What is Poe's purpose for writing "The Tell-Tale Heart," including the background for the piece?

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As another commenter noted, this story (and essentially all of Poe's work) is Gothic literature, and the Gothic is an off-shoot of Romanticism. Romantics believed that human emotion was far more vital to our experience than reason because it does not have to be taught; we are born knowing how to feel deeply. Logic, on the other hand, has to be learned, and so they felt that logic really distracts us from more compelling experiences like inspiration, creativity, and intense feeling. Much of the literature of this period attempts to provoke such intense emotion as a way to return its readers to a purer, more natural state. Gothic literature, especially, focuses on the experience of horror because, Gothic writers reasoned, there are few emotions more intense than fear.

Poe's story certainly does contain horrible elements and is capable of provoking fear. It is comforting to think that, as long as we don't get on anyone's bad side, as long as we are nice to everyone, we will be safe from murder. However, the narrator of this story leads readers to the idea that such an assumption is simply untrue. The old man has done nothing to warrant the treatment he receives from the narrator; he cannot even control the thing—his "vulture eye"—that so provokes the narrator. The idea that someone might be so deranged that they could kill us over small physical features over which we have no control—or some other such seemingly minor and inoffensive trait—is terrible indeed.

angelacress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is a difficult thing to pinpoint the exact purpose of a deceased author, however, by examining the context (the events in Poe's life and the society in which he was living) in which the story is written, we can make educated guesses about what may have influenced a particular piece of writing; in this case "The Tell-Tale Heart."

First of all, one should examine the nature of Gothic literature, a genre popular in the late eighteenth century in England. Many scholars say that Poe single-handedly brought the Gothic genre to America. Gothic literature explores the dark side of human experiences: death, alienation, nightmares, ghosts, and haunted landscapes. American Gothic literature dramatizes a culture plagued by poverty and slavery through characters afflicted with various forms of insanity and melancholy. Poe created his take on the Gothic genre from his own experiences in Virginia and other slaveholding territories. The black and white imagery in his stories reflects a growing national anxiety over the issue of slavery.

However, this is not all that influenced the work of Edgar Allen Poe. The often tragic circumstances of Poe’s life haunt his writings. A tendency to cast blame on others, without admitting his own faults, characterized Poe’s relationship with many people. There are echoes of Poe’s upbringing in his works, as sick mothers and guilty fathers appear in many of his tales, like the sick father in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a psychological thriller in which we get a peek into the mind of a man driven mad after murdering another man by what he thinks is the victim’s relentless heartbeat.  As to the purpose of the piece, Poe himself thought that in order for literature to be considered good it should evoke emotions from the reader and create a feeling of unity between the two.  ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’  is a perfect example of Poe’s ability to reach the dark side that exists in all humans, and it would seem that it is with that purpose in mind that this story was written.

brendawm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a psychological thriller in which we get a peek into the mind of a man driven mad after murdering another man by what he thinks is the victim’s relentless heartbeat.  As to the purpose of the piece, Poe himself thought that in order for literature to be considered good it should evoke emotions from the reader and create a feeling of unity between the two.  ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’  is a perfect example of Poe’s ability to reach the dark side that exists in all humans, and it would seem that it is with that purpose in mind that this story was written.

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question