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Assessing the causes of the narrator’s actions in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is complicated by the fact that the narrator is insane, and thus, while being our only source of information, is not reliable. Since the narrator claims to be sane but is obviously not, and moreover is a fictional character rather than a real person, it would be unwise to base a diagnosis of the sort that a psychologist would do on the narrator’s tale. The narrator is self-described as “nervous”, a term that in the 19th century included a wide range of what now would be called both neuroses and psychoses; his attitude towards the old man would be associated with some form of paranoia by modern psychologists.
The horror of the story is caused by two things, the inexorable movement towards the murder and the way we watch the increasing disintegration of the narrator’s mind.
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