“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe epitomizes the short story. It is only ten paragraphs long. Poe felt that a story should be read in one sitting so that its impact was not lost. There is very little specific information provided: no locations, no names, and no specific times. This is an intimate story told about a terrible murder of an innocent man by an unnamed murderer.
The story’s narration comes from a first person point of view and an unreliable nameless speaker. The narrator /protagonist spends most of the story trying to prove that he is not insane. Everything in the story is colored by his perverse view.
The title of the story comes from the beating of the old man’s heart particularly after he is dead. In this case, the beating heart “tells the tale” on the narrator. On the eighth night, the narrator was watching and spying on the old man in his bed; the old man knows that something is not right in the room and his heart supposedly palpably beats in fear. This irritates the speaker and send him a rage that allows him to complete what he has wanted to do: kill the old man and his vulture eye.
...[a] strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I leaped into the room. He shrieked once. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily… But for many minutes the heart beat on with a muffled sound.
After the old man is dead, the narrator cuts him apart. This was done so that the narrator could more easily bury the body under the floor.
Of course, the heart begins to beat again. Now, this is where the reader begins to suspect that the narrator has passed over into the world of the insane when the body that has been splayed now has a heart that can be heard beating. The reader probably suspects the beating sound comes from within the narrator who feels guilt for killing someone that he purported to have loved.
… the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? …but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! -‘Villains!’ I shrieked, …‘I admit the deed! -- tear upplanks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!’
Through the narrator’s delusions about the old man’s heart, he admits to feeling some remorse for the murder. His inability to keep his secret forces him to confess to the hideous death of the innocent victim.