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The Dark Side of Human Kind in The Tell-Tale Heart, a Short Story by Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe is a writer who often shows anxiety, unrequited love, and an escape into the imaginary world. Though Poe believes that poetry can elevate us more effectively than fiction, he has written some short stories too. “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of the most effective parables ever conceived. Some of its fantastic detail like the old man’s vulture-like eye and the long-drawn-out detail concerning the slow entrance into his victim’s room stand as an unforgettable record of the voice of a guilty conscience. Poe believes that a single effect is a necessary ingredient for good writing and thus, he naturally prefers short works. Poe also believes that that all good literature must create a unity of effect on the reader and this effect must reveal truth or evoke emotions.

Poe’s writing often sought to capture the state of mind of psychotic characters, and the narrator of this story exhibits leaps of reasoning that more resemble the logic of dreams than they do the thought processes of a normal human being. According to Poe, death is the perfect subject because it evokes the strongest emotion. Some of the characteristics that Poe’s writing includes are: a first person narrator, who is always male, usually obsessed and sensitive, isolated setting, remote and, the night time or in darkness. In his writings, he always uses themes like: disintegration of self, search of supernal beauty, death of the metamorphosis and revenge. “The Tell-Tale Heart'” is simultaneously a horror story and psychological thriller where a reader can analyze the actual situation minutely. It is admired as an excellent example of how a short story can produce an effect on the reader. “The Tell-Tale Heart” exemplifies Poe’s ability to expose the dark side of humankind. The Tell Tale Heart is a story, on the most basic level, of conflict. There is a mental conflict within the narrator himself. Through obvious clues and statements, Poe alerts the reader to the mental state of the narrator, which is insanity. The insanity is described as an obsession with the old man’s eye, which in turn leads to loss of control and eventually results in violence.

In this story, there are only two primary characters; nameless narrator and the old man. The police and the neighbors are the secondary characters. The story basically opens by addressing the reader that the narrator is nervous but not mad. He claims that he is going to tell a story to defend himself and his sanity but ends up confessing to having killed the old man. The narrator’s motivation was not related to money nor it was for passion but it was only because of the narrator’s fear from the old man’s pale blue eyes. The story explains that the narrator does not hate the old man that he is about to kill. In fact he even says that he loves him and that he has always been nice to him. The narrator claimed he was not crazy because of his slow and measured action. He also claims that even though his actions were criminal it was not of a madman. Every night, he went to the old man’s apartment and secretly observed the man sleeping. In the morning, he would behave as if everything were normal. The narrator did not seem to hate the old man at all nor did him have any problems with him but the only thing he disliked was the old man’s eyes.

After thinking about it fora long time, the narrator finally decides to kill the old man. As he cannot go kill the old man in the day time, he plans to murder him at midnight. He cautiously goes to the old man’s room at night carrying a lanterm in his hand and without making any noise. He then slightly opens the door just enough to peak his head inside the room. When the ray of light from the lantem hits the old man’s eye he closes them and thus he cannot kill him. After a week of this activity, the narrator decides, somewhat randomly, that the time is right actually to kill the old man. When the narrator arrives late on the eighth night, though, the old man wakes up and cries out. The narrator remains still, stalking the old man as he sits awake and frightened. The narrator could sense the old man’s fear. Very soon the narrator hears a dull pounding noise which he interprets is the old man’s heart beat.

Fearing that the neighbors might hear the pounding heartbeats as well, he quickly attacks and kills the old man. The narrator then divides the body and hides the pieces below the flat board in the bedroom. He then carefully cleans the floor leaving not even a drop of blood. By the time he was done cleaning it was already four o’ clock. The same time he hears a knock on the street door, and there the police were. The neighbors had heard the old man’s shriek and called upon the police. The narrator acted careful enough to chat in a normal tone and appear as if nothing was wrong. Furthermore, he shows them all the corners and each chambers of the house. Officers become pleased and convinced with the narrator. Then, narrator being over confident offers the officers chairs to sit on, in the same room where he dumped the old man’s dead body. They talk for a while and the narrator smiles and talk nicely but after a while, he hearsS some kind of noise buzzing in his ear as if it was the noise made by the clock in a sealed envelope. The noise becomes louder and louder, but the narrator kept talking to the officers nicely as if nothing had happened. After a while, the narrator could not tolerate the noise. He thinks it’s the old man’s heart beating and he gets scared. Finally, he confesses that he killed the old man because he thinks that officers could hear the noise as well. He shows the officers the old man’s body which he cut into pieces and dumped beneath the floor and the old man’s heart is pounding beneath that floor.

