In January 1843, Edgar Allen Poe published a short story titled The Tell-Tale Heart, today it is known as one of the his greatest works. Born in 1809, Poe would become an accomplished writer in many areas of literature and is often credited with establishing detective fiction. His works included a varied array of forms, from poems to novels and he even enjoyed exploring the science of cryptology. After losing his biological mother at a young age, his adopted mother at the age of twenty and later his wife Virginia Clemm, many people believe this influenced Poe’s works.
Often featuring the death of a woman and other dark characteristics, many of his works were written in the gothic genre with deep undertones of death and romance. Despite this he was also a gifted author of humorous writings, with satire and hoaxes playing crucial roles in his stories. Poe also wrote science fiction novels including new technologies like hot air balloons, he even approached subjects like cosmology and origins of the universe. Although his works predate the earliest scientific thesis on our origins they are considered not works of science but works of art.Order now
Undoubtedly Poe’s varied experience in life and writing allowed for deep understanding of emotion and the English language. The story The Tell-Tale Heart exhibits great use of subtext, highlighting Poe’s ability to show extreme emotion using relatively few words. His subtle use of context, hidden meaning and wording that allow multiple interpretations enable the reader to read deeper into this story. As often with short stories there is often more unsaid than what is said, leaving the reader to immerse themselves into the story.
Poe’s imaginative use of irrational thought, fear, and guilt prove the heart and psyche can still turn against us even when we believe the action to be right. Exploring Poe’s creation of irrational thoughts in the characters, thoughts evoked not only in the lack of words Poe uses, this story being one of Poe’s shortest, but in the repetitive patterns of the few he does use. In the opening sentence of The Tell-Tale Heart the narrator is already reaffirming his own sanity in a manner of utterance that speaks volumes as to the truth of his instability.
Despite having no basis to do so the narrator automatically assumes that the reader will think him mad and his declaration is an endeavor to gain acceptance to the reader. “TRUE! NERVOUS, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? ” Throughout the rest of the story the narrator makes feeble attempts at proving his sanity to the reader, and given the story is being told in past tense, perhaps to himself as well. The basis of this story relies on the narrators irrational thoughts to lay a foundation for his actions later on in the story.
The narrator entertains another irrational thought when he tells of his disease that has made his senses sharper and now not only can he hear the heavens and the earth but he has also heard many things in hell. “The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. ” Despite this kind of hearing not being possible he goes on to establish another diluted thought about him hearing the old man’s heartbeat, believing it to be true.
He proceeds through the story and assures himself that the old man’s eye is evil and every time he looks into the glazed over, light blue colored eye it enrages him. Although the caretaker has nothing against the owner of the orb he believes it to be evil, so both must be killed despite no rational proof of his beliefs. Despite never admitting fear the narrator was almost undoubtedly afraid of the old man’s eye, considering it to be evil and dark origins. Poe makes excellent use of fear and highlights the emotions that can stem from allowing it to control the reader’s emotions.
When a person tells themselves they have nothing to fear sometimes they are convincing themselves more of that belief than a statement of fact. This is evidenced by a statement made by the narrator after the police begin to investigate a report, the question within implies doubt which is a precursor to fear itself. “I smiled, — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. ” After he murders the old man the narrator considers himself to be unafraid of being discovered due to the confidence he has in his work, believing himself to be safe from prosecution.
Growing so bold as to bring chairs for the police to rest themselves, the narrator then has the confidence to sit directly over the corpse hidden under the floor. As the police talk and discuss various subjects, his fear begins to unwind his confidence and shift it towards paranoia even hysteria. “They heard! — they suspected! — they KNEW! — they were making a mockery of my horror! ” Although the narrator believes the heart beat to be of the old man (and audible to the police) it is quite possible that he is hearing his own heartbeat due to anxiety.
Some might even feel that if the narrator was truly mad, his imagination might be responsible. This could be considered by some to be the driving motivation behind the narrator’s outburst of admission at the end of the story. Thinking that the police can hear the heartbeat he believes them to be mocking him, watching his emotion build into a panic eventually driving him to exclaim responsibility. Initially the narrator appears to lack any guilt for killing the old man, despite describing him favorably and the statement “I loved the old man. at the beginning of the story. His actions throughout the story seem to indicate he will not admit to himself that murder (which is never said but implied) is highly unmoral. In fact one could argue that the narrator viewed the act not as a murder but as self-defense or moral obligation hence his lack of guilt. Perhaps only in the final line of the story does the he make any admissions, even then it was only that of responsibility and not guilt. “Villains! ” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart! ” Even during this confession there is a lack of guilt as he only admits to the deed but does not express remorse, empathy or any emotions associated with feelings of guilt. Furthermore the use of the word deed, instead of murder, also implies his attitude towards the crime is still largely that of denial. Though the story is told in past tense the narrator does not reflect on the implications of his murder morally or emotionally.
This lends support to the idea the narrator truly was mad as opposed to homicidal, this would have been controversial however. Given the insanity defense’s questionable nature during the period when this story was written, this might have appealed to readers during the time when it was first published. The narrator’s vain attempt to prove his sanity to the reader may also be an attempt to prove his innocence within his own mind; he may believe that if he is sane the emotions he feels may be sane as well.
After being published in 1843 The Tell-Tale Heart would later become known as one of Edgar Allen Poe’s best works and is often considered a classic within the Gothic Fiction genre. Even after 170 years his story captures imaginations, his work transcending generations and eliciting emotions like only a truly gifted writer can. His life, full of tragedy and misfortune perhaps gave him one of his best qualities as a writer, the ability to convey deep emotions to the reader.
It is for this reason that Poe’s works are still published and read to this day, a testament to the caliber of his abilities. Although Poe died at a relatively young age, he is considered by many to be one of the great writers of his time, in part to works like The Tell-Tale Heart. The lack of detail allows us to form our own interpretations giving the story deeper meaning, thoughts about the story often lasting much longer than the story itself. This story eloquently contrasting on various levels, leaving out so many details, yet having the narrator describe certain events in perfect detail.
The narrator himself, a cold and calculating individual that acts on pure emotion, who when exposed allows his fear and imagination to over whelm him. These emotions, perhaps combined with deep seeded feelings of guilt, would eventually conspire to have him confess to the police in a fit of rage. Through the use of irrational thoughts, fear, and guilt Poe shows how the mind can unravel even the strongest beliefs, allowing the world to crash down around us, sometimes without us even having a clue why.