The Insanity Of The Narrator In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

The most unique and well distinguished American author of the 19th century was writer Edgar Allan Poe. He was inspired by events that occurred in his life and decided to make a living by writing about them, he also became one of the first writers to be influenced by a macabre genre. This genre was raised out of horrific events that occurred during the 19th century. American culture changed entirely the genre of horror stories and aided in the development of Poe’s psychological thrillers. In the short story, “A Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, it is based on how the narrator defends his sanity by confessing to the murder of an old man who he truly loved. The narrator’s motive that drove him to commit a crime was from being afraid of the man’s pale blue eye. Although the narrator insisted that he was not a lunatic, an unexpected twist takes place when the narrator admits he is guilty and argues that his actions were justified.

To understand the historical context on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell -Tale Heart,” we have to review the text as it is characterized in the macabre theme. This is the Theme for which Poe became famous for. During the 19th century the historical context within which appears as a gothic horror, shows how the human experiences appeared through irrationality, madness and insanity. In Richard Kopley’s article study, “Transplanting and Transforming the Tell-Tale Heart,” he compares Hawthorn’s novel to Poe’s by stating, “Hawthorne also refashioned the heart in Poe’s story – the provocative heart of the old man in ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ became the object of the scrutiny of the Faustian old man in The Scarlet Letter.(12) And Hawthorne adapted the murder in Poe’s work to his own purpose, turning it into the violation of ‘the sanctity of a human heart’ – a violation that he elsewhere considered the ‘Unpardonable Sin’. Unlike the sin of murder in Poe’s story, this sin in Hawthorne’s novel is never confessed.” The genre grew from horrific events in the American culture that translated as grime imagery. The climate within society which then was reflected as poverty, tension during the times of slavery and racial politics assisted both writers to find motivation in the darkest aspects of life.

In the article, “The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-analytic Interpretation” by Marie Bonaparte she argues that Poe’s message in the story is to show how the mind of a maniac can be troubled by having a guilty conscious. She also states that, “The nature of this obsessional thought will soon appear,” allowing the reader to assume that the narrator was delivering a message to himself by asserting his guilt. Secondly Poe writes, “Villains!” I shrieked, dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! Here, Here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!” to communicate via “The Tell-Tale Heart” by sending a strong message that lies always come to light. Based on how he demonstrates hallucinations of his victim’s beating heart, the narrator is so delusional to recognize the possibility that he has gone mad, much of a person’s suffering starts and finishes in the mind. When Poe wrote “It is the beating of his hideous heart,” it makes us question if he truly ever did love the old man. It gives us more of a perspective to prove that the narrator was trying to justify his sanity and love for the man but in the end his insanity shined through.

According to Brett Zimmerman in the article “Mortal Insanity,” the audience was impacted by the story of a “Tell Tale Heart.” He attempts to convince a psychiatrist of his sanity in direct contravention of all he says regarding his crime. Zimmerman states, “The extent to which Poe’s characterization of this narrator corresponds with current psychoanalytic profiles of the paranoid schizophrenic personality.” The presumed audience could be the narrator himself, as if penning his horrific thoughts from where he had been confined. Which follows his revelation to the police officers visiting the murder scene where he committed the act of murder or by simply sharing his version to a psychiatrist. Poe’s story begins with just such a protestation by writing, “TRUE! —nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? . . . Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” This is why the identity of the audience is left to the individual reader to decide.

Because the narrator writes in the first person, Poe doesn’t show if the narrator is male or female. The reason why the audience feels comfortable assuming the narrator is a he is based on the story’s quote, ‘You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. ‘This does not prove if the writer is male but the possibility of being a female should be considered. But for now, we are clinging to the possibility that no clear indication shows that the narrator is a man, although many readers assume that the murderer/narrator is a man. When the narrator suggests the officers to enter the home, the narrator seems very cheerful and welcoming showing a good indication of a woman but not enough to clearly define the murderer of this story as so. We are left to assume that the gender of the narrator is simply a male.

