illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What happens in the story "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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In Poe's classic short story, the unreliable narrator tells the tale of how he proceeded to murder an old man and dismember his body before confessing his crime to the authorities. The mentally unstable narrator, who insists that he is completely sane, mentions that he developed a hatred for the old man's Evil Eye, which influenced him to commit murder. For an entire week, the narrator would peek his head into the old man's room while he was sleeping at night but refrained from killing the old man because his eyes were closed. On the eighth night, the narrator sneaks into the old man's room and attacks him upon seeing the Evil Eye. After the old man lets out a loud cry, the narrator suffocates him to death and proceeds to dismember his body in the bathtub.

The narrator then hides the old man's remains underneath the floorboards just before the police arrive at his house. Initially, the narrator is confident that he got away with murder and even leads them throughout the home. As the police are speaking to him, the mentally unstable narrator becomes overwhelmed with guilt and believes that he can hear the old man's heart beating beneath the floorboards. The sound of heartbeats become increasingly louder until the insane narrator confesses his murder and tears up the floorboards, which were concealing the old man's remains.

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Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," is about a man (the narrator) who is very put off by the eye of the old man he lives with. Given his utter hatred of the old man's eye, the narrator plots murder against the old man.

Night after night, the narrator visits the old man's room to see if the time is right to take the old man's life. One night, the time is right. The narrator flings himself upon the old man and murders him.

After murdering the old man, the narrator places his body beneath the floorboards of their shared apartment. Soon after, the police arrive. It seems that neighbors have called; they heard loud noises. The narrator welcomes the police into the apartment, even placing his chair upon the floorboards covering the body.

Eventually, the narrator begins to hear a heartbeat. Fearful that the heartbeat is heard by the police, the narrator points out the floorboards revealing the murder.

Throughout the story, while speaking to what must be a doctor or interrogator, the narrator constantly mentions that he is not mad. This, for some readers, forces them to believe the exact opposite.

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