Imagery In The Tell Tale Heart

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

There are numerous examples of imagery within "The Tell-tale Heart." Edgar Allan Poe uses visual and auditory imagery both to create suspense and also to convey its narrator's insanity. This story focuses on visual images, like the old man's cataract, and auditory imagery, like his heartbeat, to create its desired effect.

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Imagery involves an appeal to the senses, and makes description more vivid to a reader's imagination. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Edgar Allan Poe reconstructs a murder and its aftermath from the perception of its perpetrator, utilizing imagery to create suspense and convey the crazed insanity of its narrator....

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Imagery involves an appeal to the senses, and makes description more vivid to a reader's imagination. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Edgar Allan Poe reconstructs a murder and its aftermath from the perception of its perpetrator, utilizing imagery to create suspense and convey the crazed insanity of its narrator. We see Poe using both visual and auditory imagery to create this effect.

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe's narrator commits his murder on account of the old man's cataract. The murderer describes it as "the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it." Later, in a more extensive passage, Poe writes:

It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness—all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones

By describing the eye in such intensely descriptive terms, Poe conveys the narrator's obsession. He is fixated on this cataract to the point that he will commit murder because of it. This is clearly a disturbed individual, a factor which is also reflected in Poe's description of the crime.

In addition to Poe's use of visual imagery, we also see the invocation of auditory imagery, most notably associated with the old man's heartbeat. We can find this in a passage like the following:

now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

In the very next paragraph, the auditory imagery of the heartbeat continues:

Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!

Through his use of imagery, Edgar Allan Poe makes his writing more vivid. This lends itself greatly in creating the story's sense of suspense. In this, its use is critical in instilling the unsettling effect which this story aims to achieve.

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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.

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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.

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