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The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Analysis and Interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Summary:

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe is a psychological thriller that explores themes of guilt and madness. The unreliable narrator insists on their sanity while describing their meticulous plan to murder an old man because of his "vulture-like" eye. The story delves into the narrator's increasing paranoia, culminating in their confession, driven by the imagined sound of the victim's beating heart.

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What is a critical reading of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

A critical reading of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" differs from a plot summary in using the tools and techniques of literary criticism. As you complete such an assignment, you should begin by analyzing the narrative voice of the story. You should note that we see the story through the eyes of an unreliable first-person narrator and that as the narrator attempts to justify his claim that he is not mad, he inadvertently convinces us of his insanity. The unreliability of the narrator also makes us as readers speculate on the degree to which the old man was an innocent victim. You might also look at how the story fits the genre of "dramatic monologue."

Next, you might examine the implied audience or the "you" of the story and how the use of the second person draws the reader into the story.

Finally, you might look at how the very disjoint style of speech and tendency towards overemphasis and hyperbole helps construct the personality of the narrator for the reader. 

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What is your understanding of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

As you go into the mind of the narrator and protagonist, the first instance that strikes the most is how the levels of insanity bring such power into the narrative. First, we feel the peacefulness after committing the crime, and how the narrator expresses it as a matter of fact thing. Second, you feel the anxiety caused by something so simple, but so powerful in the mind of the narrator. Third, you understand how the ability of the narrator to analyze, narrate, correlate, and describe are all directed towards an inner anger, with the disruption of the narrator's mind, and with his lack of sanity.

Basically, what is mostly understood is that a mind going through deep insanity is capable of using its brilliance to commit the worst crimes, and develop the biggest levels of hatred, fear, and panic.

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe write "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

One can never say with any certainty why Poe wrote what he did or what his intentions were. However, most link the morbidity of his tales in general with the many losses he suffered in his own life, from the death of his mother and then his stepmother to the prolonged illness and death of his wife, Virginia. As for "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe may not have had any autobiographical reason for writing it (though some argue the murdered old man might represent both of Poe's estranged father figures), but he may have intended particular literary effects as well as commentary on his own society.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" concerns an unreliable narrator suffering from guilt-induced paranoia. From the beginning of the story, he tries claiming he has a disorder which makes him hypersensitive, explaining away any notion of guilt:

The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

The narrator claims he is coolheaded and logical during the killing, even though he murders an old man merely because the man's clouded blue eye creeps him out. He buries the body under the floorboards and has a casual chat with the police when they stop by to examine the premises, all the while claiming he is "singularly at ease." However, his nerves come to get the better of him. The heartbeat he hears could very well be his own, only he believes himself to be so impervious to guilt that he ascribes the heartbeat to the corpse beneath the floor.

In this way, Poe is showing how human beings can delude themselves about their own nature, even when the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Poe also emphasizes the power of the irrational over the human mind. Even in the nineteenth century, when technological and scientific advances were rapidly being made, Poe realized human beings were still swayed by passions and fears which make no logical sense but seem valid to those experiencing them.

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Why was the story titled "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

“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.

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Why did Edgar Allan Poe choose the title “The Tell-Tale Heart?"

In Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator murders an old man he lives with, dismembers the body, and buries it under the floor. As the narrator contemplates the murder, standing in the doorway of the man's room, he believes he hears the beating of the man's heart as he lies in his bed. The narrator believes that due to an illness his senses have been heightened. He believes the man's heart is beating loudly in fear. As he descends upon the man to suffocate him, he continues to hear the beating, but at last the sound subsides, and the narrator determines the man is dead. 

After the narrator buries the body under the floor, three policemen enter the house. The narrator is so confident that his crime will not be discovered that he invites them to sit down, right over the place where the corpse is buried. Although he laughs and chats with the policemen at first, soon he becomes distraught. He believes he hears the same sound he heard previously, which he thought was the old man's heart. This disturbs him greatly, and finally he shouts, "I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

One interpretation of the story is that some supernatural process is at work. The narrator suggests near the beginning of the story, "I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell." Thus the heart he hears at the end of the story may be a demonic sound or it may be a heavenly sound--one designed to bring judgment on him for his horrible sin.

Although that is one interpretation, it is not the probable one. The narrator is the quintessential unreliable narrator; he claims he is not mad, and the more he insists, the more the reader believes he is. If he is mad before he kills the man, then his perceptions may be warped. The sound he thinks is the man's heartbeat may be his imagination, or it may be his own heart. As he becomes more and more angry at seeing the man's "vulture eye," his heart beats more loudly so that he can "hear" it within himself, even though he is really only feeling it. As he gets calmer as the man dies, his heartbeat slows, and he can no longer hear it. But when he is sitting with the policemen, he begins to get nervous, and his heart beats more quickly. Again, he feels his own heartbeat but thinks he hears it, causing him to make his confession.

So why did Poe choose the title he did? He could have named it after the narrator's own heart, which was the "tell-tale" heart, like a tattle-tale, that gave him away. Since the narrator is the one who is telling the tale to begin with, using the term "tell-tale" is a pun that gives a clue to the story's interpretation. The title also alludes to a famous saying, "Dead men tell no tales." That is ironic in this context because in the narrator's view, the dead man did "tell" on him. The saying is also often used as a motive for murder, so using the term in the title also signifies the story is going to be about a violent murder by a ruthless killer. 

