The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) Essay


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“The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)


Edgar Allen Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a story where an unnamed narrator confesses the murder of an old man. Poe has written many strange and complex short stories in his career, but The Tell-Tale Heart is the story that is very mysterious and psychologically interesting. Poe has shown real fascination towards death, madness and display of troubled human relationships. “The Tell-Tale Heart” assembles his entire culmination in this short story. The narrator of the story has clearly explained the death of the old man and its consequences, which remains the center of the narration.

The clarity of the narration itself makes the understanding of the narration very difficult and also questions that sanity and emotional stability of the anonymous narrator. The language used in the story, the subjectivism and the confusion between characters and readers have foreshadowed many recent works of fiction. This paper aims to provide a persuasive essay on the Edgar Allen Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart”, that how it has been a classic example of presenting an unreliable narrator.

Analysis of “The Tell-Tale Heart”

This story has been a classic example of Poe’s narration techniques. The plot of the story is about the murder of an old man, whose identity is not completely defined by the narrator. The narrator of the story is unnamed and unreliable. His unreliability could be understood from the beginning of the story. The narrator of the story tries to explain that he is not mad or insane. He wants to explain himself as completely sane person (Poe, 3). For clarifying himself he narrates a story and tries to show it as a proof of his sanity while accepting the deed of murder. Though, the narrator is completely aware of the fact that the explanation seems to display his insanity. He explains that reason behind his desire to kill the old man is just that he has blue eyes, which makes the narrator scared. He feels that his eyes are like that of vulture and thus he feels afraid. He explains to the readers that he is not made and had committed a crime with ‘foresight’ and ‘caution’ (Poe, 3). He explains his act of caution, by stating that before the murder he used to go to old man’s room every night, for a week. He cautiously threw the light of lantern on the eyes of the old man.

The uses of the words in the story are done very efficiently. In the story the narrator insists on explaining his sanity and for this purpose he changes the signs of his insanity with oversensitivity and tension (Robinson, 14). The main issues for the narrator are the old man’s eyes; he wanted to kill the old man so that his eyes might not see him again. He goes to the old man’s apartment every night for seven days, but he always found old man sleeping. For the narrator, the problem was the eyes and not the man, so he could not kill him if the eyes are not open (Poe, 4). This is the display of conflict in the story. The story has been heightened by the excess details, in order to show the murderer’s obsession for killing. Such details include the eyes of old man, the heart beats and his claim to prove himself sane. The efficient use of words has greatly contributed to the content of the story and thus association of proper form of words and language demonstrates paranoia in the story. The story highly displays paranoia, which clarifies the complex psychological complication of the narrator. For example, in the first sentence of the story narrator agrees to the fact that he is very nervous, yet he himself is unable to understand that why he should be considered mad. The narrator in the story “The Tell-Tale Heart” states that his hypersensitivity is the evidence of his sanity and not as the symptom of mental illness.

With the great writing skills, Poe has been successful in explaining the tale in a complete and precise manner. Another major contradiction in the story is that it grips over the tension over the narrator’s abilities to hate and love (Gargano, 378). Poe has discovered a psychological mystery, which wants to explain that people usually harm those, whom they love. This irony was explained by Edgar Allen Poe, half a century before Sigmund Freud provided his theory of human mind and development (Robinson, 370). The plot is contradictory with love, as initially the narrator loves the old man and has no vengeance against him. The motives that could lead to such dreadful act are dismissed by the narrator. To prove his sanity, he only concentrates on the old man’s eyes to justify his act. The narrator perversely imagines that ‘eyes’ are not the part of old man and he want to separate him from his ‘evil eyes’. The emotional instability of the narrator provides counterargument to his declaration of correct judgment (Shen, 322). At almost all the places, he never responds the way as one is expected to do, which is a proof of his madness.


“The Tell-Tale Heart” is the story written by Edgar Allen Poe. From the very beginning of the story, the narrator wants to convince the readers that he is completely sane and has no signs of madness. He wants to kill an old man, whom the narrator does not have any hatred, but his evil eyes disturbs him. The irony in the story is that though the narrator proclaims himself to be calm and sane, still he is defeated by the sound of his own heart beat. Due to the fact that narrator is unreliable, it is not possible to understand that beating sound was just his imagination, a supernatural outcome or was there any actual sound. Logically it could be said that when the protagonist of the story was under pressure and stress, his heart started beating faster and he could hear the sound of his own heart. In order to form a convincing narrative, that the protagonist is mentally instable, Poe has used the convincing and ironic vocabulary. This situation is harsh on the narrator who has different desires.

The use of symbolic language by Poe is to manipulate the expression, which words are suggesting. The manner of describing the sound has become a vital element in "The Tell-Tale Heart." The repeated description of sound in the last few paragraphs is done in order to create more tension and firmly involve the crescendo of sound. The intensity of the beating is emphasized by the repetitions. At the end, the sound is increasing and getting louder till the time, the protagonist is not able to take it. In the whole narration, the protagonist is not aware of what the sound is till the end, where he discovers that sound is beating of heart. Thus, it is well explained that narrator of the story is an unreliable person, who fails to explain the objective truth of the occurrences.

Works Cited

Gargano, James W. "The Theme of Time in" The Tell-Tale Heart"." Studies in Short Fiction 5.4 (1968): 378.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The tell-tale heart. Bantam Classics, 2004.

Robinson, E. Arthur. "Poe's" The Tell-Tale Heart"." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 19.4 (1965): 369-378.

Robinson, E. Arthur. "Thoreau and the Deathwatch in Poe's “the Tell?€ђTale Heart”." Poe Studies?€ђOld Series 4.1 (1971): 14-16.

Shen, Dan. "Edgar Allan Poe's Aesthetic Theory, the Insanity Debate, and the Ethically Oriented Dynamics of ““The Tell-Tale Heart””." Nineteenth-Century Literature 63.3 (2008): 321-345.

Womack, Martha. “Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"”.

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