Throughout the entire story, the paranoid narrator is fixated on defending his sanity to the reader by explaining how carefully he planned out the old man’s murder. After carefully observing the old man in his sleep for seven nights, he strikes on the eighth night with precision and the old man is dead. He buries him under the floorboards in the bedroom where he was murdered. When the police come after being told of a shriek coming from the home, the narrator becomes paranoid that the old man’s heart is beating loudly under the floorboards.
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Not being able to take the guilt any longer, he rips up the boards to reveal the body and admits to the old man’s murder. The old man’s eye is most obvious symbol in Poe’s short fiction, “The Tell Tale Heart. ” The narrator explains that the old man’s eye is like the eye of a vulture; dull and hazy. The eye could have been a medical condition but more than likely was a symbol of the man’s outlook on life. The wording of the story seems to be filtered through the filmy eye which causes confusion and frustration with the text.
Although the eye seems dull and lifeless it has strange effects on the narrator. He feels that whenever the eye glances at him that his blood runs cold and a chill slowly creeps into his bones. The narrator explains, “He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it” (Poe). Although a vulture preys on the dead and the sick, the narrator was very upset and afraid of the vulture eye. This could represent how he feels about himself which would explain why he is so adamantly trying to convince the audience as well as his self that he is not mad.
The old man’s heart seems to be closely related to his creepy eye. When the narrator shines the lantern on the eye it causes the old man’s heart to race. The heart can also represent the sound that the narrator suspects
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was alerting the police that the eye was under the floorboards. The narrator mentions a watch four times in the story. Watches are visual and auditory representations of time. Each tick of the watch is one moment closer to the old man’s death as well to the narrator’s actions being revealed. The narrator is obsessed with controlling the timing of things.
He is in control of when to end the life of the old man. The old man’s heart is linked with a watch and counting down to his death when the narrator says, “now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton” (Poe) when explaining the sound of what he thought was the dead old man’s heart under the floorboards. Poe’s stories usually have a strong connection between the narrator’s mind and the setting (Shmoop University). Most of the story takes place in the old man’s bedroom which is described as so dark that one cannot see anything.
The narrator is so enveloped in his paranoia and guilt that his mind is dark and cannot be read; he is focusing only on trying to express that he is not insane. The narrator also claims to know what the old man is thinking or feeling like when he says, “Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well” (Poe).
Instead of saying how he feels about things, the narrator uses the old man to express his feelings (Shmoop University). His unclear mind steers one to believe that although he insists that he is sane; he is not. The line between the truth in the narrator’s words is blurred with his hallucinations. It’s possible that whenever he explains about the “eye” he could be referring to “I” or himself (Shmoop University). He continuously expresses that he is sane but makes it clear from the very beginning that he is not by telling the audience, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth.
I heard many things in hell” (Poe). He feels that rather than insane, he was only very sharp minded. When explaining why he needed to kill the old man the narrator says, “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! ” (Poe) to express that he will not kill the old man unless his eye is open because it is the eye, rather than the man, that upsets him.
For seven days the eye is closed and he is at peace with himself and he does not snap. On the eighth day the eye is open and he is ready to dispose of the eye that represents his physical self wellness. This connection is made obvious whenever the narrator expresses deep feelings about the old man that he could not possibly know such as when he explained the old man’s thought about death approaching him by saying, “Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain.
All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim” (Poe). Brett Zimmerman pointed out in a critical analysis of the piece that the narrator was explaining the story to someone when he said, “but that he is telling his side of the story to someone (rather than writing to himself in a journal) is clear by his use of the word “you”; and that he is speaking rather than writing is clear by his exhortation to “hearken” (listen) to what he has to say” (Zimmerman).
He is most likely trying to defend himself in a legal situation such as in front of a court. Poe uses numerous figures of speech throughout the story in “The Tell Tale Heart” to put emphasis on the narrator’s unsound mind and to help the reader relate to and understand his feelings and dismantled thought process. He uses anaphora, personification, and similes to aid the reader in understanding the thought process of the narrator while he is telling his story (Cummings). Anaphora is seen when the narrator says, “With what caution–with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work! (Poe) to explain how nicely he treated the old man in the days leading up to his murder. Anaphora is also shown when the narrator suspected the police were on to him where he said, “They heard! –they suspected! –they KNEW! –they were making a mockery of my horror! ” (Poe). Poe also repeatedly uses similes to aid the reader such as, “So I opened it–you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily–until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye” (Poe) when explaining how he shined the lantern light upon the old man’s eye.
This simile helps the reader understand how slow and precise the narrator is while carrying out his plot. Poe uses similes again when the narrator says, “It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage” (Poe) to explain the anger that the old man’s heartbeat brought to him. Poe also personifies death when the narrator explains how close the old man is to death when he says, “Death in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim” (Poe). Poe mentioned the eating of the old man’s heart, dead and alive, many times throughout the story. There are times in the literature where he groups together short sentences and word groups that relate the tempo of the story to the rhythm of a beating heart (Cummings). This is demonstrated when the narrator says, “Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! – no, no? They heard! – they suspected! – they KNEW! – they were making a mockery of my horror! – this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision!
I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! – and now – again – hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! – “Villains! ” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart! ” (Poe) to explain the agony of hearing his heart underneath the floorboards. The narrator’s guilt is a major theme in the literature. The narrator suggests that uncontrollable forces can lead people to commit violent crimes such as the one he committed.
Poe’s skillful writing techniques allow the reader to sympathize with the narrator even though the reader is aware that he committed a senseless murder. This is because of the techniques Poe used to show the reader that the narrator committed the crime because of insanity. Another theme is that fear of discovery brings about discovery (Cummings). This is apparent when the narrator begins to crack from his calm shell under the police investigation and admits to the crime. This is the same technique used by lie detectors (Cummings).
Fear of being uncovered gives away a lie in many situations. In conclusion, symbols, figures of speech, themes, and the setting of “The Tell Tale Heart” help the reader to understand that guilt will overrule the decision to lie in many situations. In the piece, there is no right or wrong answer to decode Poe’s writing since many things that are symbolic also have a literal purpose in the story as well. Martha Womack explains this well when she says, “When reading a story of this nature, one must be reminded not to take horror in Poe too autobiographically.
The narrator’s “nervousness” is a frequently used device of Poe to establish tone and plausibility through heightened states of consciousness” (Womack). It is important to realize the symbolic nature of Poe’s writing, yet equally important not to overanalyze it. ? Works Cited Cummings, Michael. The Tell-Tale Heart. 2005. 4 June 2011 . Poe, Edgar Allan. Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. 1843. 31 5 2011 . Shmoop University, Inc. The Tell Tale Heart Setting. 31 May 2011 . Womack, Martha. The Poe Decoder. 5 June 2011 . Zimmerman, Brett. Frantic Forensic Oratory: Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” Critical Essay. 2001. 30 May 2011 .See More on Gothics