In "The Tell-Tale Heart," what is the purpose of Poe's use of simple adjectives?Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe's short story of psychological horror, "The Tale-Tell Heart," takes the reader into the mind of the narrator who relates the events prior to and after his murder of the old man with a "vulture eye."  Clearly, then, there is a connection between the syntax and vocabulary of the narrator and his mental condition.  In the beginning of the story, for instance, the narrator begins with calm, simple, logical statements puncutated with simple descriptive adjectives; there is evinced in these statements a strong effort of control:

Passion there was none.  I loved the old man.  He had never wronged me.  He had never given me insult....I think it was his eye!....He had the eye of a vulture, a pale blue eye...Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold.

Yet, the very simplification of adjectives suggests the narrator's efforts at control as they come amidst sentences of exclamation, which indicate his nervousness and excitement.  Also, in contrast to the use of common, simple adjectives of description, there are irrational outbursts.  For instance, further in the narrative, the narrator declares,

It [the "hellish tattoo" of the old man's heart] grew louder, louder every moment!  Do you mark me well?  I have told you that I am nervous; so I am.  And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still  But the beating grew louder, louder! 

Considered a remarkable confession of a tortured mind, Poe's "A Tell-Tale Heart" is a narrative of terror that  the narrator tries to control by using simple sentences and banal adjectives; however, the tale is so horrific that the simplicity of the adjectives serves by contrast with his irrational outbursts to point to the tortured psychological state of the narrator. 

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question