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

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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What is the main plot of "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The plot is about a man who wants to murder another man but doesn't want to be caught and punished. We have to assume that he intends to commit a perfect crime, even though the narrator does not say as much until after he commits it and hides the body under the floor boards. The narrator spends a great deal of time talking about how he looked in on the old man every night and focuses on details leading up to the actual murder, but the important feature is that he wants to get by with a murder. We will tend to suspect that he is a dependent on this older man and has something to gain from killing him. The victim is probably not his father, but he could be the narrator's uncle, and the narrator might stand to inherit the house and some money. Otherwise, it is hard to account for why he would be living with this older man. The narrator's real motive for committing the murder may have nothing to do with the old man's eye and everything to do with wanting his property. This is essentially a perfect-crime story in which the perpetrator nearly gets away with it except for one slip-up. In such stories the reader is in the perpetrator's point of view and therefore identifies with him to some extent. When the narrator breaks down and confesses, the reader also must share the feeling of being exposed and arrested. The fact that the narrator is insane is incidental. Even insane murderers usually have practical motivations.

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brendawm eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Tell-Tale Heart’’ is the story of a man who, due to some unknown illness (presumably paranoid schizophrenia--at least that’s what it sounds like), stalks and eventually murders an innocent old man because he feels that this man’s cloudy, pale blue eye has caused him to go mad. You might think, okay, he’s killed him: end of story. However, this is Poe’s writing we are talking about and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. After the murder, the narrator argues against his madness, yet he moves once again to disprove that argument by admitting to continue to be haunted by the old man’s heartbeat, which drives him to further acts of insanity in which he dismembers the old man and hides him beneath the floorboards. Check out the link below to read a detailed summary of the story and learn the outcome of this very unusual story. Hope this helps.

Further Reading:

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the exposition, the narrator describes his animosity towards the old man with whom he lives, although he never gives any coherent reason for his hatred.  However, he feels the old man's eye knows his inner heart, and for this reason he fears and loathes him.

The rising action and climax occurs when the narrator kills the old man and buries him beneath the floor boards.  He hopes to be rid forever of that all-knowing eye.

The denoument, or falling action, happens when the narrator confesses to the police of his crime.

For a more complete overview of Poe's gruesome tale, please visit the link below.   


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melissa1106 | Student

The plot of the tell tale heart is about a caretaker who is fixated by the old man he takes care of's eye. The old mans eye creeps him out and makes him feel uneasy. He watches the old man sleep and one night kills him. He chops the body up and puts it under the floor boards. The police come and ask about a scream they had heard. The caretaker leads them in but hears the heartbeat. He confesses because he gets so nervous from the heartbeat and thinks the police hear it too.

zumba96 | Student

The summary includes a man tormented by an old man's eye. In the end, he kills the man and hides him underneath the floor but because he believes the source of the ticking noise  is the old man's heart he confesses to his deeds

jerkk1 | Student

in simpler words:

there is a man (narrator) who wants to murder an old man due to his fear of the old mans eye. For many nights the narrator had been secretly observing the old man. it wasn't the old man that gave him the murderous intention to murder the old man it was his eye, the narrator was fearing the old man's eye and for that, the narrator felt that he had to murder the old man. the narrator in the story murders the old man without guilt but later on feels guilty for killing the old man  after the police arrive. after the police arrived the narrator welcomed them in, spoke to the police men and confessed to the murder because the narrator was able to hear the old mans heart beat under the floor where he stored the old mans body.

houston-luvr | Student

''The Tell-Tale Heart'' is a story of a man who stalks and eventually kills an old man because of his eye. He thinks it is evil and he wants to get rid of it. After he kills him he cuts up his body and places it under the floor. The cops come to search the house and his guilt makes him confess and he goes to jail for murder.

afoley24 | Student

The Tell Tale Heart is a story about a mad man (the narrator) who kills his older man housemate (their relationship is never fully discussed)  all because he is annoyed by the grotesque-ness of his (the old man's) "vulture like" eye. (He kills the old man by crushing him beneath his own bed.) He cuts up the body and buries it beneath the floorboards of the bedroom.

 The police soon arrive to investigate a noise complaint a neighbor made. The narrator is calm to greet and speak with the police officers, even goes as far as placing chairs for each of them to sit on, right above the spot where the old man's body is buried. As he is sitting there chatting with the police, the narrator begins to hear a noise- the sound of a heart beat. It begins very softly but grows louder and louder. This too begins to annoy the narrator who becomes paranoid as well for fear that the police will hear it. As the sound grows louder and louder, disturbing the narrator more and more, he bursts out yelling and admits the crime to the police shouting for them to rip up the floor boards, that's where the body is- that he can't take hearing the sound of the old man's heart any more! In reality, the narrator is hearing his own heart beating- talk about a guilty conscious!

Keep in mind, all throughout the story, the narrator reassures us, his readers, that he (ironically) is not mad!