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In "The Tell-Tale Heart," why did Edgar Allan Poe name the story with this title?

Well, this is a good question to think through. Firstly, the original title uses alliteration with the repetition of the two "t"s in the "Tell-Tale". However, more importantly than this, I think Poe chose to name this story "The Tell-Tale Heart" because it is the heart of the man who was killed that forces the murderer to expose himself. To me, the last paragraph is key, as it appears as if the narrator has gotten away with it without any problems - the police seemed convinced that he had nothing to do with it. However, the narrator feels that he hears the heart beating again where he has stowed the body. This has an incredible effect on him:

Oh God! what could I do? I foamed - I raved - I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder - louder - louder!

It is this continual and ever-louder volume of the heart that literally forces the narrator to tell his tale and confess his guilt to the policemen.

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What is the cultural significance of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

There are at least three elements of cultural significance in Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart." Among other things, it represents an important work of the American Gothic literary movement that Poe helped pioneer. This form of literature is characterized by the same dark Gothic and often macabre themes that were hallmarks of Poe’s work overall and can certainly be seen in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

By comparison to the growing Romantic artistic movement that was popular in European literature that focused on the role of reason, as well as lauding nature and its beauty, American Gothic literature focused on horror and often included elements of the supernatural and mental instability. The latter is one of the primary revelations in "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the unnamed narrator continuously tries to convince the reader that he is sane.

Even before he actually kills the old man, the narrator’s mental illness mingles with the supernatural. He “hears” the beating of the old man’s heart grow louder and louder from outside the closed door to the old man’s room. Is this only the narrator’s insanity, or is it an illustration of the supernatural as well? It would seem that it reflects both the narrator’s own madness and some possible element of the supernatural that characterized many American Gothic literary works.

Also, by delving into the narrator’s madness, Poe sheds a light on the deplorable treatment of the mentally ill at the time. The narrator fears that the reader will think him mad, in part reflecting his horror at the fate that befell people who were considered mentally unstable in the nineteenth century. Asylums for the mentally ill were notorious in their abusive treatment of the patients under their care.

Finally, the story also shows how Poe would ultimately come to be regarded as the father of the modern detective short story. While there is no mystery in this story—after all, the narrator describes how he murdered the old man—it employs the same literary device to arrive at the denouement as would one of the author's detective stories.

When the neighbors sense something amiss, the police are called and dispatched to investigate. They find nothing. It is the narrator’s growing guilt and fear that ultimately lead him to uncover where he buried the old man’s body. However, this formula also forms the basis for other Poe stories that do fall squarely into the detective category, including "Murder in the Rue Morgue," which Poe had already written, and "The Purloined Letter," which he would publish one year later.

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What is the cultural significance of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Edgar Allan Poe's reputation as a pioneer of American short fiction is based on critics's assessment of the stories themselves, including their cultural and social context and on his own published views on effective writing. Several of the characteristics that make his work distinct are evident in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

In his 1846 essay "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe lays out some recommended features for prose and poetry. Central among these is "unity of effect." He endorses a tightly plotted story in which all the elements work together to advance the overall aesthetic effect the author intends. His approach is in accord with aestheticism, valuing art for art's sake. In this he fits well with an overall 19th-century Romantic impulse. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the plot moves inexorably to the conclusion, as the narrator crafts his own demise.

Poe's focus on psychology, especially the dark recesses of human consciousness, also align him more with some European Romantics than with his own American contemporaries. The positive spirit of westward expansion finds no home in Poe's gloomy, tortured protagonists. The limits of scientific rationalism also are pointed up even among those who espouse belief in a methodical, systematic approach. In both regards, as the demented narrator explains his careful homicidal plan and reveals how his obsession became his undoing, his character offers a counterpoint to the healthy, rugged frontiersmen who dominated the fiction of Poe's day.

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What is the cultural significance of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe is not a story of cultural critique. Instead, it is primarily a story of psychological suspense, showing its unreliable narrator's descent into madness. There are a few cultural phenomena we can deduce from the story, but they are not central elements of the narrative.

First, the story is set in a rooming house, which tells us something of the way that unmarried people of moderate incomes lived in this period. Both the narrator and the old man are relatively isolated and living alone, suggesting we are seeing a phase in the modern breakdown of the extended family; in antiquity or the middle ages, these men would have lived in a more communal environment, either on an estate where they worked or with their families.

Next, we can see this is a society that stigmatizes mental illness and has little in the way of public support for mental health. The narrator's insistence that he is not mad conveys a sense that he considers it almost worse to be thought insane than to be thought a murderer.

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What is the literary value of the story "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

The main value of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is to be found in Poe's mode of narration. He was one of the earliest users, if not the originator, of first-person narration by an unreliable narrator. This unnamed narrator also happens to be a maniac, although he doesn't realize it and refuses to admit it. Poe's short story is a masterpiece because of the way it is told. The illusion is maintained right to the very end. The description of the narrator's delusion of hearing the beating of the heart of the old man he had murdered and dismembered is so well written that the reader is likely to imagine being able to hear it too. This narrator is insane but able to render accurate descriptions of every detail of his crime.

One of the best sentences in the story is the following:

I turned the latch of his door and opened it--oh so gently!

