What is the imagery in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

3 Answers | Add Yours

mrs-campbell's profile pic

mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

There is great imagery (5 senses) in this story.  The first is the descriptions of the old man's eye, which is the catlyst for the murder:  "He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold." and then later, "all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones." Then, in the first half, you have repeated descriptions of the narrator's cautious, steady, silent stalking and waiting.  The most effective repeated imagery is that of the heartbeat, which starts off as "a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton," increases to a "hellish tattoo", and keeps getting "louder, louder!".  The sound of the heartbeat increases the tension just as a movie soundtrack would, and leads to the murder and confession.

Poe uses images and imagery to help the reader feel like they are actually there, experiencing the situations and emotions, and it makes for a really great story.

brandih's profile pic

brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Imagery in "The Tell-Tale Heart" has also been previously discussed.  Please see the links below for more information.

favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

Imagery is language that describes sensory experience, and it makes sense that the story would be filled with a great deal of imagery because the narrator says of himself, that "The disease had sharpened [his] senses -- not destroyed -- not dulled them."  He believes that his nervousness has actually made his senses stronger, and so he reports a great deal of sensory information in his narrative.

He mentions how, each night, he undid the lantern "cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- cautiously (for the hinges creaked) -- [he] undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye."  Such a description contains both auditory imagery (something we can hear) with the creaking metal hinges, as well as visual imagery with the one, thin ray of light that shoots across the dark room from the lantern to the old man's face.

At another point, he describes the old man's room as "black as pitch with the thick darkness."  This description constitutes visual imagery because we can imagine the darkness that is so black that you can't even see your hand in front of your face.  The word "thick" even seems to bring a sense of tactile imagery -- something you can feel by touch -- to this description, as if the darkness is so dense that it can actually feel as though it has a weight to it.

On the night on which the narrator wakes the old man up, he imagines what the old man must be telling himself about the noise the narrator's lantern had made: "'It is nothing but the wind in the chimney -- it is only a mouse crossing the floor,' or 'It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.'"  The reader can imagine what each of these sounds like, and, when compared to the sound of metal clicking onto metal, we can see for ourselves how unconvincing these ideas would be -- metal clicking onto metal sounds nothing like crying wind or tiny tapping mouse feet or a chirping cricket.  It helps to increase our tension as suspense builds.

We’ve answered 318,919 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question