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The Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart
Through the first person narrator, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" illustrates how man's imagination is capable of being so vivid that it profoundly affects people's lives. The manifestation of the narrator's imagination unconsciously plants seeds in his mind, and those seeds grow into an unmanageable situation for which there is no room for reason and which culminates in murder. The narrator takes care of an old man with whom the relationship is unclear, although the narrator's comment of "For his gold I had no desire" (Poe 34) lends itself to the fact that the old man may be a family member whose death would monetarily benefit the narrator. Moreover, the narrator also intimates a caring relationship when he says, "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult" (34). The narrator's obsession with the old man's eye culminates in his own undoing as he is engulfed with internal conflict and his own transformation from confidence to guilt.
The fixation on the old man's vulture-like eye forces the narrator to concoct a plan to eliminate the old man. The narrator confesses the sole reason for killing the old man is his eye: "Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees - very gradually - I made up my mind to rid myself of the eye for ever" (34). The narrator begins his tale of betrayal by trying to convince the reader he is not insane, but the reader quickly surmises the narrator indeed is out of control. The fact that the old man's eye is the only motivation to murder proves the narrator is so mentally unstable that he must search for justification to kill. In his mind, he rationalizes murder with his own unreasonable fear of the eye.
The narrator wrestles with conflicting feelings of responsibility to the old man and feelings of ridding his life of the man's "Evil Eye" (34). Although afflicted with overriding fear and derangement, the narrator still acts with quasi-allegiance toward the old man; however, his kindness may stem more from protecting himself from suspicion of watching the old man every night than from genuine compassion for the old man.
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The narrator sets out to rid his life of the fear he created by obsessing over the man's eye, but once that fear is destroyed, another fear - that of the heartbeat - is created and becomes more overwhelming than the first. In playing mind games with himself - seeing how far he can push himself to triumph over his own insanity - the narrator slips further into a fantasy world. His overriding confidence in killing the man ultimately turns into overriding guilt even as he justifies in his mind the savage killing, chopping up the body and placing it under the floorboards. The narrator's imagination creates his need and plan to destroy the eye, but it then creates the need to save himself from the heartbeat that drives him over the edge.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Tell-Tale Heart." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999. 33-37.