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In Edgar Allan Poe?s short-story, ?The Tell-Tale Heart,? the speaker of the story
tries to convince the reader that he is not mad. But by the speaker telling the story as he
does, he answers his own question that he asks the reader at the start of the story, ?…why
will you say I am mad?? ( Introduction to Literature, page 415). He attempts to tell his
story in a calm manner, but as he describes various parts, he begins ranting with a great
level of passion.
The speaker pays particular attention to emphasize specific parts of his story. He
is sure to highlight that he is simply nervous, and that he could not possibly be mad
because as he says, ?the disease had sharpened my senses? (415). Rather the disease, as
he refers to his madness, only allowed him to hear more clearly those sounds of his
imagination, to see what his mind wanted him to see. He kills the old man because the
old man had an evil eye of that of a vulture which would make the speaker?s blood run
cold when he was looked upon. He even says he loved the old man, never does the
speaker refer to him as anything else, but because of how the old man?s eye looked the
speaker needed to destroy it. This is the start of the speaker?s madness, and as the reader
listens to what the speaker says, the madness within the speaker becomes apparent.
For eight nights in a row, the speaker went to the old man?s chamber and cast a
shred of light upon his eye that the speaker so hated. For seven nights, it was always
shut, and the speaker could do nothing because it was only the eye that he hated. On the
eighth, the speaker makes some noise accidentally, and as a result when he finally shines
the light upon the eye it is open for the speaker to see. At this point the level of the
speaker?s madness heightens greatly, with his ears hearing ?the beating of the old man?s
heart? (417). Every moment this sound grows louder and faster, pounding in the
speaker?s ear like that of a drum and thus fueling his fury. Was it really the old man?s
heart though? Even after the speaker kills the old man, he still hears the heart slowly
pounding and then finally stopping. Was it the old man?s heart, or rather was the speaker
hearing his own heart beat in his ears? As the speakers rage and excitement grew, so did
the sound. It did not go away until after the speaker slowly calmed down, his deed of
death being finished. The speaker answers this question very quickly for the reader.
The speaker goes to great lengths to conceal the act he has committed. He first
dismembers the body, being sure to collect all the blood in a tub so that there are no
blood stains anywhere within the house. The speaker tells the reader that he cannot be
mad because he describes ?the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the
body?(417). After cutting off the head and limbs, the speaker puts the body underneath a
few planks of wood, replacing the planks so that it is not noticeable that there has been
any change. Here again, the reader emphasizes his hatred of the old man?s eye, saying
that not even his eye could detect the change. It is at this point in the story that the
speaker is confronted by three police officers.
Fearing nothing and trusting to his skills of hiding the body, the speaker invites
the police officers into the house. Sitting and talking in the very room the body is
hidden, the speaker once again shows the reader his madness. Throughout most of the
story the speaker keeps his description calm except for a few parts. At this part, the
speaker losses all control over his emotions that he once had. He believes he hears the
old man?s heart beating louder and louder and that the police officers ?they heard!- they
suspected!- they knew!- they were making a mockery of my horror!?(418). Once again,
the speaker is hearing not the old man?s heart, but his own beating faster and louder with
fear. Resorting to ranting mindlessly as the speaker describes the situation to the reader,
the speaker no longer seems concerned with if the reader believes that he is sane or not.
Describing the situation seems to fill the speaker with the same fear, as he hears the
sound again in his ears. Finally the reader can do nothing but break down and confess to
his deed of death he has committed upon the old man.
Though the speaker begs for sanity, it is obvious he has gone mad. Hearing his
own heart and believing it is that of the old man, and killing the old man simply because
he had the eye of a vulture is the physical proof. With the passion he speaks of the act,
the reader can see that this is not the voice of a sane man speaking, but of a man gone
mad and begging that he has held onto his sanity.
Poe, Edgar Allan, ?The Tell-Tale Heart.? Introduction to Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Gillian
Thomas, Richard J.H. Perkyns, Kenneth A. MacKinnon, and Wendy R. Katz.
Toronto:Harcourt Brace, 1995. 415-418.
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