The dashes after "opened it" prepare the reader for a change of tone with the words "oh so gently." This is unconventional narration. It is more like dialogue than exposition. Every reader can remember opening a door in the same way, oh so gently, so as not to waken someone--but without the intention, of course, of committing a murder. The reader knows that the old man is going to be killed sooner or later. The suspense keeps building until the eighth night.

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How does Edgar Allan Poe's life connect to "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Edgar Allan Poe encountered the deaths of close loved ones at an early age. Poe’s mother died when he was only three years old, and his father left Poe and his siblings. As a consequence, the children were taken in by different families. Edgar was taken in by John and Frances Allan. Although he came to love Frances, he apparently had a difficult time with her husband. The Allans never formally adopted Poe, but he took their last name as his middle name. Frances died in 1829, when Poe was 20. With the death of his foster mother, Poe felt another major loss in his life. He was also somewhat estranged from his foster father by that time, as John Allan did not approve of his chosen profession as a writer.

It seems as if as a result of all the losses he suffered, much of Poe’s writing reflects some level of obsession with the morbid. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for instance, the narrator seems to be unstable, which results in his committing murder. Initially, the narrator denies that he is mad. Nevertheless, it is clear from the frenzied tone of the poem that the speaker is increasingly in a state of chaos and frenzy.

The narrator tells us that he “loved the old man,” but the old man’s “pale blue eye, with a film over it” resembled that of a vulture and made his blood run cold “whenever it fell upon” him. Thus, the narrator says,

I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

What is interesting about “The Tell-Tale Heart is that the speaker takes the life of “the old man.” The reader could infer that this relationship between an older man and younger one is Poe’s projection of his relationship with the two fathers in his life, both of whom disappointed him. His father left his family to be cared for by strangers, and his foster father was cold and distant. In “The Tell-Tale Heart, perhaps the poet figuratively kills these father figures even though he "loved the old man."

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How does Edgar Allan Poe's life connect to "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

The narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" has a fundamental fear of mortality. We can gather this from such evidence as when he describes the old man "still sitting up in the bed listening;—just as [the narrator] has done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall." Further, when he hears the old man groan, a sound of "mortal terror," he recognizes this as well because he has lived it, too. He says, "Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me." He knows just how the old man feels because he, too, has spent time awake, sure that death was coming for him.

Poe, meanwhile, lost many people in his life, even when he was a child: he watched his mother die when he was just a toddler, and his adopted mother of sorts, Mrs. Allan, the mother of a close friend from school with whom he was also very close, and later even his wife all died. It is possible, though difficult to prove, that all of this death made Poe very conscious of his own mortality and perhaps somewhat fearful of death's inevitability: he did, after all, write about the subject quite a bit.  

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How does Edgar Allan Poe's life connect to "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

I seriously doubt that Edgar Allan Poe based any of the events of "The Tell-Tale Heart" on his own personal experiences. Poe may have had his mental demons, but he was apparently never involved in any murder scheme. Some critics believe that the story evolved from Poe's own "unbalanced" mental state.

His literary executor, R. W. Griswold, wrote a libelous obituary in the New York Tribune vilifying him as mentally depraved. Even as late as 1924, critic Alfred C. Ward, writing about ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ in Aspects of the Modern Short Story: English and American argued that Poe ‘‘had ever before him the aberrations of his own troubled mind—doubtfully poised at all times, perhaps, and almost certainly subject to more or less frequent periods of disorder: consequently, it was probably more nearly normal, for him, to picture the abnormal than to depict the average.’’

Most critics disagree with the above comments, however, and declare that Poe had none of the unstable characteristics shown by his most famous creations. One critic did see a connection between his two characters (Fortunato and Montresor) in "The Cask of Amontillado."

The Poe biographer William Bittner claims that the two characters in the story "are two sides of the same man Edgar Poe as he saw himself while drinking.’’ 

Most likely, as other critics have pointed out, ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ was "basically self-explanatory" or a ‘‘tale of conscience."

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What is the introduction of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

In the introduction to a short story, the author typically first presents the setting or tone and characters, and sometimes also gives a hint of the main conflict. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe is the story of a gruesome murder. The narrator, who is the murderer himself, attempts to justify the murder and at the same time convince readers that he is sane. However, evidence of his madness emerges near the end of the tale when he imagines that he hears the beating of the dead man's heart beneath the floorboards.

The first two paragraphs of "The Tell-Tale Heart" comprise the introduction. The precise setting is vague, because the important things for a reader to realize are the unstable state of the murderer's mind and what he intends to do. The first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the story. The narrator, by strongly insisting that he is not mad but has a disease that sharpens his senses, calls into question his sanity in the reader's mind. The second paragraph makes it clear that he intends to commit murder, and gives the twisted motivation for the deed: that the old man has "the eye of a vulture" and he can't stand to look at it.

In these two introductory paragraphs, Poe skillfully sets up the story, and prepares the reader for everything that is to follow.

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What is the introduction of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

In the introduction of the short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," by Edgar Allan Poe, the narrator tries to convince the reader of his sanity. He says that he is nervous and has been, but that he is definitely not mad (insane). He goes on to tell the audience exactly how they should know he is not crazy. First, he says that his senses were sharper than normal, especially his hearing. It was so good, in fact, he says,

"I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily---how calmly I can tell you the whole story." (Poe 1)

The narrator goes on to tell the reader all about his plan to kill the old man because of his eye. In trying to convince everyone of his sanity, he ends up doing just the opposite.

