The Use of Imagery, Strong Irony, and Similes in The Tell-Tale Heart, a Short Story by Edgar Allan Poe
Literary Analysis of The Tell-Tale Heart
Edgar Allen Poe was born in 1809 and has become one of the most critically examined authors of his time. Poe was an author of many works and has undergone countless critics and attempts at analyses of his work but it is hard to understand an author who has qualities of people we don’t quite understand. Poe was a drug addict, an alcoholic, an incestuous man (although common), and a murderer or at least in his short stories he was. One example of a short story where Poe wrote about killing someone was in, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this story, Edgar Allen Poe uses imagery, strong irony, and similes to show that humans cannot handle guilt and are dying to spill the truth
Firstly, as a person reads “The Tell-Tale Heart” there all kinds or imagery to be found. The first example of imagery to be found is when Poe talks of the “pale, blue eye, with a film over it.” Poe described the eye as such because blue represents innocence, but the paleness of the eye as well as the film that overlays the eye are representations of guilt. When a person feels guilty not only do they feel like everyone knows they did it but everyone can tell there is something different about that person and in Poe’s case it made his “blood run cold.” How would/does Poe know that the old man is guilty of something? Well, this story is a psychosexual tale and Poe is a practicing sadomasochistic person as well as he was a partaker of voyeurism (Dayon 225). This suggest to me that Poe watched every move of the old man because he loved him and loved the thrill he got from spying on him. Could it be that Poe saw the old man do something that he shouldn’t have? Or maybe Poe’s dislike of the eye was because it seemed to always be open which would limit Poe’s taboo fantasy and make it harder to fulfill. According to Gita Rajan and her paper on a feminist reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” She seems to think the character in Poe’s story is a female. There is no evidence to support that Poe was open to homosexuality which makes it seem more feasible that the character be a female. This doesn’t change the story, but it makes the idea more interesting, but why did Poe kill him? According to Magdalen Wing-chi Ki in her paper about ego-evil, she believes that Poe experienced the most common form of evil excuses. She describes ego-evil as, “the elevation of self-love” (Ki, 25.) Poe made himself feel so good that it outweighed the severity of the murder. Another example of imagery that shows how Poe hated the eye because of it always being open is as follows: “It was open—wide, wide open— and I grew furious as I gazed upon it.” Why would Poe be so angry at the open eye? Because it kept Poe from fulfilling his fantasy. Another example of imagery in the story is when Poe has startled the old man in his sleep and is now frozen in time to avoid being caught by the old mans “Vulture” eye. “Death, in approaching him, had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim.” This imagery is also interpreted to be a bit of foreshadowing. I believe this quote is referring to death as guilt. The guilt the old man may have had had been following him wherever he went and had consumed him. Lastly, if we look at a point in the story where the tables turn and Poe holds all the guilt we see he still uses imagery to describe what sounds guilt makes. “It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when it is enveloped in cotton.” The watch he refers to is not one you tell time with, but a beetle that symbolized coming death (More on that later.)
One of the most prominent literary devices Poe uses in his story’s is irony. Referring to the first two examples of imagery and how they connected to guilt one might not think of irony, but when you look at the third example, it shows that the guilt Poe thought the old man has was ironic to his own guilt. As Poe peered into the room where the old man slept, Poe describes listening to the “death watches in the wall.” Death watches are beetles that infest timbers and they produce a clicking sound that was thought to be an omen of death and ironically it came true. Shortly after hearing the death watches, Poe decides to rush into the room and kill the old man. There is also some irony in dismembering the man’s body. Poe decides to keep the body inside the house. The purpose of killing the old man was to rid himself of that open eye, but he kept the eye in the house with him. Another piece of irony in the story is early in the beginning. “I heard all things in heaven and in earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?” Poe doesn’t recognize that he has a physiological disorder although we (the readers) clearly see he isn’t the typical man. As the story reads on Poe continues to try and persuade the reader that he is not mad. Even after he murders the old man he tries to convince you that he couldn’t be mad. Mad men wouldn’t have been so cunning in a murder. This is all ironic because we can clearly see that Poe is crazy, but is the old man the only victim? According to Paul Witherington who writes “The Accomplice in “The Tell-Tale Heart”,” he says that there are two victims in this story. The old man and Poe himself are victims. The old man because he was murdered, but Poe also because of his mental illness (Witherington, 472.) It is possible that Poe Made this character mentally ill to simply “juice up” the story, but nothing is simple with Poe. Poe wants to change our idea of what a mad man is. He wants us to consider that a person is not mad if they can so careful plan things they wish to do.
You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! He was a very cunning criminal and not a mad man… or that’s what he wishes for us to believe.
Lastly, Poe uses similes in his story to help describe things and to allow us to see it in our heads. “—still dark as midnight.” This quote is after the death of the old man and what time it was. “One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture.” A simile to describe the appearance of the old man’s eye. And to ultimately be a descriptor that Poe decided must be removed. In my opinion, similes simply add more quality to the poem. Irony helps build the story and imagery and similes add “flavor” to the story. The story would not have the “vulture” eye without the use of the previous simile.
To conclude, Edgar Allan Poe is arguably one of the best horror fiction writers to date and with his use of literary devices like imagery, irony, and similes, he stands out from the others. Stephan King was also a good Horror fiction writer as well. I picked this Story to analyze because I find it interesting when “madmen” find unique ways to commit crimes. For example, I like the Saw series. Although gruesome and unappealing to most, I find his witty traps unique and like Poe don’t believe they are madmen, rather individuals who think freely in a wrong way.
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