The Tell Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe

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In “The Tell Tale Heart” Edgar Allan Poe builds up suspense by guiding us through the darkness that dwells inside his character’s heart and mind. Poe masterfully demonstrates the theme of guilt and its relationship to the narrator’s madness. In this classic gothic tale, guilt is not simply present in the insistently beating heart. It insinuates itself earlier in the story through the old man’s eye and slowly takes over the theme without remorse. Through his writing, Poe directly attributes the narrator’s guilt to his inability to admit his illness and offers his obsession with imaginary events - The eye’s ability to see inside his soul and the sound of a beating heart- as plausible causes for the madness that plagues him. After reading the story, the audience is left wondering whether the guilt created the madness, or vice versa. The story opens with the narrator explaining his sanity after murdering his companion. By immediately presenting the reader with the textbook definition of an unreliable narrator, Poe attempts to distort his audience’s perceptions from the beginning. This point is further emphasized by his focus on the perceived nexus of madness; the eye. Poe, through the narrator, compares the old man’s eye to the eye of a vulture. Because vultures are birds that prey on the weak and depend on their eyesight to hunt, it is easy to deduct that Poe’s intention is to connect the narrator’s guilt and his interpretation of events in his life. By equating the eye to the old man’s ability to see more than what others see, Poe allows the narrator to explore the idea that this eye can see his weakness; the evil that lies in the narrator’s heart and that which makes him unacceptable. Knowing that he is damaged makes the narrato... ... middle of paper ... ... insecurity and paranoia. By leading us through an intricate maze of guilt and denial, Poe raises questions about what differentiates guilt from remorse. The audience begins to wonder if the fixation with the old man’s eye is in fact a cause of the madness or a result of the narrator’s inability to cope with his evil thoughts and the subsequent guilt that such thoughts derive. “The tell-tale heart” takes us through an incredible journey of discovery. By exploring the intrinsic nature of guilt, Poe shows us that without remorse and acceptance of responsibility the only possible result is a never ending cycle of projection, blame and denial that lead to madness. Works Cited Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 11th ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 37-40. Print.
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