The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the tone of this story? Give examples.

Expert Answers info

Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2016

write6,738 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

Tone is typically used to describe the way the writer feels about the subject of their text. A writer can be sympathetic or judgmental, amused or mocking, matter-of-fact or condescending, or any number of other things. In this text, Poe has created a narrator who believes that he is quite sane, when he is actually absolutely mad. This narrator believes that he can hear "all things in the heaven and in the earth" as well as "many things in hell." He also believes that hating a person's strange-looking eye is a perfectly rational reason to kill them. The narrator is not presented as sympathetic, though there is a good deal of dramatic irony surrounding his character: we, for example, understand that he is mad, though he does not. However, Poe also does not present him as fundamentally evil, either. The narrator does not seem to realize why he is so afraid of the old man's eye, which he associates with a "vulture." On the night the old man awakens, having heard the narrator enter his room, he groans a "groan of mortal terror." Of this groan, the narrator says,

Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart.

He seems to fear death, too. Though the old man's fear is acute, the narrator's fear is chronic. The old man's eye reminds him of death, and this is what frightens him so about it. The fact that Poe allows his narrator to present himself in such a matter-of-fact way seems to indicate Poe's lack of surprise that a character would act like this. Poe seems to see the dark side of human nature, the side of us that might do anything—however out of character—in order to escape our own mortality. Thus, I would describe the tone of this story as unromantic or unsentimental, even cynical.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial