Tell-Tale Heart Essay
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Edgar Allan Poe, whose personal torment so powerfully informed his visionary prose and poetry, is a towering figure in the history of American literature. A Virginia gentleman and the son of itinerant actors, the heir to great fortune and a disinherited outcast, a university man who had failed to graduate, a soldier brought out of the army, a husband with an unapproachable child-bride, a brilliant editor and low salaried hack, a world renowned but impoverish author, a temperate man and uncontrollable alcoholic, a materialist who yearned for a final union with God. His fevered imagination brought him to great heights of creativity and the depths of paranoiac despair. Yet although he produced a relatively small volume of work, he virtually invented the horror and detective genres and his literary legacy endures to this day.
In the Tell Tale Heart the main character, the narrator, has a problem with an old man, the antagonist, whom he is living with. The odd thing is that the problem has nothing to do with old man, how he acts, or even his attitude towards the narrator. It is simply one of the old man's eyes which is blind or he can't see a hundred percent in one eye. The narrator's description of the eye is that it resembled that of a vulture, pale blue with a film over it. When the narrator looked at it, it caused his blood to run cold. This drove him crazy and caused him to kill the old man
He begins to believe that he is hearing the old man's heart beating, while he was killing him and after he is dead. The pounding becomes louder and louder, and drives him crazy. It forces him to tell the police officers, who are searching his house, that he killed the old man and showed them were the body is buried, which is the most ironic and the last thing you would think to happen. The irony comes into play when his heightened sense of hearing and sober madness is the cause of his downfall. How ironic, the same craze that led him to kill the man is the same craze that led him to his demise.
The story takes place in a house around the turn of the 1800, probably in the northeastern part of the United States, and covers the period of one week and the relentless pursuit of perfect preparation the narrator went through to commit murder without getting caught. The story involves an old man, the antagonist, the police, and the protagonist, who is also the narrator, and tells the story from his point of view. On the other hand we have no idea of the relationship between the antagonist, the old man and the narrator, but what is told to us by the narrator. One tends to wander if they were related or was he simply a servant for hire and therefore cared for the old man. The narrator has left a lot to our imagination on the relationship of the characters.
His insanity has made him a very paranoid man, he believes that everyone is trying to make a full of him, even thought he believed he carried out a perfect murder. He bragged about his preparation, and thought that the old suspected nothing of his plain of terror and mayhem. The narrator who is aware of what is it to be mad, but cannot bring himself to believe that he himself is insane. He believes that since he is able to recollect and present every detail of the events that took place proves that he is not insane. He believes that he is sane because of the manner in which he carried out the crime of murder.
His reason for wanting the old man dead is without motive. "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire" the narrator thinks that he has no clear motive and that he loves the old man. The truth in the matter is that he knows he cannot bring himself to admit to the point that only a mad man would kill someone just because of the way their eyes looked. " It was not the old man who vexed me, but his evil eye." He tries to explain his reason without implicating himself. The narrator makes us aware of his illness by presenting us with the fact that his sense of hearing is acute. " I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth." Who in their right mind have the hearing capability to hear sounds in heaven or hell to further prove a point of insanity? One must also asked oneself, who in their right mind would go through such a process to kill some old man, just because of an old eye? By telling the story in such detail, the narrator proves himself mad.
The title of the story in itself presents a puzzle with its title. Which heart was the author referring to? He first hears the old man"s heart in the room on the night of the murder. But the heart in question belongs to the narrator. Due to his heightened sense of hearing and the police refusal to leave his fear of being caught increases his heartbeat. As the sound grew louder and louder, he became uneven and suspected that the officer heard the sound and decided to neglect it, because they were making a mockery of his horror. To him anything was better than going through with the agony and pain of the pounding hear beat. So in the end his conscience led him to admit to his crime.
The story tries to tell many stories, but the one point that I gathered from the story is that one should not hate or dislike someone simply for the way they look. I sometimes asked myself why do racism exists and the story paints a clear picture of the insanity that goes on in the minds of racist individuals. Simply wanting to kill a fellow human being, just because of the way they look is insane no matter how people try to rationalize it.
