There are at least three elements of cultural significance in Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart ." Among other things, it represents an important work of the American Gothic literary movement that Poe helped pioneer. This form of literature is characterized by the same dark Gothic and often...
There are at least three elements of cultural significance in Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart." Among other things, it represents an important work of the American Gothic literary movement that Poe helped pioneer. This form of literature is characterized by the same dark Gothic and often macabre themes that were hallmarks of Poe’s work overall and can certainly be seen in "The Tell-Tale Heart."
By comparison to the growing Romantic artistic movement that was popular in European literature that focused on the role of reason, as well as lauding nature and its beauty, American Gothic literature focused on horror and often included elements of the supernatural and mental instability. The latter is one of the primary revelations in "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the unnamed narrator continuously tries to convince the reader that he is sane.
Even before he actually kills the old man, the narrator’s mental illness mingles with the supernatural. He “hears” the beating of the old man’s heart grow louder and louder from outside the closed door to the old man’s room. Is this only the narrator’s insanity, or is it an illustration of the supernatural as well? It would seem that it reflects both the narrator’s own madness and some possible element of the supernatural that characterized many American Gothic literary works.
Also, by delving into the narrator’s madness, Poe sheds a light on the deplorable treatment of the mentally ill at the time. The narrator fears that the reader will think him mad, in part reflecting his horror at the fate that befell people who were considered mentally unstable in the nineteenth century. Asylums for the mentally ill were notorious in their abusive treatment of the patients under their care.
Finally, the story also shows how Poe would ultimately come to be regarded as the father of the modern detective short story. While there is no mystery in this story—after all, the narrator describes how he murdered the old man—it employs the same literary device to arrive at the denouement as would one of the author's detective stories.
When the neighbors sense something amiss, the police are called and dispatched to investigate. They find nothing. It is the narrator’s growing guilt and fear that ultimately lead him to uncover where he buried the old man’s body. However, this formula also forms the basis for other Poe stories that do fall squarely into the detective category, including "Murder in the Rue Morgue," which Poe had already written, and "The Purloined Letter," which he would publish one year later.