The Tell Tale Heart – Wide Reading

“Is it not clear that I am not mad? Indeed, the illness only made my mind, my feelings, my senses stronger, more powerful.” ‘The Tell Tale Heart,’ written by author Edgar Allan Poe in 1843 depicts the first person perspective of an unknown narrator. The short story explores the brutal details of a murder that the narrator committed, whilst the narrator simultaneously  attempts to persuade the reader into believing their innocence. Poe intertwines several elements of gothic fiction into this text. The narrator was kept unidentified to us, with only a small amount of conflicting information being provided. This allows the reader to make their own assumptions on who the narrator is and why they did what they did. Leaving every reader with differing ideas, although one thing that is widely agreed on was that the narrator was succumb to their emotions and let them over rule.

I believe that Edgar Allan Poe’s intentions for his story, ‘ The Tell Tale Heart’ was to leave the reader wondering. Who was the narrator? How did they almost get away with it? Why did they kill the old man? Why was the heart so loud? Readers including myself believe that the short story had a historical relevance, with the narrator being an assumed African American slave. This is justifiable as the United States in 1843 was nearing the end of the slavery era.

“There was no reason for what I did. I did not hate the old man. I even loved him.” The narrator was thoughtless. For they had no real reason to murder the old man. But was concurrently able to cover it up miraculously and very carefully. The narrator also states “a madman cannot plan” (which is the only gender clue we were given). Since they’re convinced of their sanity, they must’ve planned the murder, although committed rather abruptly as the old man has awaken during his slumber and had caught the narrator off guard. The narrator says how they had ‘loved’ the old man, but barbarically  butchered him. I believe you cannot love something/someone that you intend on destroying. This is an example of how Poe had used distinct contrasting qualities to signify a gothic protagonist. I think that Poe’s purpose of this element is to further confuse the reader. Filling them with even more questions and wonder. This assisted me in concluding that the narrator was insane. As a sane person typically doesn’t feel vastly different emotions at the same time. I can relate to the ‘thoughtless but mindful’ statement as I sometimes act without thinking of the consequences, but am able to come up with a cover story that allows me to suffer less repercussion. Although not being to the extent of murder.

In reference to another element of gothic fiction, a protagonist is often in a state of holding power. The narrator at one point states that they “heard sounds from Heaven; and I heard sounds from Hell!” This could have a correlation to the narrator having a god complex when they watch the old man sleep. As they know that they’re the one who holds the power over the old man. Since the narrator can hear the hypothetical voices of both Heaven and Hell, this shows that they have an internal conflict with what they believe is right. This is something else I am able to relate to as I am often torn between what is morally right for me and what is socially excepted between others. There has been circumstances where I have had two conflicting perspectives within myself. I believe that the narrator did have a part of them that knew that it wasn’t right to kill the old man, but they also had a part that felt as though they had to kill him. This part had greater control.

“It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my head. There was no reason for what I did.” Another characteristic that the narrator possessed was that they were driven by strong emotion instead of any logic or reason. The narrator didn’t have any real reason for why they killed the old man. Although the murder was planned, it was committed on a bit of a whim as it wasn’t specified that the narrator was going to kill the old man that night. But they were caught off guard and given the opportunity. As stated previously, I believe that the narrator may have been a slave. If this theory is true, the reason for killing the old man could’ve been out of anger and the wanting of freedom. Throughout the text the narrator frequently refers to the old man’s “vulture eye” and even at one point states that vultures tend “to just watch and wait until the animal dies, and then fall upon the dead body and pull it to pieces and eat it.” This can show us that the narrator has a fear of the old man’s “vulture eye” and has the mentality of being smaller and weaker than the old man himself. This point made me feel pity towards the narrator to the point where I almost understood why they killed the old man. Which extended on how I was already overwhelmed by the story and now Poe was toying with my senses. Making me feel pity for a person who had just ended a life. The obsession that the narrator has with the eye drives their need and wanting to kill. When the narrator had been watching the old man as he slept they stated that, “Suddenly the old man sat straight up in bed and cried, “Who’s there??!” This caught the narrator was off guard and showed the fear that the old man had. The narrator was frozen in the thought of the “Vulture eye” watching over him, but they state “Now I knew that he was sitting up in his bed, filled with fear…” This gave the narrator the mentality of for once being “stronger” as they held the power and the control as they had invoked the fear. As the narrator started to feel strong and in control I began to pity them less, and start to remember how they had no reason for killing the old man. I believe that Poe had created these two very different traits to cause an internal confusion within the reader. This portion of the story caused me to be even more overwhelmed as I was unable to form a stable view of the narrator, the voice who was speaking to me. I found reading this similar to having a conversation with someone who only responds in questions.  

 Finally, the narrator discusses how “my hearing had become unusually strong?” That they can hear the old man’s heart beat, even after the old man had been slaughtered. A heart that doesn’t beat cannot produce sound. But the narrator was certain that the sound was the old man’s heart beat. But unknowing to them, the heart beat was just their own. It was at its loudest points when the narrator had a rush of extreme emotion. As in just before the murder was committed the heart beat was loud, because the rush of adrenaline and excitement had made their own heart to beat irregularly fast, and in this situation fast enough to hear. Also the same situation occurred when the narrator was talking casually with the police in the same room the murder was committed, the same room where the old man lay in pieces below the floorboards. The heart beat in this case, was caused by adrenaline and guilt. This shows us that they felt guilt and remorse, which in someway proves their sanity. But a sane person doesn’t end a life without reason. This is another point where Poe has tested my ability to have a stable viewpoint on the narrator. This shows us how emotion overwhelms our character who is providing narration to us. This can cause us to feel overwhelmed by how quickly the story developed without giving any reason. A quality of gothic fiction is to make the reader uncomfortable and overwhelmed.

Throughout the text Poe was able to illustrate the narrator of his story as a gothic protagonist. With the use of contrasting qualities, having an air of mystery, being in a position of power and by being controlled by emotions rather than logic. Which are qualities that we can all relate to, even if it’s only one of them. ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ is relevant to todays society as we within society we have classes, within those classes we have the higher class and the lower class. We could use Poe’s story as a metaphor for how the higher classes often overuse the lower classes, which can cause the lower classes to fight back. For an example we always see doctors, nurses and midwives protesting due to them not receiving equal/adequate pay to their pairs or for how much time they actually work. Following the idea of how the narrator was a slave of the old man, society can relate to the narrator by seeing themselves within their character as we all fight for what we believe is right, even when sometimes the thing we believe in is wrong.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Ruby,

    Thanks for getting your response in on time to receive feedback.

    You have clearly developed ideas about the gothic protagonist and are able to identify quotes from the text that supports this.

    I must admit, I struggle to see how some of the parts of this response work together. Is there an overall point you are trying to make? If so, it is unclear. If not, do you think there should be?

    There are also some areas of personal response that I would like to see developed further. Don’t be afraid to develop some of your social and historical context stuff further. Ensure that what you are saying about this has relevance to the analysis you are doing.

    Mrs. P


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