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The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Discussion Topic

The narrator's feelings towards the old man before and after committing the murder in "The Tell-Tale Heart."


Before the murder in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator claims to love the old man but is driven to madness by his vulture-like eye. After committing the murder, the narrator is initially triumphant but quickly becomes consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading to his eventual confession.

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What are the narrator's feelings towards the old man he murders in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator makes it clear from the beginning that his feelings towards the old man are warm and positive:

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult.

Moreover, the narrator feels no jealousy towards the old man's money or his material possessions. The narrator does, however, grow to dislike the old man's eye. In fact, the eye fills the narrator with "fury" and he describes it as "evil" and animalistic:

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.

Over time, the narrator realises that killing the old man is the only way to rid himself of the eye. After convincing himself that murder is the only way to proceed, the narrator plots his crime for seven nights - all the while acting kindly to the old man by enquiring after his health and wellbeing. He does this so as not to arouse any suspicion and, on the eighth night, he is finally able to commit the murder. 

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How does the narrator's feelings change after committing the murder in The Tell-Tale Heart?

After planing the seemingly-perfect murder, the author executes his plan, murders the old man, and disposes of the body. We realize that he had no particular feelings of any kind toward the victim; he didn't hate the old man, nor did he like him. He is completely neutral and killed him with no particular reason.

After that, however, instead of feeling some sort of twisted, morbid fulfillment, he feels immense guilt and regret. He tries to calm down, but he fails, and he begins to hear a faint thumping sound in the distance. Confused and a bit paranoid, the murderer begins to think that the faint rhythmic sound he hears is, in fact, the old man's heartbeat. He panics and confesses to his crimes.

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How does the narrator feel after committing the crime in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

The narrator does claim to have loved the old man. So, it would be logical for him to be remorseful after killing him. But the narrator is mad (crazy). He claims that his alleged madness is simply an overly acute attention to sensations and detail. Just before killing him, the narrator senses the old man's terror and expresses pity but also light amusement: 

I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. 

When the narrator begins to kill the old man by dragging him to the floor and smothering him, he (narrator) "smiled gaily" to know that he was going through with killing the old man. After the old man is dead, the narrator was not really remorseful nor was he smiling or amused. He is momentarily relieved that he no longer has to feel the gaze of the old man's eye; then he goes into an anxious mode. He dismembers the body in order to hide it. He again notes that this is precaution, not madness. He brags about his precision in hiding the body. 

When the police arrive, the narrator smiles to hide his guilt. After feeling that he convinced them of his innocence, the narrator feels relieved, "I was singularly at ease." However, his conscience gets to him and that momentary relief once again changes into precaution to anxiety to terror when the sound of the heartbeat increases.

So, after killing the old man, the narrator feels momentarily relieved, then anxious, momentarily relieved again, then anxious again and finally leading to complete terror resulting in his confession. 

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