The Madness Within- A Look at Poe’s Use of Mental Illness

Satisfactory Essays
Insanity is a repetitious theme in Edgar Allan Poe’s work, having fun taunting and teasing his readers with dark subjects. Poe’s writing contains topics that make people feel uncomfortable; his characters have inconsistencies that leave readers scratching their heads. Poe creates two prime examples of inconsistent characters including the unnamed narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart,” and Roderick Usher from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” These two stories have frequent similarities concerning the topic of madness. The symbol of an eye, diseases which share the same symptoms, and killing someone the characters love, are all common themes between the two stories.
In “The Tell Tale Heart” an anonymous narrator has a strange psychological disease, which causes him to fixate on an eye. Our storyteller sets out upon a quest to defend his sanity, making a vivid picture of the old man's eye, grotesque and vulture-like in nature; he further explains how it haunted him to the brink of insanity. “He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold--very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (1). In the narrator’s mind he sees the eye as being separate from the old man whom he loves; although in order to rid himself of the eye, the old man must die. The eye of the old man seems to have triggered the narrator’s madness.
Poe uses the symbol of an eye once again in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” to signify another one of his character's insanities. When the narrator gets to the house of Usher he describes it as a “Mansion of gloom” with “Vacant eye-like windows”(1). The gloom and disrepair of the outside is a clear ...

... middle of paper ... the repetition of mental illness throughout many of his stories, leaving readers with more questions than answers. Masterfully he uses this theme leaving readers unsure of what and who, they can believe. The narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart” loves the old man, although he kills him because of his clouded over eye. Similarly Roderick Usher from“The Fall of the House of Usher,” buries his sister Madeline alive. This repeating symbol of insanity and madness manifests in both stories throughout themes of an eye, mental diseases, and murdering someone they love.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar A. ""The Tell-Tale Heart"" Poe's Short Stories. By Edgar A. Poe. Baltimore: Saturday Visiter, 1843. 1-5. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Edgar Allan Poe. "The Fall of the House of Usher." Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. 1-17. Print.