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What is the exposition of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

Narratology is the discipline that studies the structure and function of a narrative. "Exposition" is an element of structure within the the study of narratology. For the sake of clarity, "narrative" is anything that offers or presents a story with a sequence of events in which characters are involved. Thus the three of the indispensable elements of narrative structure are: (1) events, (2) chronological/cause-and-effect sequence of events, (3) characters who are (i) agents causing events or (ii) victims effected by events or (iii) beneficiaries who are benefited by events. Some other indispensable elements of narrative structure are narrator's voice and narrator's point of view (these are referred to collectively as "narrative mode"). There are several theories of narrative structure. One commonly taught in school is Freitag's Pyramid structure of narrative. Bear in mind however that Freitag's is not the only theory of narrative structure.

In Freitag's Pyramid (also called "Triangle") theory of narrative structure, the initial element of structure is called "exposition"; other structural elements follow while exposition is the initial element. What this means is that the exposition, in Freitag's Pyramid model, is the first thing the reader/listener learns in the narrative. There are two qualifications to this. The first qualification is that since narrative is defined as events-sequencing-characters, many things can offer narrative, including but not limited to billboard signs, advertisements in magazines, comic strips or comic books, true-life adventures (or misadventures) and news reports of natural disasters, think, for example, of the narrative followed by the reports of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown. The second qualification is that Modernist and Postmodernist writers seek intentionally to undermine these narrative elements [scramble them up], especially chronological sequencing.

Knowing that these qualifications to narrative exist and that there are a number of theories of narrative besides Freitag's, the Pyramid offers exposition as the first step in narrative structure. What is exposition and how is it applicable to "The Tell-Tale Heart" by the genius of creepiness, Edgar Allen Poe? Exposition is the introductory material of a narrative, or story, in which the principle characters are introduced and in which the "backstory" or background information of the story is presented. The function of the exposition to to orient the reader/listener/viewer to the who and what of the story about to be told. The exposition can be complicated in some stories such as those that begin in medias res, in mid-event, because, in these, the backstory and introductory material may be delayed until after the immediate problem is resolved. For example, if a story starts during a Western shoot-out between Sheriff and bad guys, the exposition's introductory and backstory material will be delayed until after the shoot-out is settled.

In "Tell-Tale Heart," the exposition is spread out over the first three paragraphs and is complicated because it begins with a "frame" that complicates the chronological sequencing of the events. A "frame" is a story told in present, in the "now" of the story, about events that happened in the past, in the "then" of the story. In "Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator starts by questioning some unknown listener (not us) about why he is thought by the listener to be "mad" or insane. The rest of the paragraph adds to the introduction of this principle character, who doubles as the first-person narrator, and tells us about his personality traits: nervous yet calmly narrating, acute sensory perception, not mad. The second paragraph tells the backstory about the old man who "had never wronged" him, but whose eye was an offense, and introduces the conflict: "I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever." The third paragraph gives the implied setting: the house that the narrator and the old man share: "And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it."

Thus we have from the exposition of "The Tell-Tale Heart," in the three opening paragraphs, the (1) principle characters, the (2) chronological sequencing within a frame story (a story told from within another story: e.g., I'm not mad: let me tell you a story to prove it.), the (3) setting, the (4) conflict integral to developing the plot and the (4) background story, or backstory.

Interactive Explanation of Exposition

Cached PPT presentation with Freitag's Pyramid Exposition

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What is the exposition of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

The exposition of the story, the plot to murder an innocent man because of his eye: "He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold" unravels through a first person narration.  The narrator is unreliable because he is insane and paranoid.  This unique perspective gives readers insight into a psychotic mind, chilling them to the bone and making the story unpredictable 

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create horror and terror in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe is a masterpiece of horror writing. The pacing is a key element to the sensation of horror experienced by the reader. The very first lines suggest that something horrible has happened, but the narrator only gradually reveals the details of the events, building slowly to the final climax.

The first literary technique used to create the tone of horror is the use of an unreliable first-person narrator. Through first-person narration, the author invites the reader to experience the unsettled emotions of the narrator. The narrator's extensive comments on his own state of mind make readers aware that something is not quite right. Although the narrator insists on his sanity, that very insistence, along with his description of himself as nervous and his eerily acute sensitivity to sound, create a sense that the narrator is deranged, and the reader is invited into a descent into madness inside the mind of the narrator. The disintegration of the narrator's mind is as much an element of horror as the actual events.

Another important technique is foreshadowing. The reader is presented with various hints that the story will have a dreadful and macabre ending, but the details are only gradually revealed, building horror and suspense until the dramatic ending.

Finally, Poe is a master of using adjectives and descriptive details to manipulate the mood of the story. The description of the old man's eye is a particularly effective detail, as is the self-description of the stealthy and malicious behavior of the narrator.

