Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”
The genre of horror short stories popularized by Edgar Allan Poe is aimed at triggering readers’ judgment about truth and imagination. In his works, the writer often referred to the theme of insanity, central to the short story under the title “The tell-tale heart,” originally published in 1843. The narrator in the story delivers his perspective of a murder that he has committed in an attempt to prove that the accusations about his madness are false. The discrepancy between the narrator’s words and the reasonability of his actions reflects the thinking of an insane mind; thus, the actions are happening in the narrator’s head, which is why he is not reliable.
The text of the short story is filled with references that prove the narrator’s unreliability due to his insanity. Poe (1843) purposefully takes the first-person perspective to deliver the story from the point of view of the man who commits the crime. The main character is mentally unstable; nonetheless, he is determined to convince the readers that he is sane. The very fact of emphasizing the need to prove his sanity indicates a problem. At the beginning of the text, the man states that he “heard many things in hell,” implying this detail to signify his rationality (Poe, 1843, para. 1). His emphasis on rationality is mainstreaming throughout the story; however, his statements are not supported by the actions that he describes.
Indeed, the main character’s claims are contradictory in their essence. The narrator admits to being ill, saying, “the disease had sharpened my senses,” but immediately after that, he claims to be able to tell the story “healthily” (Poe, 1843, para. 1). This statement sets a shadow of doubt on his reliability from the very beginning. Moreover, he attempts to rationalize the murder of the old man by stating that it was the eye that worried him. In particular, he says, “I made up my mind to take the old man’s life, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (Poe, 1843, para. 2). Thus, he tries to explain his intention to kill the man not because he is mad but because the eye represents evil; such a perspective vividly demonstrates the insanity of the main character.
In addition, the obsession and the desire for superiority are evident in his account of the described events. He is obsessed with the idea of killing the man; this thought “haunted me day and night,” he says (Poe, 1843, para. 2). He repeatedly emphasizes, “you should have seen how wisely I proceeded” or “would a madman have been so wise as this?” trying to illustrate his cunningness, mastery, and “triumph” in his wrongdoing (Poe, 1843, para. 3). However, he fails to rationalize the immorality of his intentions. In the murder scene and the final encounter with the police officers, the narrator claims to hear the loud sound of a heartbeat, which is impossible and demonstrates his insanity. With the exact method of killing the man, hiding the body, and trying to act normal to mislead the police officers, the narrator attempts to find proof of his sanity in the precautions. However, he completely ignores the essence of the crime he commits.
In summation, the analysis of the narrator’s voice throughout the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates that the text contains multiple hints suggesting the insanity of the narrator. The writer purposefully created this piece of writing in the first-person perspective to invite the reader into the mind of a mentally ill person. While being encouraged to perceive the narration as an accurate delivery of first-hand information, the readers are challenged by the numerous indicators that the main character should not be trusted.
Poe, E. A. (1843). The tell-tale heart.