Tell Tale Heart
How does Poe use language and character to create tension in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’? Edgar Allen Poe is considered to be a master of writing macabre stories. Poe generally writes using this theme which shows he is comfortable with writing morbid dark tales. He is able to write short stories which are full of tension – one main example being ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. The genre choice being ‘short story’ automatically creates tension. Compared to a general ‘novel’ they are massively different. A short story will leave a ton of details out of the story which may raise a lot of questions about some of the deeper secrets within the story.
These questions are not answered leaving you to work it out for yourself as the story progresses. Short stories are read by different people although the whole story is aimed to get one response because it only gives out the main points and emotions conveyed within the story. A novel is able to open out as many opinions as possible within whoever reads the book. Poe lost his mother at a young age and was abandoned by his father shortly after which most likely had changed the type of person he was. He took up alcohol and became addicted but then later suffered from bouts of madness and depression and even had attempted suicide.
It is argued that these experiences and personal issues influenced the stories he wrote. Already, at the start of the story, questions are raised about his sanity. “But why WILL you say that I am mad? ” It is written in 1st person which shows how we are only able to read only his thoughts and views about what is going on. This could be seen as talking to himself and trying to convince himself about the fact that he isn’t mad. This causes the reader to think this man is an unreliable narrator and we lose trust over his insanity. But he may also be talking to the audience and readers with these rhetorical questions to show he isn’t mad.
Poe does this to create tension immediately after we hear him say a few sentences. “WILL” is in block capitals and this puts emphasis on the words to show how he is agitated. It makes the man seem stressed and also obsessed with the fact that we, as an audience, are labelling him as mad. Poe reveals more about the character in the story. “The disease had sharpened my senses… ” This shows how the narrator has had an illness and may not have recovered from it. This may be the cause of anything significant happening within the story as he may not know how to control what he is doing.
It does not tell us what the disease is which brings me back to how short stories create tension – by leaving the main details out. This causes us to ask even more questions about the man’s sanity. Poe is able to expand on the Disease. “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell”. This shows that the unreliable narrator still may not have recovered from the disease. It may be suggesting that he himself cannot trust his own senses therefore there is no chance at all for us to trust him either.
The lack of awareness in him creates tension for us as the audience as we now don’t trust him even further than we already did. The basic repetition of the fact that he heard all of hell could be showing us how much he has to do with the devil. It may be showing how evil he is as he can hear the things occurring in hell. Tension is created as we learn of his obsession with the eye. “I think it was his eye! Yes it was this! ” We are told earlier on in the story that the man will stay calm throughout telling us the story. (“Hearken! And observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story. ) Ironically now, as soon as the man mentions “the eye” he gets agitated about the whole thing as if it has done something significant. He previously mentioned how calm he would stay as the story would be told but now, due to him mentioning “the eye” his madness has been revealed again. It is seen as quite an irrational thing to say as it is seen as out of character and has gone against what he has previously said. He quite calmly suggests how he is about to kill the old man which creates tension for the reader automatically. “Very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever”.
By saying “I made up my mind”, we as an audience find how bluntly the man has said this very strange, as he has just calmly explained to us that he has planned a murder. He may be trying to tell us how he thinks it is so easy to take a life of someone or something that is annoying you in your life. He makes it sounds like it’s the obvious thing to do which adds to our opinion of the man’s sanity. There is an unbalance between what he thinks is right and between what we think is right. The man seems to think himself as a genius where as we think differently. “But you should have seen me.
You should have seen how wisely I proceeded – with what caution”. It shows how much confidence he has in himself no matter what he may know that everybody thinks of him. “—with what caution” shows that he thinks he was able to control how he did what he did. I think personally that this man has no idea what he is actually going to do. I don’t think at all that a “madman” would be able to control his anger over the eye, and therefore this part of the story is significant to what may happen in the future. It also goes to show how the man was so eager to complete this task.