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create horror and terror in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Edgar Allan Poe uses great characterization, and descriptive word choices in his short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," both of which contribute to the tone of horror and terror.  The narrator of the tale is clearly obsessed and slightly deranged; through using such a creepy and evil narrator, who is so frank about his insidious plans, the entire story is cast with a feeling of horror.  He admits openly that he had nothing against the old man except for his eye.  He finds joy in in the pursuit.  For example, consider this passage:

"To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea"

He gloats in his plans, which casts a tone of horror over the story.  The way that he claims that he isn't mad, and then describes his awful deed in such minute detail is also very terrifying.  His patience, his glee at not being discovered, his manipulation of his poor victim--all of these things add to a really great character that aids in making the tone horrifying.

Poe also uses such great word choices and descriptions in order to create a feeling of horror.  For example, the old man's eye was "a pale blue eye with a film over it," which is a creepy image.  He uses great punctuation and repetition to describe how the narrator basically stalks the old man.  He says things like, "patiently, oh how patiently," and "--very, very slowly," "oh cautiously--oh so cautiously" and "--oh so gently."  All of these things increase the suspense.  The description of the old man's heart fading, the brutal description of how he got rid of the body--all of Poe's descriptions and word choices aid in creating a tone of horror.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create horror and terror in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

    Edgar Allan Poe sets the eerie tone of his classic horror short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," from the opening sentences. The narrator admits that he is mad immediately, although he tries to convince the reader that he is sane, establishing that the story will bring some sort of unnatural actions. Poe uses words such as "nervous," "dreadfully," "hell," and "mad"--in the first paragraph alone--to help set the mood of horror. Most of the story is set late at night and in darkness, symbols of both evil and death. By the third paragraph, the narrator establishes that he has already killed the old man, and Poe draws the reader in and proposes the unanswered questions about how the murder will happen and whether the killer will get away with it.
    Other references, such as "the vulture eye" and the imagined loudness of the old man's heart combined with the painstaking steps that the murderer takes before finally making his move, add to the building terror. By the time he kills the old man, the reader can only wonder what will happen next. But Poe merely continues to build one horrible act upon another, first with the matter-of-fact description of the dismemberment, followed by the burial beneath his floor. Just when the reader wonders if this--like "The Cask of Amontillado"--will feature a perfect crime, a knock on the door reveals the police, investigating a scream in the night. The combined madness, nervousness and guilty conscience reveals that the killer's act is not so perfect.

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create horror and terror in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

In the short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" Edgar Allen Poe takes the reader on a journey of macabre suspense as he shows the murderer plotting his dreadful and evil plan. Part of the way in which Poe does this so well is in the narration. The narrator does not speak normally, but very, very scarily - he does not seem normal. For a start, he gabbles, talking so fast that we can barely read his words. This is a sign of mania and shows the brain working faster and faster in a crazed way. This has the effect of unnerving the reader, making him wonder where the story is going. The narrator shares his dreadful secrets about lying in wait, spying and about his hatred. When he pounces the language is sudden and sharp - a great contrast to the unnaturally dead calm of the waiting game that precedes it. These contrasts show the seesaw effect of psychotic type behavior and build suspense.

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create horror and terror in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Poe wastes little time in setting the mood in his famed short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart." From the opening sentences, he assaults the reader with an atmospheric barrage of evil thoughts and ideas. Dreadful nervousness, madness, supernatural senses and murder are just a few of the ideas presented in the first two paragraphs. He grabs the reader's interest immediately and continues to build the tension as his narrator tells the rest of his story. When the murder is finally committed, Poe does not stop there. The dismemberment of the body only magnifies the horror of the act, leaving the reader wondering what can happen next. But unlike the narrator of Poe's other short story of macabre murder, "The Cask of Amontillado," the killer in "The Tell-Tale Heart" has not covered all of his bases: His crime is not perfect; screams have been heard and police have come to investigate. More tension arises and the narrator's nervousness increases until he does the unthinkable: He cracks and reveals all.

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What is one inference you can make from Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Despite his protestations to the contrary, readers can legitimately infer that the narrator is in many ways mentally ill. His obsession with the old man's eye is in itself pathological, even before its escalation into murderous rage.

His stalking and murder of the old man is likewise pathological. The narrator takes his time in watching the old man at night and congratulates himself on his own stealth, a form of grandiosity.

The glee that the narrator experiences in handling the blood from the dismemberment of the old man is another clear indication of his pathology: "A tub had caught all—ha! ha!"

And lastly, the narrator is surely suffering a delusion when he describes the severity of his agitation when he sits chatting with the police who have come to investigate the scream in the night. This seems delusive because if he were truly acting as bizarrely as he describes, the policemen would surely react. He says he

arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased.

and

I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!—this I thought, and this I think.

The distortions of his thinking imply that he is truly mentally ill and not the criminal mastermind he tries to project to readers.

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What is one inference you can make from Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story about a madman who kills an older gentleman. The relationship between the two men is unknown because the narrator does not describe it explicitly. As far as the relationship is concerned, the narrator only says the following:

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.

First, the narrator admits that he loves the old man who he wants to kill. Then he seems to suggest that the two have a history together because enough time has passed for problems with the relationship to occur, but there haven't been any. Also, since the two men live in the same house together, it can be inferred that they are related in some way. One might infer that the narrator is the son or grandson of the old man. Again, there is not clear evidence to suggest otherwise, so the reader can only infer as to the status of the relationship between the two men.

