illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What is your first impression of the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart"? What does he try to convince the reader to do?

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The first part of this question is asking about individual reader opinion.  My initial opinion of the narrator could be different from another reader’s opinion of the narrator.  It’s more important that you defend your opinion.  

My first impression of the narrator is that he is certifiably crazy.  He makes an initial claim that some disease actually heightened his senses.  That’s odd to begin with, but it's perhaps not out of the realm of possibilities; however, then the narrator claims that his hearing is so good that he can hear voices from heaven and hell.  

Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?

He’s hearing voices from heaven and hell.  That’s crazy talk in my opinion.  The second paragraph continues along those lines.  The narrator tells his readers about the old man’s eye.  The narrator tells us that the eye really bothered him.  So what is the narrator’s solution?  Kill the old man to get rid of the eye.  That sounds a bit extreme and crazy to me. 

I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

The narrator then tells us about how he sneaked into the old man’s room for seven nights in a row and stared at him.  I don’t care how many times the narrator tries to tell his readers that he is perfectly sane.  Staring at somebody while they sleep for seven nights in a row waiting for the chance to kill him/her is nuts.    

His actions and reasons for those actions show readers that he is definitely insane.  Right from the beginning of the story, the narrator tries to convince readers to think that he isn’t a madman.

Ha!—would a madman have been so wise as this?

He repeatedly stresses his sanity throughout the story.  He states a total of seven times that he isn’t mad or a madman.  He stresses it so much and so often that it feels like he’s not only trying to convince readers; he's trying to convince himself.

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The "Tell-tale Heart's" narrator wants, first of all, to convince the reader that he is not insane. He says that he is nervous, not "mad." He says that his senses, especially his hearing, are working better than ever. He implies that his ability to hear well, along with the extra acuteness of his other senses, is a sign of sanity, not insanity. As he puts it, "How, then, am I mad?" He says his ability to tell his story "calmly" is a sign of his mental health. He wants to convince the reader that he "loved" the man he murdered.

Of course, the narrator "protests too much" that he is sane, which immediately leaves the impression that he is, in fact, insane or, at the very least, mentally unstable. He comes across as defensive and over-wrought, lost in his own world where he is answering accusations that have not yet been made. This opening thus foreshadows the end of the story, when the narrator confesses to a crime nobody has accused him of committing. 

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