Madness In Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart

1544 Words7 Pages
The slow descent into madness has long been a pertinent theme in both film and literature. A man with the semblance of sanity finding himself wrought by his madness as his rational faculty wanes and his actions become sadistic is not only fascinating but also unsettling. It is that unnerving element that makes it all so alluring, because madness, as 19th-century romantic writer Edgar Allan Poe has suggested through his works, is inherent in all of us; we’re all a little mad. Poe uses this slow descent into madness as a catalyst in his horror themed prose-tale, “The Tell-Tale Heart” to instill terror. This portrait of a psychotic personality Poe has created carried over on Hollywood films. Like the Tell-Tale narrator, John Doe’s modus operandi…show more content…
The story begins with the narrator defending his sanity. He starts, his tone marked with confidence, “How then I am mad? Harken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story” (715). Rather than defending his innocence, he explains why his crime isn’t insane, but justifiable. By asserting his sanity at the beginning and failing to protect his innocence, we are exposed to his true madness. The narrator also indicates that his placid disposition in his retelling of the story serves as further evidence of his sanity, but fails to realize that by deemphasizing his cruel acts, more of his insanity is revealed. Hollie Pritchard underscores this in her analysis essay “Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.” Pritchard explains, “The action of the narrator, combined with his insistence that he’s not mad, lead readers to determine that he must suffer from a psychological disorder” (144). Had he started his narrative differently without asserting his sanity, his psychotic personality might have been less apparent. His overemphasis equates to a guilt-ridden child trying to remove suspicion from…show more content…
Whereas the narrator of Telltale heart insist that his reason for killing the old man is because of his [vulture] eye, Doe claims that he’s performing God’s will. The two psychotic personalities use a faulty rational faculty to veil their madness. The narrator claims, “I think it was his eye!—yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture…I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (715). The narrator blames his actions on the man’s eye. His confession of loving the old man and then resolving to kill the old man shows a discordance, an attempt to cover up his insanity. By providing a reason, the narrator believes his actions are sane and acceptable. The discordance of his words and actions, however, indicate that his actions are not sane and are unacceptable. This parallels John Doe’s efforts, because admits his reason for murdering people is to remind them of God’s will. At one point in the film, David Mills, one of the FBI agents trailing Doe, exchanges a few words with him, trying to understand his reasoning. The two
Open Document