“Tell-Tale Heart” is Poe’s one of the shortest stories which provides a study of paranoia and mental disturbance. Poe shows the people the excess details about the old man’s eyes and how that eye was the key to the murder. Another point we could notice was the confusion the narrator was examining between the capacity for love and hate. Poe here explores a psychological mystery-that people sometimes harm those whom they love or need in their lives. The narrator loves the old man. He is not greedy for the old man’s wealth, nor vengeful because of any slight. The narrator thus eliminates motives that might normally inspire such a violent murder. As he proclaims his own sanity, the narrator fixates on the old man’s vulture-eye. He reduces the old man to the pale blue of his eye in obsessive fashion. He wants to separate the man from his “Evil Eye” so he can spare the man the burden of guilt that he atributes to the eye itself. What the narrator here fails to do is that he fails to see that the eyes were the old man’s part. He fails to realize that the eyes and the old man could not be isolated, they belonged to each other. The murder of the old man illustrates that the narrator was capable to separate the old man’s identity from his physical eye.

The narrator sees the eye as completely separate from the man, and as a result, he is capable of murdering him while maintaining that he loves him. The narrator’s desire to eradicate the man’s eye motivates his murder, but the narrator does not acknowledge that this act will end the man’s life. By dismembering his victim, the narrator further deprives the old man of his humanity. The narrator confirms his conception of the old man’s eye as separate from the man by ending the man altogether and turning him into so many parts. That strategy turns against him when his mind imagines other parts of the old man’s body working against him. The narrator seemed highly sensitive to sound because of which he confesses. He did not have the ability to distinguish the real sound from the fake. He did not realize that the sound was coming out of his head and only he could hear them and nobody else. The narrator’s paranoia and guilt make it inevitable that he will give himself away. The more the narrator proclaims his own cool manner, the more he cannot escape the beating of his own heart, which he mistakes for the beating of the old man’s heart. The police do not perform any judgmental role in the story. They did not even seem to be terrifying or brutal. The only thing that leads to the narrator’s confession to the crime is the narrator himself. His fear within him and sounds within him drove his to the situation where he confesses.

The Tell-Tale Heart” is a classical psychological thriller that delves into the deepest recesses of the criminal imagination. The author is able to accomplish this through the seamless use of a narrative structure that serves to draw the reader into the story and from that point, into the mind of the criminal himself. His exploration of mind of the psychotic individual is meant to frighten the reader, because, while the narrator is mad, it is his humanity that comes out as the killer’s defining characteristic. It is his heart that “tells” in the end. The murder itself is the carefully pre-meditated act of a determined and haughty though seriously disturbed individual. Even when the narrator seemed confident about everything, his heart decides to give up. It was the narrators heart that finals speaks up and not the old man’s heart. The narrator tells the tale about the murder to prove to the reader hat he is not insane but at the same time, he shows us that he was not mentally balanced. His talks about sanity, evil eye and hallucination of hearing dead old man’s heart beat proved to us that he was having difficulty coping with the unusual surrounding and was mentally disturbed. The narrator in this story has symptoms of various degree of psychosis. He rationalizes his actions, but his very effort to explain himself as insane suggests otherwise; he displaces the real source of his anxiety; his personality is manic in its elation; and he has symptoms of being a paranoid schizophrenic.

Work Cited

  1. May, Charles E. “The Tell-Tale Heart: Overview.” Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed.
  2. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
  3. Marshall,Megan. “Review of The ell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” The New Republic 179.9 & 10 (1978): 42-44. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism.
  4. Ed. Jean C. Stine and Daniel G. Marowski. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.
  5. Ward, Alfred C. “Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Aspects of the Modern Short Story: English and American. University of London Press, 1924. 32-44. Rpt. in Short Stories for Students. Ed.
  6. Kathleen Wilson and Marie Lazzari. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

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The Dark Side of Human Kind in The Tell-Tale Heart, a Short Story by Edgar Allan Poe. (2023, Apr 03). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-dark-side-of-human-kind-in-the-tell-tale-heart-a-short-story-by-edgar-allan-poe/

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