Summary: a Tale About Heart Told by a Brilliant Mind

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Edgar allan poe had a rough life that ended too soon. His parents died at a young age, he fought with his foster parents, and his brother and foster mother died of tuberculosis. Poe’s work reflected his life in that it always ended in tragedy. To better understand this, Poe’s style and themes must be examined. “The Tell Tale Heart” is an excellent example of this using themes, many of the elements of gothic tradition, and Poe’s style.

Psychoanalytic themes can be found throughout the story. The narrator is most likely suffering from multiple mental illnesses including paranoia, schizophrenia, or split personality disorder. This allows him to be a friend of the old man in the day and at night, plot his demise for being the vehicle of the awful blue eye, which he believes is watching his every move. To further remove the eye from the old man he views the old man as just multiple parts that have no meaning until put together. As the story continues the illness of the narrator grows worse. As the paranoia consumes him the steadily increasing heart beat in his head pushes him over the edge and he tells the police offices of the awful deed he has committed.

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The narrator’s guilt is also a plot influencing factor. It it obvious the narrator feels guilt even before he killed the old man. “The narrator first becomes conscious of the beating heart (which was probably his own racing heart) as he approaches the old man to commit the murder”. To keep his guilt in check when the old man jumps from his sleep he focuses on the eye. Even after the murder the guilt remained and intensified. The guilt, along with paranoia, eventually drive the narrator to confess to the murder. The Old man has guilt of his own. He witnessed many events in life that haunt him because he did nothing to prevent them and they haunt him to the point he can’t even sleep with his eyes shut.

Its obvious even if the narrator is insane that he is a cruel man. He seemed to ake pleasure in watching the old man as he sleeps while plotting his demise. “The protagonist seems to enjoy the malicious mind games that he inflicts upon the old man”(tanfer cruelty). These cruel mind games eventually lead to the police finding out about the murder after the narrator confidently places his chair right over the old man’s body. “The protagonist is an archetypal gothic character: a villainous maniac who murders in cold blood and, at times, represents the devil himself”(tanfer cruelty).

The idea of time is repeated throughout the story. The narrator waits an hour on the eighth night of observation to commit the murder. While observing the old man the narrator waits an hour to fully open the door. The narrator also had flashbacks to other nights waiting on the right time to commit the deadly deed. “The narrator emphasizes death and time throughout the story. He explains that ‘the old man’s hour had come.’The narrator also refers to the heartbeat like a ticking watch covered in cotton. The time the story spans only allows for the guilt and insanity to mount until its breaking point in the resolution in the story.

Madness or Insanity is also frequently mentioned. The narrator questions his own sanity a few times. Due to his uncertainty the narrator feels the need to prove himself sane while murdering the old man he cared so dearly for. The old man is losing his sanity as the nightmares consume him and his old age takes his mind.”James W. Gargano asserts that Poe created a psychological drama that blatantly advertises ‘Poe’s conscious intention; the protagonist’s painful insistence in ‘proving’ himself sane only serves to intensify the idea of his madness’. The narrator insists on his sanity in creating and executing his plan so well but his actions only proves his insanity further.

In the preface to Poe’s Tales of the grotesque and arboresque, Poe concludes that gothic tales are at their height when the tale brings out a “terror of the soul”. Many gothic tales of the time used werewolves, ghosts, or vampires to create a villain ,but Poe chose to a human as the antagonist. Poe made most of his stories strive to define moral insanity. “Poe’s idea of terror rarely involves fear of physical destruction from without but instead articulates the immanent dread of something morally repellent from within”. At the core of his tales, Poe’s stories are detective stories. These tales tend to move towards creating the idea of moral insanity for the narrator.”In presuming the reader will share his perspective, the narrator both signals his own overwhelming narcissism and creates for the reader a persona that is invested in the killer rather than the victim”. Although some find Poe’s work to just be a horror story, they fail to understand that behind the horror there is some exceptional thought being put into the phrasing and themes they are reading.

Poe’s works are a product of his tragic life. His tragic life allowed him to write of of the best horror stories know to American literature. “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of Poe’s finest works and It should be self evident that Poe was a great writer and deserved all the praise he receives. His use of themes, gothic tradition, and general style as a writer in “The Tell Tale Heart” prove this statement. 

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