What are three examples that reveal how the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is insane?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good question! We get the general impression that the narrator has totally lost touch with reality, but what evidence can we point to that supports this idea? Let's see:

1. "True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say that I am mad?"

Here, the narrator is saying, "Yeah, yeah, I'm nervous, but—crazy? No, not crazy!" The fact that he's denying that he's crazy ("mad") is a good hint that he truly is crazy. Why else would he bring it up, or be so defensive about it?

2. "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! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it."

In the quote above, the narrator is saying that the old man is a good guy, a friend even, and there's no reason to hate him or want to kill him. Yet he's got a weird-looking eye. That's insane! Sure, someone's physical flaw might creep you out or make you feel uncomfortable, but if you're in your right mind, that flaw won't make you want to kill that other person.

3. "You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work!"

Here, the narrator is saying, "Well, you think I'm crazy, but I'm not, because look how carefully I planned this murder!" This is both funny and a perfect example of insane reasoning. You can't disprove craziness by pointing out how detailed the murder plan is. That just supports the idea that the narrator has lost his mind.

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

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