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Tell-Tale Heart Essay, Research Paper

“The Tell-Tale Heart”

In Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” we question the sanity of the narrator almost immediately, but we cannot prove either way whether or not he is insane. I have read a lot of Poe’s work although not all of it. His mysterious style of writing greatly appeals to me. Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and the hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives. I believe, for the most part, that this is done through his use of setting and his narrative style. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the setting was used to portray a dark and gloomy picture of an old house lit only with lantern light with a possible madman lurking inside. I think this was done immediately and deliberately so that the reader could make an instant connection between darkness and impending doom. “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness.” Poe is able to sustain an atmosphere, which is chillingly dark and sinister. This is one of the tricks that are largely derived from the tradition of the Gothic tale. The entire setting in the story provides us with the feeling of melancholy and sense of impending doom, death, or disaster.

The way that Poe’s work is narrated is also an element in Poe’s short story style that appears in a similar manner throughout his stories. He has a type of creativity, which lets the reader see into the mind of the narrator or main character of the story. In the case of The Tell-Tale Heart the narrator and main character are one and the same. Many of the characters in Poe’s stories seem to be insane. The narrator often seems to have some type of psychological problems. In The Tell-Tale Heart the story opens with the narrator saying; “True-Nervous-Very, Very Dreadfully Nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad?” Yet the irony is, had not the narrator immediately assumed that he had to defend himself against us thinking that he is mad, that in itself promoted the very idea to the reader, that he is mad! Without that initial statement, why would we think him mad? Then he says; “Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing.” How does he know that madmen know nothing? I wrote in my own journal once; “Insanity is not madness. Sanity is madness, if one can distinguish the difference between sanity and insanity, does that not then make you sane?” So then, if the narrator questions our thoughts on his sanity, he must then know the difference or that there is a difference between sanity and insanity, does that not then create some question as to his own sanity? I think from the very beginning he questioned his own sanity to himself thereby creating the question of insanity to the reader! Isn’t that insane? (ha ha) But was he insane? Insane is defined in Webster’s New Concise Dictionary as: “Not Sane; mentally deranged or unsound. Set apart for demented persons. Not Whole.” OK, well we still cannot prove that he was or was not insane. Was he a psychopath? Some would say yes, most definitely. But what is a psychopath? Psychopaths have a character type that enables them to pursue pleasure with indifference to the suffering they cause others. Psychopaths are completely lacking such virtues as benevolence and compassion. In this story, the narrator says; “I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult.” He loved the old man. He knew the word love, and love is a compassionate word. “He had never wronged me.” That statement shows that he recognized the realm of right and wrong. “He had never given me insult.” This statement refers to morals and ethics. Does he qualify as a psychopath? I would argue no.

He was, however, very meticulously methodical. “Every night about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it – - oh, so gently! I moved it slowly – very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old mans sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening.” He does this for eight nights before killing the old man. To portray the methodicalness of a madman is not the work of a madman, but of a man who understands what it is to be mad. Are you considered mad because you understand what it is to be mad? Good question, No? After he killed the old man, he methodically dismembered him and buried the parts beneath the floorboards. His methodicalness in doing so seems very “detached.” By that, I mean he seemed to be outside of himself in order to complete his mission in what seemed to be steps that were quite easy for him to accomplish. When the police came to question him, he was initially fine. Easy going. No problem. No sweat. But then! What sound was that? A beating of a heart? He hears the beating of a heart growing louder and Louder and LOUDER! OH MY! He confesses! The methodical “detached” killer is unwillingly outwitted by the sound of a beating heart that is detached! The man “detaches” himself from the task of dismembering the body, and the heart that gives him away was “detached” from its body, and the “detachment” of both is the end of the tale! How ironic! How positively Poe!

I heard a quote on Poe once and wrote it down as I liked it so much, but I failed to get the author’s name. In it he said; “He has created a universe, given it psychological laws without denying the existence of the moral law, and peopled it with characters appropriate to such a universe. Putting overt mortality out of bounds helps to give him uniqueness. Even though Poe is often looked upon as a gifted psychopath who is describing with consummate artistry his personal instabilities and abnormalities, the fact remains that his superiority is more than a matter of art. There is a violent realism in his macabre writings unequaled by the Americans who worked in the same genre.”

Although I could neither prove or disprove the sanity of the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, it was fun to point out a few things in a different manner, from a different standpoint. All in all though, I could have done better with this paper, but I don’t know how, that is why I am here, to learn how.

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