The Tell-Tale Heart Critical Overview
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

During his lifetime, Poe’s greatest recognition came from France. Charles Baudelaire translated and commented on Poe’s stories in the 1850s. Baudelaire was a famous French writer in his own right, and his translations are considered by a few critics to be superior to Poe’s original prose. These translations popularized Poe in France bringing him wide fame and influence. In the later half of the nineteenth century, the psychological aspects of Poe’s writings influenced French Symbolist poets. In the United States, however, Poe was often criticized for his stories. Many writers thought that they were overly emotional and contained no good lessons or stories. Poe never made much money from his fiction, although he had limited success as a poet.

In the generations since his death, however, critics have come to fully appreciate Poe’s works. His poetry continues to be popular, and he is now regarded as an early master of the short story, particularly for his contributions to the detective and horror genres, of which ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ is a prime example. One of the reasons why he is so highly regarded is because his stories are open to so many different interpretations, a factor that was not appreciated in his day. Contemporary critics acknowledge that ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ can be read as a classic example of American Gothicism, a morality tale, a supernatural story, a criticism of rationalism, and a multi-level psychological narrative. The full dimension and nuances of this tale are explored in James Gargano’s ‘‘The Theme of Time in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’’’ Gargano proposes that ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ is more complicated than it might first appear because Poe laces the story with ‘‘internally consistent symbols that are charged with meaning’’ and because the narrator is unreliable, causing the reader to question the veracity of his story. E. Arthur Robinson explores the idea of the doppelganger in his essay ‘‘Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’’’ claiming that the narrator and the old man identify closely with each other and arguing that beneath the flow of the narration, ‘‘the story illustrates the elaboration of design which Poe customarily sought.’’

While two of Poe’s stories, ‘‘MS. Found in a Bottle’’ and ‘‘The Gold Bug’’ were critically well received, each winning a prize during Poe’s lifetime, ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ obtained no special recognition. Poe’s contemporaries accorded him respect as a talented poet, literary critic and fiction writer. Some of his works received a measure of popular success, particularly ‘‘The Raven ,’’ his most well known poem, which was first published in 1845. However, temperamentally unpleasant and a chronic alcoholic, Poe did not handle his...

(The entire section is 661 words.)