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There are two physical settings in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”: the house the narrator shares with the old man where the murder takes place and the location from which the narrator tells his story, presumably a prison or an asylum for the criminally insane. However, the most important setting for the story is within the obsessed mind of the narrator. The old man is hardly more than the evil eye that so infuriates the narrator, the source of his mysterious obsession.
The central question on which the story depends is, why does the narrator kill the old man? He says he has no personal animosity toward him, that he does not want his money, that the old man has not injured him in any way. In fact, he says he loves the old man. The only reason he can give is the evilness of the old man’s eye. Although some critics have suggested that the eye is the “evil eye” of superstition, which the narrator feels threatens him, there is no way to understand his motivation except to say the narrator must be mad. Still, the reader feels compelled to try to understand the method and meaning of the madness. For Poe, there is no meaningless madness in a short story.
The key to understanding the mysterious motivation in the story is Poe’s concept of a central idea or effect around which everything else coheres, like an obsession that can be identified on the principle of repetition. Thus, if the reader is alert to repetitions in the story, these repeated themes become the clues to the mystery. Determining motifs foregrounded by repetition helps the reader distinguish between details that are relevant to the central theme and those that merely provide an illusion of reality. Poe, the creator of the detective story, was well aware of the importance of discovering all those details that matter in a case and then constructing a theory based on their relationship to each other
To understand what the eye means in the story, the reader must take Poe’s advice in his essays and reviews on short fiction and determine how all the various details in the story seem bound together to create one unified theme and effect. In addition to the details about the eye, there are two other sets of details repeated throughout the story: the narrator’s identification with the old man and the idea of time. When the narrator sticks his head in the old man’s chamber at night and hears him groan, he says he knows what he is feeling, for he himself has felt the same terror many times himself. At the moment the narrator kills the old man, as well as the moment when he confesses the crime, he thinks he hears the beating of the old man’s heart; however, of course, what he hears is the beating of his own heart. When the police question him about the old man’s scream in the night, he says it was his own in a bad dream.
The narrator makes several references to time. The beating of the old man’s heart sounds like the ticking of a watch wrapped in cotton; the old man is said to listen to death watches (a kind of beetle that makes a ticking sound) in the wall; time seems to slow down and almost stop when he sticks his head in the old man’s chamber. To understand this obsession with time and its association with the beating of a heart, the reader must relate it to the title and ask, what tale does a heart tell? The answer is that the tale every heart tells is that of time—time inevitably passing, every beat of one’s heart bringing one closer to death. As in many other Poe stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart” suggests that when one becomes aware of the ultimate destiny of all living things—that humans are born only to die—time becomes the enemy that must be defeated at all costs.
By connecting the repeated theme of the narrator’s identification with the old man to the obsession with the eye, the reader can conclude that what the narrator wishes to destroy is not the eye but that which sounds like “eye” (after all, he says that his sense of sound especially has been heightened). That is, the word “eye” sounds like the word “I,” the self. This connection relates in turn to the theme of time. The only way one can escape the inevitability of time is to destroy that which time would destroy—the self. However, to save the self from time by destroying the self is a paradox that the narrator can only deal with by displacing his need to destroy himself (the I) to a need to destroy the eye of the old man. By destroying the old man’s eye, the narrator indirectly does succeed in destroying himself—ultimately by exposing himself as a murderer. Of course, one could say, this is madness; indeed it is. However, it is madness and motivation with meaning, a meaning that Poe wishes us to discover by careful reading of the story.
One of Poe’s major contributions to the development of the short story was his conception of plot not merely as a series of events, one thing after another, but as the calculated organization of all those details in the story that relate to and revolve around a central theme. It is no wonder that his own obsession with this aesthetic principle would lead him to create that great “reader” of hidden plot or pattern, Auguste Dupin, who would later become the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective Sherlock Holmes. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is indeed a murder mystery in which the narrator concocts a plot to kill the old man. However, the real plot of the story is Poe’s elaborate pattern of psychological obsession and displacement, as one man tries to accomplish what all human beings wish to do—defeat the ticking of the clock that marks one’s inevitable movement toward death.