Style and Technique

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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.

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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.

Literary Style

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Point of View

A notable aspect of ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ is that the story is told from the first-person point of view. The story is a monologue of a nervous narrator telling the reader how he murdered someone. He is eventually driven to confess to the police. The entire straightforward narrative is told from his point of view in a nervous tone. Through Poe’s masterful and inventive writing, the narrator’s twisted logic increasingly reveals that he is insane. By using a first-person narrative, Poe heightens the tension and fear running through the mind of the narrator. There is a clear connection between the language used by the narrator and his psychological state. The narrator switches between calm, logical statements and quick, irrational outbursts. His use of frequent exclamations reveals his extreme nervousness. The first-person point of view draws the reader into the mind of the insane narrator, enabling one to ironically sympathize with his wretched state of mind. Some critics suggest that the entire narrative represents a kind of confession, as at a trial or police station. Others consider the first-person point of view as a logical way to present a parable of self-betrayal by the criminal’s conscience—a remarkable record of the voice of a guilty mind.


The denouement, or the resolution, of the narrative occurs in ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ when the narrator, prompted by the incessant sound of a beating heart, can no longer contain his ever-increasing sense of guilt. Poe is regarded by literary critics as having helped define the architecture of the modern short story, in which its brevity requires an economical use of sentences and paragraphs and the climactic ending often occurs in the last paragraph. The abrupt ending in this story is...

(The entire section contains 1532 words.)

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Key Ideas and Commentary


Historical and Social Context