The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who attempts to convince the reader of his sanity while simultaneously describing a murder he committed. The victim was an old man with a “vulture-like” eye, which the narrator found to be repulsive. In the days leading up to the murder, the narrator experiences anxiety and insomnia, which he attributes to the old man’s eye. On the eighth night, he finally snaps and kills the old man, dismembering his body and hiding it beneath the floorboards. He is eventually driven to confess by the sound of the old man’s beating heart, which he imagines he can still hear even after the body has been disposed of.
The story is notable for its unreliable narrator, its Gothic atmosphere, and its inside look at the psychology of a murderer. It has been adapted to film and television multiple times, most notably in 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock.
Unpacking the Unreliable Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”
When reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, it’s important to consider the narrator’s unreliable point of view. There are several examples throughout the story that suggests the narrator is not to be trusted.
For instance, the narrator says “I loved the old man.” But later in the story, after the old man’s death, the narrator says “his eye would trouble me no more.” It’s hard to believe that the narrator could love someone and then be so unaffected by their death. This discrepancy suggests that the narrator is either lying about their feelings or they are not in touch with reality.
Another example of the narrator’s unreliability is when they say “I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart.” The narrator claims to feel pity for the old man but then says they were laughing inside. This mixed emotional response could be a sign that the narrator is not as in control of their emotions as they claim to be.
These are just a few examples of how the narrator’s unreliable point of view affects the story. As you read, pay attention to other instances where the narrator’s perspective might be skewed.
The Gothic Atmosphere of “The Tell-Tale Heart”
The Gothic atmosphere of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is created through a combination of elements including setting, tone, and imagery. The setting is an old house which is described as being “filled with gloom and tragedy.” The tone is one of suspense and fear, which is heightened by the use of words like “dread,” “terror,” and “agony.” The imagery is also dark and foreboding, with descriptions of the “darkness” and the “evil eye.” These elements come together to create a feeling of dread and unease, which is typical of Gothic literature.
A Look into the Mind of a Murderer: What “The Tell-Tale Heart” Can Teach Us
The story is often cited as an example of Poe’s use of the unreliable narrator, a literary device in which the credibility of the narrator is questionable. The story has also been interpreted as an allegory for mental illness, specifically paranoia.
Poe was interested in mental illness and the workings of the human mind, and “The Tell-Tale Heart” is an exploration of the psychological effects of guilt. The narrator is driven to confess his crime because he can no longer stand the guilt he feels. The story highlights the importance of understanding mental illness and its effects on individuals.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” can teach us about the symptoms of mental illness and the importance of seeking help. The narrator experiences paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations, which are all symptoms of mental illness. The story also highlights the importance of getting help for mental illness. The narrator does not seek help for his condition and instead allows it to consume him.
The ending of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is shocking and unexpected. The narrator, who has been so calm and collected throughout the story, suddenly goes into a frenzy and confesses to the murder. The reader is left wondering what could have driven the narrator to such madness.
It is possible that the narrator’s guilt finally catches up with him and he can no longer keep up the pretense of being sane. Alternatively, the constant sound of the old man’s heartbeat may have driven him to madness. Whatever the reason, the ending of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is sure to leave readers feeling unsettled.