Critical Analysis of a Piece of Literature
The Tell-tale Heart is a short story by Edgar Allen Poe about a nameless man who believes that he does not have a mental problem rather he has disease that makes his senses too sharp. The narrator is given neither a name nor a gender in order to bring out the fact that he is mentally unstable and unsure of himself. The narrator has killed the man that he shared a house with, for the reason that he had a film-coated blue eye that made him very uneasy every time he saw it; he says that it made his blood run cold. Apart from that, he does not have any issue against this man. The blue eye unnerves him so much that he decides to kill the man, in order to get rid of it. He enters the man’s room every day for seven nights wanting to kill him, but is unable to murder him since he finds him asleep.
On the eighth night, the man wakes up when the narrator walks into his room. The narrator sees the offending blue eye and attacks the man, suffocating him under his bed. After killing him, the narrator chops up the body and hides the pieces under the room’s floorboards taking care that he does not live any evidence of blood behind. During the scuffle, the blue-eyed man had screamed once, and an alarmed neighbor had called the police to find out what was going on in that house. The narrator tells the police that the scream had come from him due to “a nightmare” and that “the old man was on a journey out of town” (Bloom 67). He invites the police to look around and even brings them into the old man’s room where they sit and chat. As they are talking, the narrator begins to hear the low thumping sound of a heartbeat, and is unable to ignore it because it keeps getting louder by the minute. He is convinced that the police are pretending not to hear it to mock him. Unable to stand the sound of the heartbeat and the ‘pretense’ of the officers, the narrator confesses that he had killed the man and reveals that he had buried the body “under the floorboards” (Howard 4).
The other style used is that the story begins in the middle of a sentence with the narrator trying to clarify that he is just very nervous and not mad. The person the narrator is speaking to is also not identified but is assumed to be a psychiatrist, judge, doctor, prison warden or police officer. The story also begins in a captivating manner, with the narrator admitting that he committed the crime, and that he was very nervous and not mad. The dramatic beginning is used to make the reader become more interested in the story. The relationship between the narrator and the old man is not expounded on. The narrator however claims that the old man had a ‘vulture eye’ that made his blood turn cold; therefore this may be metaphoric for authority and close watching. The narrator wants to get rid of the eye, which may be having some control over him, by way of surveillance perhaps. Therefore, the old man may have been the narrator’s father or employer (Haycraft 56).
The narrator’s sense of reality is warped. First, he is not able to realize that
The technique of repetition is used severally throughout the story in order to bring out the themes of strong paranoia and insanity. The narrator begins by saying, “TRUE!-NERVOUS–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am” (Bloom 3). The narrator’s repetition of words gives the reader a glimpse of his sporadic thinking pattern; he narrator seems to think very fast and his words are a contradiction of each other. For instance, he emphasizes that he is sane yet he continues to state that he felt that he needed to kill the old man because he was vexed by the ugliness of his eye. Repetition also heightens the tension in the story. At the point where the old man woke up and saw the narrator, he says, “The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!” Repetition here is intended to increase anxiety and tension among the readers, and thus pull them in even more. Repetition is also used in this technique to illustrate the narrator’s disorder that made him extremely sensitive to sound. He repeats the word ‘very’ to show the extremity of the sound.
The Tell-tale Heart is written in first person narration. The unnamed narrator solely tells the story of how and why he murdered the old man. It is told in first person in order to reveal the true motives of the narrator, and enable the reader to see the workings of his mind. If told by a third party, the narrator’s madness would not have been vividly painted as it is done through first person narration. The first person narration technique also makes the story more captivating and intense; the narrator even refers to the reader as ‘you’ in order to draw them into the story (Lozano 6). Thus, the first person narration technique is a method used by the narrator to connect and relate with the reader. First person narration makes the story more intriguing because it makes the reader understand the workings of the mind of a deranged person. The reader is hence able to understand the narrator’s motives as being genuine albeit seemingly cruel. His madness and wild imagination led him to believe that the old man’s blue eye was evil and needed to be eliminated.
One of most outstanding themes in the story is the theme of perversity. The narrator has a wicked aspect to his personality that makes him murder an old man for a very illegitimate reason and proceed to dismember him and hide his body parts under the floorboards (Kinsella 86). Despite the gruesome and cruel action, the narrator is very pleased with himself, and especially with the fact that he has done a spotless job, such that there is no evidence left behind. He proudly states that it took him four hours to complete the whole process of murder and concealing of evidence. The theme of perversity is further illustrated when the narrator claims that he had loved the old man and that he had never done anything to spur his anger to the point of wanting to kill him. It is therefore perverse for the narrator to state that he had loved the old man, yet kill him inhumanely and proceed to feel proud of himself afterwards. The theme of perversion is further illustrated by the manner in which the narrator readily and guiltlessly confesses to the murder acting as if it were a normal thing to do. He explains that his wicked motives were provoked by the old man’s repulsive eye, which is a very trivial excuse for committing such a crime.
