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The Underlying Madness In Poe Essay, Research Paper
The Underlying Madness in Poe s The Tell Tale Heart
The TellTale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe begins with a man attempting to prove his sanity. In all actuality this attempt reveals his madness: True! Nervous, very very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? (Poe 132) This story shows Poe s underlying desires to kill, his true madness, and thoughts of revenge.
To understand the true madness behind The Tell Tale Heart you must first understand the life of Edgar Allan Poe. He was born on January 19th 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Poe s parents were David Poe, an actor and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, an actress. Poe was cursed upon birth. Shortly after his birth his father abandoned the family and left Poe and his mother to fend for themselves. Not long after that, the cruel hands of fate struck Poe again by claiming his mother. In 1911, when Poe was a mere two-year-old his mother passed away, leaving him with his second loss of a loved one. After his father s disappearance and his mother s death Poe was sent to live with his godfather, John Allan. John Allan was a wealthy merchant based in Richmond, Virginia. He was wealthy and could provide a good life for Poe. In 1815, Poe and his new family moved to England to provide Poe with an education. They returned from England in 1826 and Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. Here Poe was involved in immoral acts of gambling and drinking. He developed gambling debts, which caused friction between him and his father. After eleven months at the University, Poe dropped out due to his debts, but mostly for John Allan s refusal to pay for them. When he returned home he was invited to a party being thrown by his sweetheart before college, Sarah Elmira Royster. While at the party he realized it was her engagement party, this was a blow to Poe s heart. After he and his father had their quarrel over Poe s gambling addiction, he joined the army under the alias of Edgar Allan Perry. In 1829, Poe was honorably discharged. A year later, John Allan scheduled an appointment for Poe with the West Point U.S. Military Academy. Poe was there for a year when he was dismissed from West Point. It was after his military career when Poe started to become a successful writer of poetry and short stories. He moved to Richmond to become an editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe was marred to his cousin Virginia Clemm. Poe was fired from his job; his chronic alcoholism caused problems. In 1844 he moved to New York, where Virginia died. This was the most significant set back to Edgar Allan Poe, this incident lead to most of his feeling of isolation it made him feel as though anyone he would become close to would die. Poe had many romances and became engaged to Elmira Royster, but died before they could marry.
Poe s life was filled with fear irrationality, alcoholism, and little self-control. Poe s insanity is demonstrated in The Tell Tale Heart. The story begins with a young man trying to prove his sanity by describing his insane act of killing an old man. He describes every detail of the murder and claims that he not crazy because of his cleverness. The young man is obsessed with the old man s eye. This obsession causes a conflict between the protagonist and his sanity. This eye eventually drove him to commit murder to rid the eye. It is not the old man that the young man is obsessed with, it is the old man s one eye, 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! one of his eyes resembled that of a vulture–a pale blue with a film over it. (Poe 132) He claims that the eye has a look of evilness. The narrator states that he is not mad or crazy because he cleverly plotted the murder. Every night for seven nights he would cautiously sneak into the old man s room while he was sleeping and stare at the eye. Although he would always find the eye closed he would still stare. It was hard for him to overcome this obsession. This continued for seven nights straight, but on the eighth night the obsession would become a killer. On the eighth night the narrator, full of confidence, would enter the room and awaken the old man. At this point the old man s eyes open and the protagonist sees the evil eye. The narrator s obsession is becoming more furious. Then, already furious the protagonist hears a heartbeat. It was a sound that, a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. (Poe 137) This was the old man s heartbeat and it increased the protagonist s fury. Now the narrator is full of fury. He also had an uncontrollable feeing of triumph and power. The narrator under all this confidence, triumph and fury, barged in to the room. Scaring the old man, the young man then pushed him to the floor and pulled the bed over him. The deed was then done; the evil eye would no longer trouble the young man. Then the young man cut off the arms and legs of the body and placed the pieces between the scantlings in the chamber floor. He thinks that he has it all plotted out and now he can continue on with his life with out the bother of his obsession. Then there is a knock on the door. It was the police; they had received a report of a scream. The young man had expected this, so he calmly and confidently searched the house with the officers. They fail to find anything suspicious. After the search, the officers have a seat and chat with the young man. While chatting and wanting the officers to leave, the sound appears again, the pounding heart. The sound of a watch enveloped in cotton, (Poe 137) had grown loud and clear. This greatly annoyed the narrator and also built up his fury. Frustrated and angered the young man grew pale. His confidence was on a complete breakdown. He was thinking that the officers had known and now they were mocking him. This drew him closer to his insanity. Being able to take it no longer he confesses the deed. The young man had lost his struggle with sanity. The obsession would haunt him forever. Although the eye had been destroyed, the guilt in the young man s mind will keep the image in his mind to disturb him. He is clearly insane but he himself still claims that, what you mistake for madness but over acuteness of the senses? (Poe 134)
When reading this story one is really reading Poe s autobiography. The story tells of his life full of battles dealing with self-control and sanity. The young man in the story is much like Poe. He is very intelligent in his ways, yet is insane. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved slowly, very very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head in the opening so far that I could see him lay upon his bed. (Poe 133) . The man experiences problems with self-control, as did Poe with his alcoholism Villains! I shrieked, dissemble no more! I admit the deed–tear up the planks–here, here!–it is the beating of his hideous heart! (Poe 137) The narrator believes that the officers are mocking him. I believe Poe also believed that people were mocking him this would explain his isolation from the public. The story is very captivating because Poe was able to make it true-to-life. In life Poe paid attention to every detail, as did the young man in the story. His personal torment was so powerful that it would have been nearly impossible for him to write and not include his deep dark secrets and wishes. I think that this story is great proof of Poe s real intentions of revenge on all of those who caused him pain. Deep down Edgar Allan Poe had intions to kill. If he were to full fill these thoughts it would have turned out much like this story. He would carefully plot the murder right down to the very last smilingly insignificant detail. Then he would commit the murder in the exact way he had planned. Only to be un able to keep it a secret, his conscious and problems with self control would lead to him confessing his crime. Edgar Allan Poe was a mad man who died before he could act out his dreams. It just so happens that he did live long enough to write many stories that revealed his true thoughts, wishes, and dreams including The Tell Tale Heart.
Bloom, Harold ed. Classic Horror Writers. New York, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994
Gallery Books. The 1,000 page Treasury of Children s Stories. New York, New York. Gallery Books, 1987
Howard William L. ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe s Tales. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1971
Phillps, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe The Man. Chicago. Philadephia. Toronto: The John C. Winston CO, 1962
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