The Tell-Tale Heart Style and Technique

Edgar Allan Poe

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Poe had definite ideas about the style and composition of the short story. To begin with, despite his wonderfully realistic descriptions in this and other tales, he advocated art over reality and believed that the artificial contrivances of the writer’s imagination could reveal more truth about the human condition than faithful adherence to observed reality. As Poe saw it, the short story was the ideal medium for conveying artistic insight because the reader was likely to give it his or her concentrated attention for the brief time it took to read it. Above all else, he insisted that the writer should make every part of the short story contribute to its total effect. “If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect,” wrote Poe, “then he has failed in his first step.” His devotion to that injunction is clearly demonstrated in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Indeed, he excels in creating and developing that fascinating mood of mystery and madness that makes the story so irresistible.

Poe had the ability to portray his protagonists, mad though they might be, in sympathetic terms. The reader comes to understand the demented narrator, or at least to pity him, because his obsession is so overpowering.

Poe was a master of the first-person narrator, and that technique, so treacherous in the hands of a lesser artist, makes for unusual intimacy between the reader and the storyteller. Indeed, one is drawn into the tormented mind of the madman. The mind is especially Poe’s domain, with its interplay of emotions, its mixture of reality and fantasy, and its ultimate mystery. To convey the impressions and feeling that he wanted, Poe relied on a variety of rhetorical tools, and he carefully crafted every sentence. However, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is convincingly spontaneous and filled with those little details that heighten the realism. Devoted to art for art’s sake, Poe probed the limits of human reality in stories shaped by both intuitive genius and literary craftsmanship.