The theme of fear is also illustrated by the narrator. The narrator is haunted with fear and paranoia of the old man’s eye. According to the narrator, the old man’s eye was pale blue with a film covering it and resembled a vulture’s eyes. The sight of it made his blood cold. He calls it the vulture eye because he deems it wicked and all seeing. When the narrator approaches the old man’s bed to kill him he says that it gives him a chill to his very marrow such that he is unable to see anything else apart from his eye. His fear of the eye is so intense that it becomes paranoiac and obsessive. The same fear is shown when the narrator eventually murders the old man because he fears that his loud heartbeat will be heard by the neighbors. His fear is so overwhelming that he is unable to reason logically that its impossible for a heartbeat to be heard by people who were not even in that room. Eventually, his obsessive fear causes him to tell on himself when his own heart starts beating loudly and he mistakes it for the old man’s heart. He is also afraid that the police know of his crime and are only feigning friendliness in order to mock his fear. Finally, he cannot take anymore of it and confesses angrily that he had murdered the old man and even shows the police officers where he had hidden the body. His fear therefore is so excessive that it manifests as paranoia and guilt (Cohen 32).
The theme of human nature is also explored in the story. Through the story, we see that there are two elements to an individual; the good and the bad. The narrator states that he and the old man had lived harmoniously and that he had not even desired to steal his gold. He even says that he loved the old man. This shows that he had a good amicable side, which was capable of love and friendship (Womack 5). His bad side is however brought out by his fear and hatred of the ‘evil’ eye. At the point where he moves in closer to murder the old man, he is unable to see anything else but the eye because he is consumed with so much fear. This shows that each individual has something that triggers his bad or evil side. For the narrator it was irrational fear that led him to kill. The fear therefore was his weakness and cause of evil within him.
The theme of inward repulsiveness versus outward repulsiveness is explored. The old man had a dull blue eye that was coated with a film. It must have been so repulsive and scary to look at such that the narrator likens it to a vulture’s eye and claims that it is evil. Every time the narrator saw it, his blood froze. However, despite the repulsiveness of his eye, the old man was good-natured, kind-hearted and inoffensive. The narrator on the other hand, does not seem to have any repulsive outward features or else he would not be so horror-struck by the old man’s disfigured eye. He is however repulsive and ugly on the inside. This is evidenced by the fact that he plans the murder, carries it out and buries the man without any remorse. He is even proud of the fact that he has done a meticulous job. This theme illustrates that it is far better to strive to be attractive on the inside than to be attractive on the outside (Ogden 102).
The meaning of the ‘tell-tale heart’ is a heart that cannot hide its secrets due to guilt and fear. In the story, the narrator begins by denying that he is mad, which in itself shows that he might know that he is deranged, and is thus trying to defend himself. He is trying to silence his conscience by convincing himself and his audience that he is not guilty and that he was justified for killing the old man with an ‘evil’ eye. When the police come in and he takes them to the old man’s room to look around, his heart starts beating loudly wildly such that he cannot tell where the sound is coming from and is convinced that even the police can hear it. The heart therefore symbolizes a subconscious conscience that reveals the truths about an individual. He wants to make the police believe that he is innocent but his heart discloses the truth.
Bloom, Harold. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The tell-tale heart” and other stories. New York, NY: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.
Cohen, Michael. Murder most fair: the appeal of mystery fiction. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh, 2000. Print.
Haycraft, Howard. The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays. California, LA: Biblo and Tannen, 1976. Print.
Howard, Melissa. “Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 Short Story about Murder and Insanity.” Suite101. 17 Oct. 2007. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <http://www.suite101.com/content/the-telltale-heart-summary-a33537>
Kinsella, Kate. Prentice Hall literature: timeless voices, timeless themes, Volume 1. New York, NY: Pearson Education, 2001. Print.
Lozano, Margaret. “The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe”. Google Knowledge. 2 Jan. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <http://knol.google.com/k/the-tell-tale-heart-by-edgar-allen-poe#>
Ogden, Thomas. Subjects of Analysis. London, UK: Karnac Books, 1994. Print.
Womack, Martha. “Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart””. Poedecoder. 15 Jan. 2008. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <http://www.poedecoder.com/essays/ttheart/>