Critical Analysis Of Poe's The Tell Tale Heart

1645 words - 7 pages

Critical Analysis of Poe's The Tell Tale Heart


The Tell Tale Heart is a story, on the most basic level, of conflict. There is a mental conflict within the narrator himself (assuming the narrator is male). 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. Ultimately, the narrator tells his story of killing his housemate. Although the narrator seems to be blatantly insane, and thinks he has freedom from guilt, the feeling of guilt over the murder is too overwhelming to bear. The narrator cannot tolerate it and eventually confesses his supposed 'perfect'; crime. People tend to think that insane persons are beyond the normal realm of reason shared by those who are in their right mind. This is not so; guilt is an emotion shared by all humans. The most demented individuals are not above the feeling of guilt and the havoc it causes to the psyche. Poe's use of setting, character, and language reveal that even an insane person feels guilt. Therein lies the theme to The Tell Tale Heart: The emotion of guilt easily, if not eventually, crashes through the seemingly unbreakable walls of insanity.

     On the surface, the physical setting of The Tell Tale Heart is typical of the period and exceedingly typical of Poe. The narrator and the old man live in an old, dark house: '(for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers)'; (Poe 778). Most of the story takes place at night: 'And this I did for seven long nights-every night just at midnight?'; (778). The physical aspect is not the most important component of setting for this analysis. More important are the mental and emotional settings. This clearly explains the personality of the narrator. One can assume the narrator is insane. He freely admits to his listener that he is '?-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous?'; (777). But he then asks, '?but why will you say that I am mad?'; (777). He also admits that, 'The disease had sharpened my senses?'; (777). If not insanity, what disease does he speak of? The reason for his actions was one of the old man's eyes: '?-a pale blue eye, with a film over it'; (777). This is easily recognizable to the reader as an eye with cataract on it. This is nothing to obsess over, yet this eye '?haunted me day and night'; (777). Any sane person would take a physical defect of another with a grain of salt. One statement by the narrator sums up his mental state: 'You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me'; (777). What he is actually saying is: 'There are madmen who are clumsy in their actions, but not this madman!'; This is as close to a self-admission of insanity as possible. The mental setting is put into place by the narrator's own statements. This setting is pure chaos starting in the head of the killer and spilling out into...

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