What are the literary and stylistic devices used in the last forty lines of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and their effect on the reader?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a master of the short story, Edgar Allan Poe skillfully employs several stylistic devices in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

In a literary critique that can be found in the eNotes study guide to the story, the author notes the effect of Poe's style:

The subjectivism of this story, the confusion of the line between reader and character within the narrative and the use of language support the claim that Poe prefigures and indeed develops many of the tropes usually associated with more recent fiction.

In the last five paragraphs (assuming these are the forty lines used in reference), the police knock on the narrator's door, having been sent to search the premises. The first of these paragraphs has the repetition of the subject pronoun I. That the speaker begins these sentences with himself as the subject indicates his arrogance and his attitude of superiority. He is confident that the police will not suspect him of any wrongdoing. Also, the repetitive use of the same subject speeds the reading of this paragraph, thus contributing to the heightened emotion—"the wild audacity of my perfect triumph," as the narrator describes his crime.

Again in the next paragraph, there is the staccato pace of the previous one with shortened sentences having no connecting words between them. These short sentences promote the impression that the narrator is very agitated, as they generate a tense mood. Further, the repetition of such words as distinct/distinctness, and ringing and chatted, which are also onomatopoeic, suggest that the narrator is becoming more mentally disturbed by a sound that he hears. Clearly, the pace and tone of these paragraphs generate suspense in the reader. This repetition of words continues in the following paragraphs, and the lines move swiftly with Poe's use of alliteration, such as the repetition of /s/—"I swore! I swung . . . sitting"—and /l/—"louder—louder—louder!" The repetition of short exclamatory sentences heightens the emotional intensity of the sentences as well. And, as the speaker becomes more and more agitated, his sentences are reduced to two or three words. At this point, the reader anticipates a climactic moment. And yet, the reader is surprised by the narrator's sudden confession.