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What is the main idea of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

The main idea of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is to probe the depths of the human psyche; Poe uses the story to examine the motives and pathology of a mad man, who interestingly enough is the narrator of the story and tells the reader from the very beginning:

"TRUE!—NERVOUS—VERY, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" 

The story chronicles the apparently insane, and very unreliable, narrator's plot to murder his elderly roommate. By the end of the short story, the narrator is tortured by an imagined, or possibly real, thumping; his guilty conscience leads the narrator to assume the worst--it is the old man's beating heart.  Its torturous thumping condemns his actions, and the narrator, not able to stand it any longer, rips away the floor boards to reveal the evidence of his crime to the police.  In this way, another main idea of the story is also guilt and how a guilty conscience can manifest itself. 

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What central ideas about the narrator does Edgar Allan Poe convey in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Poe intends his readers to infer that the narrator of the story is not sane. Evidence of this is the narrator's question: "but why will you say that I am mad?" Normally, people don't start a tale with a defense of their sanity. In this case, however, whoever he is telling the story has told him he is mad, from which we can infer he has engaged in strange, irrational behaviors. He admits he has been "nervous." He also admits to behavior that seems to support the idea of madness: he says he has heard "all things" in heaven and in hell. As most people don't hear from the great beyond, this is worrisome.

Furthermore, the actions he describes doing in the story seem utterly irrational, the work of a madman. He kills the old man in the dead of the night for no other reason that he has an "Evil eye." This is not the action of a sane person.

Finally, he also hallucinates, hearing the beating heart of the dead man he has buried beneath the floor boards. It grows so loud that the narrator finally confesses to the murder. This hearing of the heart is very strange, to put it mildly. It suggests the narrator is consumed with guilt and has lost touch with reality. Dead men's hearts can't beat and the police in the room hear no such noise.

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What is the irony in "The Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", the irony is mostly found in the seemingly bipolar emotions of the narrator; a disturbed man who combines love with hate, as well as punishment with mercy, to act upon the old man who lives with him.

The irony begins from the very beginning, when the narrator explains his rationale behind killing the old man:

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

The odd and contradictory ramble shows the aberration of it all: The narrator feels an underlying type of sick and psychotic love for the man. He even admits that the man has been nothing but good him.

In a separate irony, he admits that his carefully-planned murder, though well-orchestrated, had "no object, nor passion." One must wonder: Then, why even do it? The answer goes back to the beginning. The man is insane, and this is what causes his ironic shifts of thought-and his rationale for murder.

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What is your analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Exemplifying Poe's signature style of arabesque, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a narrative of horror and psychological torment in its many twists and turns and returns of narrative.  Interestingly, some critics suggest that the old man is a doppelganger for the narrator, and the narrator's loathing for the man represents his own self-hatred.  The narrator's obsession with the old man's eye seems to indicate his self-hatred as he projects these vile feelings onto something outside himself, a condition known as transference.

The eye of the old-man is identified by the narrator as a curse upon him.  So, if he can rid himself of the eye--for he tells the reader that he loved the old man, and when the man's eyes are closed, he will not kill him--he will be all right.  Thus, Poe with his patterns of arabesque "teases out the latent horror" of his image, a material image that forms an instance of a deranged and perverse aethetic as the narrator shares the horror with the old man:

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror.  It was not a groan of pain or of grief.  Oh, no!       It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe.  I knew the sound well....

It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it.  I saw it with perfect distinctness--all ..with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones.

The psychological changes in the narrator parallel the physical events. The death of the old man, rather than ridding the narrator of a detestable object and relieving him, tortures the narrator since he has killed his doppelganger and thus, effects his own ruination.  This removal of the perverse aesthetic destroys the narrator and he confesses in his desperate attempt to join with the old man in his self-hatred:

Oh God! what could I do?...They were making a mockery of my horror!...I felt that I must scream or die!
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What is your analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

You have asked a very general question which needs to be narrowed down to indicate which specific aspect of this excellent story you want to analyse. Certainly one entrance point into this story is considering how the point of view is related to the action. One of Poe's defining stylistic features that he uses with great effect is the unreliable narrator - consider how he uses the unreliable narrator in other short stories as well as this one such as "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Black Cat."

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is thus narrated by a first person narrator who, from the very first paragraph, we have our doubts about. One aspect that makes us suspicious about what he says and his mental state is the way that he continually protests that he is not mad:

True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

This very first paragraph reveals beyond question that we are being told this story by an unreliable narrator because, in spite of his protestations of the last sentence, the narration that follows is anything but "healthy" and "calm" as we are given an insight into the madness of the narrator when he hears the beating of the old man's heart after he has been killed. Note too the way that he talks about his "acute hearing" also suggests his madness, saying that he heard "all things" in heaven and earth, and lots of things in hell besides.

Thus analysing the point of view of this classic story is one way into gaining an appreciation of the tale that lingers in the mind so long after you have finished reading it.

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What is your analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

Edgar Allan Poe's 1843 short story features a narrator who commits the premeditated murder of a vulnerable elderly man and then succumbs to delusions that lead him to reveal his crime to the authorities, all while trying to convince readers of his sanity and the perfection of his crime.

The setting is vague and thus not important. The only character that is developed is the narrator. It is possible that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, as this is a type of mental illness that sometimes manifests auditory hallucinations. He possesses no discernible morality, having killed the man for no reason other than his dark obsession with appearance of the old man's filmy eye.

