Artistic Reasoning About “The Tell Tale Heart”

“Now this is the point. 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!” In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the reader is able to follow the inner thoughts of the narrator, who is also the main character in the story, through his battle with his mental imbalance. Throughout the entire story, the narrator constantly attempts to prove to the reader that he is mentally stable. Poe utilizes different types of punctuation, repetition and elaborate diction to emphasize the unreliability of the mysterious narrator.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” makes critical and highly effective use of the first person narrative. By inviting the reader into the narrator’s thoughts Poe not only enables the reader to visualize the horror of the actual murder, but to heighten the intense psychological terror of discovery within the narrator’s mind. The first person narrator is a very unreliable source, due to his false confessions about himself. Poe’s choice to make use of a first person narrator in a murder short story is an interesting take. By the reader only hearing the narrator’s side of the story, there is no distinction between truth versus fact. From the introductory prologue in Poe’s story, the narrator grabs the reader’s attention to inform, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! And observe how healthily— how calmly I can tell you the whole story” (Poe). The narrator strives to make the reader aware that he is indeed not insane, and he can prove it by re-telling the story of the man with the “Evil Eye” in a calm and logical manner. The narrator’s most thought-provoking attribute is his emotion of love and care towards the man with the “Evil Eye;” however, his need to murder the innocent man trumps his affection for him. The narrator describes his struggle with killing the old man by noting, “…for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.”

The reader quickly learns that the narrator is haunted by the old man’s “vulture-eye.” The narrator also understands that a vulture is a creature that sometimes represents impending death, as this bird of prey is usually seen circling over something about to die. The feeling that the old man’s “vulture-eye” is constantly watching him ultimately drives the narrator insane and to commit the murder. But, the narrator’s constant reassurance to the reader of his sanity is what leads to the realization his true mental illness. (not finished with this paragraph) Poe’s usage of punctuation, repetition and diction elucidate the personality and mental stability of the narrator. By Poe using these literary tools the reader feels a sense of unease and is able to see the mental issues the narrator faces.

Throughout the story, the narrator speaks in sporadic sentences which tend to either be short and brief or long and overly detailed. By the usage of dashes throughout the story, it entertains the idea that this man, the narrator, is so obsessed with the old man’s eye that he must pause and add more emphasis. The narrator gives the reader a description, using the dashes, of the “Evil Eye” when he says, “It was open – wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness—all dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones;” (Poe) However, the dashes are not solely used when the narrator is referencing the eye. Poe uses dashes to add a sense of madness to the narrator’s thoughts. By never quite ending a sentence, the reader has the ability to read the narrator’s full stream of consciousness which tends to add to the suspense/fear of the story. The frequent repetition in the story also amplifies the nervousness of the narrator while he is telling the story of his murder to the reader. But, the repetition also works to prove the insanity of the narrator and to draw the reader’s attention to a specific sentence within the storyline.