Symbolism and Irony in The Tell-Tale Heart

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Symbolism and Irony in The Tell-Tale Heart

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the author combines vivid symbolism with subtle irony. Although the story runs only four pages, within those few pages many examples of symbolism and irony abound. In short, the symbolism and irony lead to an enormously improved story as compared to a story with the same plot but with these two elements missing.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" consists of a monologue in which the murderer of an old man protests his insanity rather than his guilt: "You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded . . ." (Poe 121). By the narrator insisting so emphatically that he is sane, the reader is assured that he is indeed deranged. E. Arthur Robinson feels that by using this irony the narrator creates a feeling of hysteria, and the turmoil resulting from this hysteria is what places "The Tell-Tale Heart" in the list of the greatest horror stories of all time (94).

Julian Symons suggests that the murder of the old man is motiveless, and unconnected with passion or profit (212). But in a deeper sense, the murder does have a purpose: to ensure that the narrator does not have to endure the haunting of the Evil Eye any longer. To a madman, this is as good of a reason as any; in the mind of a madman, reason does not always win out over emotion.

Edward H. Davidson insists that emotion had a large part to play in the crime, suggesting that the narrator suffers and commits a crime because of an excess of emotion over intelligence (203). Poe relates how the narrator believes the validity of the previous statement: ". . . very dreadfully nervous I had been and ...

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...binson, E. Arthur. "Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart'." Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe's Tales. ED. William L. Howarth. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971. 94-102.

Symons, Julian. The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.

Weber, Jean-Paul. "Edgar Poe or The Theme of the Clock." Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays. ED. Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. 79-97.

Gómez de la Serna, Ramón. Edgar Poe: El Genio de America. Buenos Aires: Biblioteca Contemporánea, 1953.

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. New York: Paragon House, 1972.

Ingram, John Henry. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters, and Opinions. New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1965.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992.
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