What are three examples of irony in the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are three main types of irony in literature. First, dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters in a story do not know. Second, verbal irony is when someone says the opposite of what they actually mean. Third, situational irony occurs when the outcome of a situation is the opposite of what was expected, or intended. 

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," there are many examples of irony. There is verbal irony in the opening lines of the story when the narrator claims he is perfectly sane, before telling the story of how he killed an old man he was supposed to love, by his own admission, just because he didn't like his eye. 

"Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye!" 

Sane people don't murder people for any reason, and certainly not because of one physical anomaly. It is verbal irony, because a person would never hurt another person whom they love. So his decision to murder the old man, while at the same time claiming to love him, is an example of saying the opposite of what is really meant. 

Another example of irony in this story is dramatic irony. The readers are aware of the plot, that the narrator has to kill the old man, but the old man is completely unaware. There is also dramatic irony when the policemen come to the door in response to screams and are completely unaware that the old man is in the floorboards beneath them, but the audience knows, because the narrator has revealed it. 

There is situational irony when the officers come to the house, as well. The audience sees the narrator coming up with a plausible story about where the old man is, and about the screams that neighbors heard. Readers see him calmly chatting with the officers over tea. It seems like he's going to get away with murder. But then his own conscience betrays him as he imagines he can hear the old man's heart beating. He tells the truth about what he did. 

"Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here--here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!" 


teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe uses irony to help develop suspense.  Much of this irony is dramatic irony--situations in which characters are unaware of information to which the reader is privy.  Here are three examples of dramatic irony in the story.  First, the old man is totally unaware that the narrator harbors such ill feelings towards his "vulture" eye.  The narrator describes a "cold feeling" that runs through him every time the old man looks at him with the eye, so he resolves to kill him, unbeknownst to the old man.  Second, during the plotting of the murder, the narrator sneaks into the old man's room for eight nights to wait for the perfect moment to execute his plan.  But in the morning, the narrator acts warmly to the old man.  The old man still has no idea what will soon be his fate.  Finally, at the end of the story, the police officers are unaware that the old man has been buried under the floorboards, so they search the house and sit to have a drink with the narrator.  The reader is fully aware of the details of the story, while dramatic irony keeps important details hidden from certain characters in the service of developing suspense.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," we can find lots of examples of irony. Firstly, at the beginning of the story, the narrator tells us that he is not mad and that he is going to prove his sanity. What actually happens, however, is that the narrator tells us a story which proves the very opposite: he murders an innocent person, buries the body, but then hears a beating heart which leads him to reveal to his own guilt.

Secondly, there is irony in the narrator's feelings about the old man. On the one hand, he claims to love him but, on the other, he hates his "Evil eye" and plots to murder him.

Thirdly, we see the narrator go to great lengths to conceal the old man's body and, therefore, we expect that the narrator will get away with murder. What actually happens, however, is an example of situational irony because the narrator digs up the body and shouts his confession. This is ironic because it is the complete opposite of what the reader expected would happen.