The story consists of an extended monologue in which the narrator addresses the reader as "you." There are many exclamations that reveal the increasing agitation of the narrator even as he boasts of the genius of his criminal acts.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is notable for its style; Poe helped to popularize the short story, especially gothic narratives, in addition to his invention of the detective story. This story utilizes Poe's technique of what he called the "single effect." His intent is to create a sense of horror, and the themes of the story (the dangers of obsession, the destructive outcomes of guilt, and the terror of a descent into madness) are somewhat secondary.

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What is your analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

The voice of the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s story plays a dominant role in setting the overall tone and creating suspense. The story is narrated using first-person perspective or point of view, combined with second-person direct address. Early on, this unnamed, unreliable narrator clearly establishes their anxiety and suspicion, and in doing so stimulates the curiosity of the reader or audience that they address as “you.” The author makes it obvious that the narrator is very concerned, even desperate, to convince their audience of their cleverness and rational behavior. Although the other main character does speak, the narrator’s voice strongly influences—even controls—the reader’s impressions of that character along with the events that befall him.

The narrator’s unreliability is closely connected to the suspenseful mood that Poe creates. The narrator strictly limits the amount of information they provide about the reasons for their own actions as well as when they relate those actions. At the beginning, the reader may accept the narrator’s voice as that of a sane person, but at the same time will probably wonder why they raise the question of madness. Only gradually does the reader come to understand that the voice telling the tale is that of a murderer, and that the fears they describe as reasonable justifications for killing the old man are actually paranoid fantasies.

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What is Poe's purpose for writing "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

As another commenter noted, this story (and essentially all of Poe's work) is Gothic literature, and the Gothic is an off-shoot of Romanticism. Romantics believed that human emotion was far more vital to our experience than reason because it does not have to be taught; we are born knowing how to feel deeply. Logic, on the other hand, has to be learned, and so they felt that logic really distracts us from more compelling experiences like inspiration, creativity, and intense feeling. Much of the literature of this period attempts to provoke such intense emotion as a way to return its readers to a purer, more natural state. Gothic literature, especially, focuses on the experience of horror because, Gothic writers reasoned, there are few emotions more intense than fear.

Poe's story certainly does contain horrible elements and is capable of provoking fear. It is comforting to think that, as long as we don't get on anyone's bad side, as long as we are nice to everyone, we will be safe from murder. However, the narrator of this story leads readers to the idea that such an assumption is simply untrue. The old man has done nothing to warrant the treatment he receives from the narrator; he cannot even control the thing—his "vulture eye"—that so provokes the narrator. The idea that someone might be so deranged that they could kill us over small physical features over which we have no control—or some other such seemingly minor and inoffensive trait—is terrible indeed.

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What is Poe's purpose for writing "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a psychological thriller in which we get a peek into the mind of a man driven mad after murdering another man by what he thinks is the victim’s relentless heartbeat.  As to the purpose of the piece, Poe himself thought that in order for literature to be considered good it should evoke emotions from the reader and create a feeling of unity between the two.  ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’  is a perfect example of Poe’s ability to reach the dark side that exists in all humans, and it would seem that it is with that purpose in mind that this story was written.

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What is Poe's purpose for writing "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a psychological thriller in which we get a peek into the mind of a man driven mad after murdering another man by what he thinks is the victim’s relentless heartbeat.  As to the purpose of the piece, Poe himself thought that in order for literature to be considered good it should evoke emotions from the reader and create a feeling of unity between the two.  ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’  is a perfect example of Poe’s ability to reach the dark side that exists in all humans, and it would seem that it is with that purpose in mind that this story was written.

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What is Poe's purpose for writing "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

It is a difficult thing to pinpoint the exact purpose of a deceased author, however, by examining the context (the events in Poe's life and the society in which he was living) in which the story is written, we can make educated guesses about what may have influenced a particular piece of writing; in this case "The Tell-Tale Heart."

First of all, one should examine the nature of Gothic literature, a genre popular in the late eighteenth century in England. Many scholars say that Poe single-handedly brought the Gothic genre to America. Gothic literature explores the dark side of human experiences: death, alienation, nightmares, ghosts, and haunted landscapes. American Gothic literature dramatizes a culture plagued by poverty and slavery through characters afflicted with various forms of insanity and melancholy. Poe created his take on the Gothic genre from his own experiences in Virginia and other slaveholding territories. The black and white imagery in his stories reflects a growing national anxiety over the issue of slavery.

However, this is not all that influenced the work of Edgar Allen Poe. The often tragic circumstances of Poe’s life haunt his writings. A tendency to cast blame on others, without admitting his own faults, characterized Poe’s relationship with many people. There are echoes of Poe’s upbringing in his works, as sick mothers and guilty fathers appear in many of his tales, like the sick father in "The Tell-Tale Heart."

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How do Edgar Allan Poe's literary techniques in "The Tell-Tale Heart" affect the story's meaning?

