The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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Which details from the text suggest that the narrator of this story is not reliable?

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In the opening paragraph of the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe establishes the narrator as unreliable through his erratic, staccato syntax, his continual insistence that he is completely sane, and his supernatural sense of hearing. The narrator's fragmented, choppy syntax suggests that he suffers from a nervous condition as he continually mentions his sanity, which makes the reader think otherwise. When the narrator mentions that he hears all things in heaven and hell, the reader recognizes these comments as red flags that the narrator is mentally unstable and unreliable.

The narrator proceeds to say that he loves the old man before elaborating on his maniacal plan to murder him, which is both ironic and perplexing. The narrator's motivation for killing the old man is also questionable. He tells the reader that the old man's Evil Eye is his sole motivation to commit murder and once again attempts to convince the reader of his sanity. On the eighth night when the narrator wakes the old man, he elaborates on his moan, which comes from the "bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe." The narrator then mentions that he also has experienced the same "dreadful echo" in his own soul that has terrified him at night. This comment is more evidence to suggest that the narrator is mentally deranged and unreliable.

The narrator then reveals that he has completely lost touch with reality by claiming to hear the old man's heart beating beneath the floorboards, which the reader recognizes as his own feelings of overwhelming guilt. Overall, the narrator is depicted as unreliable for his staccato, fragmented speech, his attempts to convince the reader of his sanity, his supernatural sense of hearing, and his ridiculous motivation to murder the old man.

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