The Tell-Tale Heart Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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What is the relationship between the narrator and the old man in "The Tell-tale Heart"? My English teacher is convinced that the narrator is the old man's servant, but her explanation why is not very clear, so I'm not so sure. What do you think?

The exact relationship between the narrator and the old man is never explicitly stated or revealed in the short story. One cannot confirm or refute that the narrator is the old man's servant, and their ambiguous relationship is open to interpretation. However, one could argue that the narrator is not a servant and more than likely a relative of the old man based on several pieces of evidence.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Poe's classic short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the unreliable narrator never explicitly states his relationship with the old man, which is open to interpretation. While one could argue that the narrator is the old man's servant, it seems more likely that he is related to him in some capacity. The fact that the narrator states that he "loved" the old man suggests a familial relationship. It would be rather odd for a servant to make this affectionate statement and seems more appropriate coming from a family member. The reader also recognizes the significant age difference between the narrator and his victim and understands that they have been living with each other for an extended period of time. Given this evidence, one could argue that the narrator is a younger relative of the old man and is acting as his trusted caretaker.

The primary evidence which suggests that the narrator is related to the old man is revealed when the narrator says, "For his gold I had no desire" (Poe, 3). By...

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It seems that could be your teachers interpretation. As in the Tell-Tale Heart, there are no pronouns to tell gender nor any explaination as to why the narrator and the old man live together. Though it is generally assumed that the narrator is indeed a man, without a more clear explaination in the writing it self, we cannot even be sure of that. Any determination of gender or role is a readers interpretation.