Poe utilizes ethos to convince the audience he is sane and only suffers from nervousness, he then uses logos to reassure the reader that he is mentally stable and that there is logical reasoning for his actions, lastly he uses pathos to prove just how absurd murdering the old man was. Edgar Allan Poe utilizes ethos in his short story by attempting to persuade the audience that he or she is of sound mind. Poe via the narrator writes that, he did not intend to kill the old man for his “wealth or bad personality,” shows the narrator is compassionate towards the old man thus showing that the narrator could not be competent of killing the old man they claimed to love.

Poe tries to persuade his audience on several occasions throughout the story that the narrator is sane. He does this by using the logos effect and showing us that the narrator spent an hour watching the old man sleep. Poe tells the readers, “… you imagine how stealthily, stealthily — until, at a length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider…” the narrator beings to display and to brag on about his or her stealthy murder skills were exceptional. Poe had no justifications for killing the old man, other than his obsession with his eye which does not qualify as someone who is seen as sane. He then writes, “I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done,” which shows the insanity of the narrator while beginning to murder the defenseless old man.

Towards the end of Poe’s short story, he begins to blame the vulture eye as the reason as to why he killed the old man by using pathos. The narrator had no justification for suffocating the old man as he slept other than his obsession with the man’s eye. Poe writes, “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with film over it.” He claims that it made the narrator feel cold blood run through his body if the eye ever laid an eye on him. In the article, “Poe’s the Tell-Tale Heart” Robinson writes, “The murderer congratulates himself that not even his victim could have detected anything wrong with the floor which has been replaced over the body, and earlier he imagines the old man awakened”. The love Poe claimed that the narrator had for the old man eventually drove him to kill the man and if he did not care for him then he could’ve left and gotten away freely. At the end of the story, he shrieked stating “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! Here, Here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!” Poe finishes the short story by showing his readers that the man was overcome by fear and turning delirious thus proving that he or she was truly never really sane. When Poe wrote “It is the beating of his hideous heart,” it makes us question if he truly ever did love the old man. It gives us more of a perspective to prove that the narrator was trying to justify his sanity and love for the man but in the end his insanity shined through.

Lastly in the article “The Theme of Time” by James Gargano, in his analysis he writes “Symbolism of The Tell-Tale Heart, by hoping to identify the narrators ultimate antagonist as the force that will inevitably cause him to resemble the old man with the appalling eye of a vulture.” Gargano uses a wide set variety of literary devices that are used in Poe’s short story in order to increase the story’s potential and to emphasize its meanings. Among those devices are repetition and metaphorical language. For example, “The revelatory moments in the tale, thus, occur when the both sets of symbols merge and when the old man, after death, becomes inseparable from his murderer.” Gargano interprets this quote as a definition of how Poe uses symbolism to explain how the vulture eye as the reason as to why he killed the old man. Poe uses repetition at the end of the story to show the narrator’s descent into insanity. The narrator is no longer claiming his sanity. “It grew louder — louder — louder!” as in the phrases “how healthily – how calmly” in the final sentence of the first paragraph. The narrator’s uses repetitive emphatic phrasing, his intense desire to be heard. He then uses metaphorical language on the second paragraph of the story, “It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” Poe’s phrasing and use of multiple language devices has contributed to an unforgettable impact of “The Tell-Tale Heart” as well as to the significance of its meaning.

In conclusion, “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe, overcomes its readers with suspense and mystery. Although the narrator attempted to provide enough evidence of being sane several times, in the end the story concluded with the narrator being ultimately insane. Poe captures the reader’s attention with the intent of making the reader almost feel like the narrator. He does this by engaging and obtaining the audience’s attention and insisting that the narrator was sane even though his actions showed otherwise by engaging in an act of committing the murder of the old man. All these components Edgar Allan Poe utilized in this short story is what makes it a memorable one. After carefully analyzing of the story, it is clear to say the narrator is insane and that the reason why he committed murder was justifiable. Siding with a guilty conscience Poe via the narrator provides enough evidence that he is in fact mad.


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