaks into the old man's room carrying his lantern and letting only a single beam of light emit from it to shine on the old man's vulture eye. There is something creepy, too, about the way the narrator takes a very long time to slip silently into the old man's room to spy on him: it has the aspect of stalking, and the old man is increasingly nervous and uneasy.

The room is also described as "black as pitch," because, in fears of robbers, the old man keeps the shutters tightly closed.

Creaks are associated with the Gothic, and we learn that the lantern the narrator holds creaks.

There is nothing homey or inviting about this house as the narrator describes it, especially not after he buries a corpse under the floorboards. The setting evokes unease, a hallmark of the Gothic, rather than comfort.

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The typical Gothic setting is exotic. Many of the Gothic novels were set in either the remote past—especially the medieval or Gothic period—or in locales remote from the ordinary lives of their readers, such as European castles, monasteries, the Scottish highlands, or remote windswept moors. Often the settings combine extraordinary architectural or natural beauty with signs of decay or some sort of ominous foreboding.

By contrast, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is set in an ordinary rooming house. The suspense is generated by the close attention to the narrator's unbalanced state of mind. Unlike in a traditional Gothic novel, which includes extensive descriptions of the setting, this story contains little description of the setting. Instead, it narrowly focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the narrator. Although the atmosphere of tension, suspense, and horror resembles the Gothic in other respects, including setting, the story is not entirely typical of the Gothic genre

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