Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 short story “The Tell-Tale Heart “ illustrates the dangers of insanity and how it has an upper hand in the lives of individuals who suffer from it through his speech, behavior and thoughts. How would on best define insanity?
The oxford dictionary states that insanity is similar to mental illness, the state of being seriously mentally ill, Madness. One may agree that that definition does not define the term at best. Psychology today defines it as follows, ‘Insanity is a mental illness of such a severe mature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct his/her affairs due to psychosis or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behaviour.
Throughout the entirety of the story, the narrator is extremely contradictory in both is mental state and overall demeanour. Edgar Allan Poe once said,”I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity “ and this quote further explains the madman’s extreme contradictory mental state and behaviour. To the madman, the disease appears to be more of a positive element in his life than a negative one.
“ The disease had sharpened my senses -not destroyed-not dulled them. All above all was the sense of hearing acute. He speaks so positively about the illness he however does not realize what the term disease brings along. It has a negative connotation to it, something being deadly and it therefore essentially undermines his senses. He continues to contradict the positivity of the disease through speaking of how he happens to have heard all things in the heavens and earth as well as many things in hell.
The madman is best described as a man who cannot b+ e trusted to tell the objective truth of what is occurring. This is because he cannot maintain the distance between reality and his inner thoughts, he makes his mental agitation for physical agitation and misinterprets the innocent chatter of the police for malevolence. He allowed his thoughts to overrule what had been happening in reality,” I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling; but it continued and gained definiteness -until at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears”.
Due to the unreliability of the narrator, it is impossible to know for certain if the ringing is a supernatural effect, the product of his own imagination, or an actual sound. The narrator is dealing with guilt from the murder and he has not come to terms with that. The guilt has his emotions so troubled that it is having a physical effect on his own heart. He may not know this however his guilt and insanity has led him to admitting to the crime of murdering the old man and ultimately resulting in him needing to suffer the consequences to it.
The narrators emotional instability provides a clear counterargument to his assertions of good judgement. In the beginning of the short story before the crime is committed the madman posses a question to the reader and that is “True!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad.
The use of multiple commas in this quote in this quote symbolise a pause in thought, uncertainty and how in the process of telling us the story, the madman is as well attempting to convince himself that he indeed is not mad. His internal insanity leads to him physically acting upon it. Throughout the entirety of the short story the narrator uses literary devices to further justify why one may come to the conclusion that the narrator may be insane.
The madman may not want to succumb to it but he does posses the characteristics of an insane individual. He cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct his affairs due to psychosis and is subject to uncontrollable behaviour. Therefore in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” the dangers of insanity and how it has an upper hand in the life of the madman are reflected through his behaviour, speech and thoughts.