What is pointed out in "The Tell-Tale Heart" that enlarges your appreciation of Edgar Allan Poe's art?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Art, of course, is an eminently subjective form of expression. Whether one enjoys or respects the paintings, writings, or performances of particular artists is entirely subjective. Every viewer or reader is entitled to his or her opinion, and no opinion is wrong, although how well respected an opinion is may be contingent upon perceptions of an individual's background and intellect. The writings of Edgar Allan Poe are no exception. While his works have obviously endured well after his death in 1849, opinions regarding the merits of those works are subject to differences of opinion. What one likes about The Tell-Tale Heart, then, is up to the individual reader to determine. 

The Tell-Tale Heart is, in many ways, the quintessential Poe story. It is short and macabre, its narrator denying his madness at the same time he reaffirms it with every sentence. The story of a man obsessed with the eye of the old man with whom he shares an apartment or home -- "One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold" -- and his decision to kill the old man in order to rid himself of that image, The Tell-Tale Heart is a murder story in which the killer's own guilt about his deed becomes his undoing. What makes Poe's story so unique is its ending, in which the narrator confesses his sin to the visiting police officers because he can no longer stand the incessant beating of his victim's heart from beneath the floorboards where he had concealed the old man's body. Read the following passage near the end of Poe's story, when the narrator is increasingly distracted from the pleasantries of the visiting investigators by the sound he believes he hears of the old man's beating heart -- a sound we know he doesn't actually hear:

"I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observation of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled."

What makes this story so compelling is the way Poe increases the tension through the artifice of the beating heart beneath the floorboards. It's really quite brilliant, as is the chain of events leading up to the narrator's confession. Poe's narrator does not dislike his victim; on the contrary, he takes pain to emphasize that he harbors no negative feelings towards his intended victim: "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me." The old man's eye, however, wears away the narrator's last vestiges of sanity, and provides the motivation for the brutal murder that is not the story's climax. 

Poe was a fascinating figure in the history of American literature. His stories and poems, including the equally famous The Raven, have inspired many authors over the past century and a half, to say nothing of a series of Roger Corman "B movies" loosely adapted from Poe's writings. His contribution to Gothic literature cannot be overstated, and The Tell-Tale Heart is a perfect example of an early master of that particular genre at his finest.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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