Tell-tale Heart is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It can be considered a classic example of Gothic fiction shaped by Poe’s unique individuality.
Following a unanimous Ist person narrator, we enter into the story. The narrator lives with an old man. He had no enmity with the old man.
” I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold, I had no desire.”
The instigation or stimulation behind the murder was the peculiar eye of the old man, a weird eye that has an extra membrane over it like the reptiles. This eye was freaking out the peace of the narrator and he wanted desperately to get rid of it. Finally, he planned to kill him.
“ I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture-a pale blue eye, with a film over it.”
And the eye brought a horrific sensation within the narrator that forced him to kill the old man.
“ Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold: and so by degrees-very gradually-I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.”
For seven nights he sneaked into his room taking his lantern. He pushed his head and watched the old man sleeping with his eyes closed. Therefore finding no stimulation he came back as he could not bring himself to do what he planned. Finally, on the eighth day, he mastered more courage and stuck his head into his room.
He made a sound that awaken the old man. The rays of the lantern fell on the freaky eye of the old man who sprang up in his bed asking,
” Who’s there?”
The narrator waited and listened to the heartbeat of the old man which was gradually increasing due to his trepidation.
The narrator apprehended that the neighbours could hear it. So he attacked the old man. The old man screamed out. The narrator smothered him with the bed turning over him. He waited and got sure if his heart stopped finally…”stone dead.”
Then he cut his body into pieces and put them under the plank of the room.
As he finished his job he heard a knock and found three policemen who came to check over him. Hearing the screaming of the old man one of the neighbours had informed them. The narrator brought the policemen and tried to deal with them with very light-hearted joviality. He said that the scream was his own in his bad dream. He also confirmed that the old man is out of the country. In his extreme sagacity, he took them right into the old man’s room and arranged the chairs. He put his chair just above the place where he buried the dead body. Then he started chatting amiably band enthusiastically with the policemen.
The narrator started to feel some ringing sound inside his head. It was getting louder and louder and he started talking louder to cover up the noise with gesticulation.
Meanwhile, the sound was overwhelming his senses and he felt horrible. He recognised the sound as the heartbeat of the old man. It came to his mind that the noise was not inside his head…it was outside. Everyone could hear it. The policemen were acting calmly to relish his pain. Being mad with the idea that they were making fun of him with their quiet gait, he screamed out,
” Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed!-tear up the planks!-here, here!-it is the beating of his hideous heart.”
The story is centred around mainly two characters-the narrator alias the murderer and the old man or the victim. There were three policemen also in whose presence the narrator unearthed his crime.
He is the protagonist whose extreme uneasiness with one eye of the old man pushed him to murder him. He confessed that he had an over acuteness of the sense.
The old man:
Nothing is known about him except his genial nature. He never mistreated the narrator. But one of his eyes was like culture with an extra membrane, a cataract eye.
Paranoia and mental deterioration:
It is one of his shortest stories and he proves his extreme sense of brevity and open ending feature in this story by stripping off any excess. He is very specific and economic in presenting the paranoid narrator.
Contradiction or bigotry in a character:
The character is suffering from psychological confusion. The narrator confessed he loved the old man but again concluded that he wanted to get rid of him for his eyes that disturbed his sanity. The old man’s identity is minimised to the position of a single eye.
The man repeatedly spoke in support of his sanity which proved his insanity more prominently. The careful calculation and the cold blood murder just for a distorted eye are only possible for a mad person. He not only killed the man after his cunning patience for one week but also dismembered his body.
The Black Cat and Tell-tale Heart:
The revelation of crime matches another story by Poe, The Black Cat…where the cruel insane man killed his wife and the cat and buried them in the wall by cementing. With the same sagacity as the tell-tale heart protagonist, the black cat owner over-enthusiastically led the policemen to the place where he kept his secret. As they hit the place a hollow sound makes them suspicious and the crime unfolded.
Again it can be linked with the Dostievskian style where the moral oscillation leads the criminal to confess his guilt.
Poe’s writing style always resonates with captivating narration. Such smartly cobbled suspense and insanity weaved together fixes the readers in the pages. There I found no loose ends as a strong narrative string keeps up the surcharge of tension intact within me from beginning to the end. Poe has the competency to keep his readers on tenterhooks. And the ending is just fabulous with its laconic open ending. The readers are left to contemplate.
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