illustration of a human heart lying on black floorboards

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe

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

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Exposition - This part of the story is where we learn about the characters and setting. The story is told in the first person point of view, meaning the author uses "I" when telling the story. It takes place at the home of an elderly man where he lives with his caretaker. The caretaker is the narrator of the story. In the beginning of the story, the caretaker begins by trying to convince the audience that he/she is not crazy and then continues on to tell the audience about events that occurred.

Conflict - The conflict in the story is that the narrator is bothered by the elderly man's grotesque eye - it looks like the eye of a vulture.

Rising Action - The narrator decides to kill the old man so that he no longer has to see the eye. The narrator begins to spy on the old man at night while he is sleeping, hoping that he will open his eye so that he can kill him. One night, the narrator makes a noise that startles the old man awake.

Climax - The narrator kills the old man, dismembers him, and places the pieces of his body underneath the floorboards.

Falling Action - Neighbors have called the police because they heard a scream. The police come to the old man's house. The narrator allows the police to come in and look around. He offers them drinks and has them sit in the old man's room where his body lies beneath the floorboards. He tells the police the man is out of town. He begins to hear the sound of the man's beating heart, despite the fact that he is no longer alive.

Resolution - Driven mad, or perhaps, more likely, already mad, the man confesses to the murder and indicates where he has placed the body beneath the floorboards.

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The rising action of this story consists of the vast majority of the text.  It includes the narrator's introduction, his account of the old man, his motivation for and intention to kill the old man, as well as all of the repetitive and minute descriptions of how he crept into the old man's room so slowly each night at the same time.  It even includes his murder of the old man and the disposal of the body via dismemberment and burial beneath the floorboards.  The climax (or the apex of Freitag's triangle) is when the police have arrived and the narrator begins to feel terrible anxiety and believes that he hears the old man's heart beating beneath the floor (despite the fact that he's dead).  At this point, either the narrator is having a total nervous breakdown or the old man is somehow, supernaturally, undead (spoiler: it's the former), and it is the moment of greatest tension in the story.  The falling action and the resolution of the story include the narrator admitting to the police that he murdered the old man.

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