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Reference PaperThe Tell-Tale Heartby: Edgar Allen Poe SettingThe story covers a period of approximately eight days with most of the important action occurring each night around midnight. The location is the home of an elderly man in which the narrator has become a caretaker. CharactersThis story contains a nameless narrator, an old man and the police who enter near the end of the story after the mention, that they were called by a neighbor whose suspicions had been aroused upon hearing a scream in the night. The protagonist or narrator becomes the true focus of the tale. This narrator may be male or female because Poe uses only “I” and “me” in reference to this character. Most readers assume that the narrator is a male because of a male author using a first person point of view; however, this story can also be plausible when the deranged protagonist appears as a woman. Most critics would argue this point by saying that Poe would “assume” that the reader would “know” that the protagonist was male, therefore, he would see no need to identify his sexless narrator. However, Poe was a perfectionist who left very little to guesswork. Could it be that this was no accident or something that he thought would be universally understood, but that Poe was creating a story whose impact could be changed simply by imagining this horrendous and vile deed being committed by a woman? Point of ViewPoe writes this story from the perspective of the murderer of the old man. When an author creates a situation where the protagonist tells a personal account, the overall impact of the story is heightened. The narrator, in this particular story, adds to the overall effect of horror by continually stressing to the reader that he or she is not mad, and tries to convince us of that fact by how carefully this brutal crime was planned and executed. Style and InterpretationPoe’s story is a case of domestic violence that occurs as the result of an irrational fear. To the narrator that fear is represented by the old man’s eye. Through the narrator, Poe describes this eye as being pale blue with a film over it, and resembling that of a vulture. Does the narrator have any reason to fear the old man or his eye? Is it this phobia that evokes the dark side, and eventually drives the narrator to madness? Or could Poe be referring to a belief whose origins could be traced back to Greece and Rome? The belief in the evil eye dates back to ancient times, and even today, is fairly common in India and the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. References are made to it in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu faiths. The belief centers on the idea that those who possess the evil eye have the power to harm people or their possessions by merely looking at them. Wherever this belief exists, it is common to assign the evil eye as the cause of unexplainable illnesses and misfortunes of any kind.

To protect oneself from the power of the eye, certain measures can be taken. In Muslim areas, the color blue is painted on the shutters of the houses, and found on beads worn by both children and animals. There is also a specific hand gesture named the “Hand of Fatima,” named after the daughter of Mohammed. This name is also given to an amulet in the shape of hand that is worn around the neck for protection. In some locations, certain phrases, such as ” as God will” or “God bless it” are uttered to protect the individual from harm. In extreme cases, the eye, whether voluntarily or not, must be destroyed. One Slavic folktale relates the story of the father who blinded himself for fear of harming his own children with his evil eye. Would Poe have had knowledge of this rather strange belief? It is altogether possible that he would have, which creates another interesting twist to this story. Maybe the narrator, who tries to convince us that madness is not really the issue, is telling the truth. Maybe this vile act is necessary in order to destroy the power of the old man’s evil eye! ThemeHuman nature is a delicate balance of light and dark or good and evil. Most of the time this precarious balance is maintained; however, when there is a shift, for whatever reason, the dark or perverse side surfaces. How and why this “dark side” emerges differs from person to person. What may push one individual “over the edge” will only cause a raised eyebrow in another. In this case, it is the “vulture eye” of the old man that makes the narrator’s blood run cold. It is this irrational fear which evokes the dark side, and eventually leads to murder. The narrator plans, executes and conceals the crime; however, ” what has been hidden within the self will not stay concealed….” (Silverman 208) The narrator speaks of an illness that has heightened the senses: “Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.” The narrator repeatedly insists that he (she) is not mad; however the reader soon realizes that the fear of the vulture eye has consumed the narrator, who has now become a victim to the madness which he had hoped to elude.

 Bourguignon, Erika. “Evil eye.” The Americana Encyclopedia. 1993 edition.  Counterpoint in Literature. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1976.  Levine, Stuart and Susan, editors. The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Edition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.  Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.

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