What is the main conflict in "The Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe, and how is it resolved?Include details and examples.

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central conflict in this story exists between the narrator and nature. It is death that he fears and tries to avoid, even though death is natural. He admits that he has no motive for killing the old man other than the man's "vulture eye": he doesn't hate the old man or want his money; in fact, he says that he loves the old man. Vultures are often associated with death because they are scavengers that feed on carcasses. Furthermore, old age is associated with death as well, and so we might interpret these overlapping associations as evidence to suggest that the narrator really only wants to kill the old man because he reminds the narrator of death, of his own mortality, and this is a frightening thought.

Moreover, we don't see a conflict within the narrator: he is intent on killing the old man and does not seem to doubt or question this decision. He even remarks, on the night he actually murders the old man, 

He was still sitting up in the bed listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

The narrator refers to deathwatch beetles, as superstition states that one hears the clicking noises they make before someone dies. Here, the narrator admits that he is often kept up late at night listening for these sounds, perhaps in fear for himself. Further, he describes the fearful sound the old man makes as a groan "that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe," saying that "Many a night," this same groan "has welled up from [his] own bosom." It is death that he fears, it is death with which he does battle, and his fear drives the conflict in the story.

The conflict is never really resolved.  The narrator kills the old man, and this does nothing to make the narrator feel better. For a moment, he seems to, but then when the police officers arrive, he is again beset by his nerves. The conflict continues because he is not yet dead, and so his fear of death remains.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main conflict in this story is between the narrator's two chief desires: to get away with killing the old man whose vulture-like blue eye seems to him an evil eye and to still the old man's beating heart, which he thinks he can hear, and, on the other hand, to be punished for his crime. His desire to be rid of the old man is overwhelming, so he kills him, fulfilling that desire. When the police come, our narrator is calm and civil, and it is clear they don't suspect him. Then his guilty conscience comes into play. He imagines he hears the heart of his victim beating beneath the floorboards of the room where he sits with the police. Though the sound appears to be only in his imagination, as the police hear nothing, the man's guilt overwhelms him:

It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision!

The narrator relieves his internal conflict through confessing. Poe shows how a person can be driven not by forces outside himself, but by internal demons. 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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