illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What is an example of indirect characterization in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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Indirect characterization occurs when an author allows readers to form judgments about the qualities of a character rather than directly stating those qualities. The author can do this by showing readers what the character does or says so that readers can draw conclusions about the type of person he or...

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Indirect characterization occurs when an author allows readers to form judgments about the qualities of a character rather than directly stating those qualities. The author can do this by showing readers what the character does or says so that readers can draw conclusions about the type of person he or she is.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," there is a good example of indirect characterization in the very first paragraph. The narrator remarks that whatever "disease" he has has "sharpened his senses" rather than dulling them. He claims that his sense of hearing has become much better. "I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell," he says. In other words, the narrator actually thinks that he can hear, with his normal human ears, everything that is happening in heaven and on earth as well as many things happening in hell. There is little indication that the narrator is speaking figuratively, so it can be argued that the narrator is in some sense delusional or "mad," despite his insistence to the contrary. In this example, then, readers are not told directly that the narrator is mad, but readers are enabled to come to this conclusion as a result of the narrator's own speech and ideas.

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