Edgar Allan Poe uses a wide variety of literary techniques in his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” to enhance the story’s effectiveness and to emphasize its meanings.  Among those techniques are the following:

  • Plunging into the midst of things (in medias res), as in the very first sentence, which takes us by surprise and places us immediately inside the head of the “nervous” narrator.
  • Using a first-person narrator whose mental state is questionable (to say the least), thus creating suspense not only about the story’s plot but about the condition of the narrator’s mind.
  • Having the narrator directly address an unknown “you” (as in the first sentence), so that even more curiosity is created.  Whom is the narrator addressing? What are the circumstances of the address? Is the narrator perhaps addressing us (as readers) directly?  The “dialogic” opening of the story creates an effect of “you are there,” as if the story is taking place in the present moment.
  • Making mysterious allusions, as in the intriguing reference to “the disease” in the second sentence.  As soon as we read this sentence, we want to know what disease the narrator has in mind, how far it may have progressed, how it may have affected him, etc.
  • Alliteration, as in all the “h” sounds of the final sentence. These help reinforce our sense of the narrator’s excitement and of his emphatic phrasing.
  • Repetition, as in the phrases “how healthily – how calmly” in the final sentence of the first paragraph. Repetition again reveals the narrator’s emphatic phrasing, his intense desire to be heard and understood.
  • Irony, as in the final sentence of the first paragraph, where the speaker claims to be healthy and calm when in fact he seems just the opposite.
  • Metaphorical language, as when, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, the narrator reports,

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.

Here the narrator speaks of “the idea” as if it were a ghost that “haunted” him. Such language reinforces our sense that the narrator is mentally unstable, even as it also contributes to a sense of dark foreboding. Whatever “the idea” was, it seems to have frightened the narrator, and perhaps it will frighten us as well (as indeed it does).

  • Exclamatory phrasing, as in the sentences “I think it was his eye! yes, it was this!” Such phrasing – which is used repeatedly in this story – contributes to our sense that the narrator may be unhinged.  It also contributes to the consistency of Poe’s characterization of the narrator. He seems unhinged from the beginning and, if anything, grows even more unhinged by the ending of the tale.
  • Alternation of sentence length and variation of sentence structure, as in the long last sentence of the second paragraph, followed by the two short sentences that open the third paragraph. Such variation prevents the narration (and narrator) from seeming monotonous and also contributes, in this story, to our sense that the narrator is unstable and unpredictable.

In all these ways and many others, Poe’s diction and use of various devices of language contribute to the memorable impact of his story as well as to its themes and meanings.

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What is a potential argument from "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

Any analysis of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” must consider two things: the narrator and the old man’s eye. Poe’s narrator is a first-person central narrator, meaning he is also the story’s main character. Everything we see, hear, feel, and know as readers, we experience as the narrator does. This is particularly effective with this story because it allows us to understand why the narrator acts as he does. On the other hand, the narrator’s constant assurances that he is not insane undermine our understanding of his behaviors as it becomes increasingly obvious that he is indeed insane.  This constant tension for the reader between understanding and revulsion is, I believe, part of Poe’s intent because, again, it parallels the narrator’s own experience. One does not simply read “The Tell-Tale Heart;” one experiences it.

The narrator’s focal point is the old man’s eye. He tells us that he loves the old man, that the old man treated him well, and that there is no greed or desire for possessions that drive his decision to kill him. Instead, “it was his eye! yes, [sic] it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it” (Poe). The narrator also calls it the “Evil Eye” and ascribes supernatural powers to it, telling readers that its glance “chilled the very marrow in [his] bones” and attributing something more than human to it when he details the careful concealment of the body so “that no human eye—not even his—could have detected any thing [sic] wrong” (Poe). He also erases the old man’s personhood by identifying him only as his eye: “I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person” (Poe). So, we can read this story as one in which an old man has an eye so weird and so powerful that it drives his male companion—whether he is a son, nephew, caretaker, or some other relation is not made clear—to kill him. Or…we can read this story as one in which the eye, generally accepted to be representative of one’s character, the proverbial “window to the soul,” symbolizes the narrator’s blindness to his own self.

Let’s take a closer look at our narrator’s insistence that he is not mad (insane). In the very first sentence, he tells us he has been “nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous” (Poe) but this is no reason for us to believe he is mentally unbalanced. True, but there is more. After he reveals to us his plan to kill the old man, the narrator again addresses our concerns that he might be mad and tries to mitigate those concerns by showing us how carefully he has planned the murder: “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded” (Poe). He attempts again to alleviate our growing certainty that he is unhinged after he has killed the old man and dismembered him: “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body” (Poe). So the narrator clearly has no understanding of his own madness, and this can be symbolized, too, in the descriptions he gives us of the eye. First it is “a pale blue eye, with a film over it,” and then it is “a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it” (Poe). Both descriptions give us a sense that this eye does not see things clearly. It is also interesting that at the outset of the story, the eye is simply pale with a film over it, but as the narrator descends further into madness the film becomes a “hideous veil.” Film is generally transparent. It disallows perfect vision but it can be seen through; however, a veil is substantially more obstructive. If we continue to understand our narrator as being represented by the eye, this makes sense. As he moves further from sanity, the clarity of self-awareness erodes.

The narrator’s other descriptions of the eye as “evil” and like that of a vulture also are much more apropos to himself than the old man. In fact, the only information we have about the old man is that he was kind to his companion, he had some wealth, and he slept a lot. The narrator, on the other hand, harbors evil within himself, which is more than apparent based on his actions. He also embodies characteristics of a vulture, stalking and dismembering his prey. It is through the old man’s eye that we actually ‘see’ the narrator for who he really is.

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