Filed under Short Story: Poe
The Tell-Tale Heart is a very interesting story. Just like every other short story Poe has created, it reflects a relatively disturbing desire that has no legitimate source. In this case, the narrator wishes to kill an old man because he was bewildered and afraid of his eye. There is this sense of paranoia that is immediately sensed by readers when first reading the story. We see that he attempts extremely hard to justify his actions, albeit failing to do so. When he describes how he kills the old man, it was easy for me to see that the narrator had some sort of guilty conscience upon him that he is trying to deny. I could not help but correlate this to Freud’s theory of id, ego, and superego – the one theory that actually identifies the surreal, wild nature of Poe’s characters and plot. It seems that the characters Poe create do not let moral conscience get in the way of pursuing their most deadly desires. They always choose to let their superego overtake their ego, enabling them to strive for anything they feel can be justified. In the Tell Tale Heart, the narrator has an obsession of telling his readers exactly how things happened. The narrator becomes defensive by saying things like, “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently!” He recaps everything as though he is trying to convince his guilt that there was nothing to feel ‘guilty about’. Also, he (assuming that the narrator is a he) tells us that he took extremely great care of the old man for a whole week, right before he killed him. As I have mentioned in class, it is just like buttering and fattening a pig before you kill him – it does not make it any better. If anything, the tell-tale heart ironically convinces me that everyone does have a guilty conscience. The worst of serial killers, too, know that murder is in fact, a sin and something that breaks the natural laws of life and death. This story pinpoints that distress and internal struggle may lead to unprecedented events, but the truth will always come out. No matter how well you hide it, truth always finds a way to shine itself. You cannot conceal truth.
Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories are something that I am not unfamiliar with, having touched upon them briefly in grade 10, and again in grade 11 for my Extended Essay. In fact, the central focus of my Extended Essay was the theme of insanity, a topic which comes up frequently during in-class discussions. Nevertheless, I still found that there were new things to discover about his short stories, particularly The Tell-Tale Heart (which was one of the stories I discussed in my EE).
One aspect that I most admired about this short story was how Edgar Allan Poe was able to craft such suspense within it. Firstly, he compares the beating of the heart to a watch. Despite having read the story many times before, I never noticed the significance of this comparison. The comparison is mentioned twice. The first represents a countdown to the old man’s death, creating tension as the reader awaits for the murder to occur. The suspense is compounded by the narrator’s deeply detailed descriptions of his actions.
Other than slowing the pace of the story and creating tension, the narrator’s attention to detail serves another purpose. As he recounts the events leading up to his crime, he inadvertently reveals his insanity. In this, there is a sense of irony: the narrator attempts to prove his sanity by demonstrating his ability to plan so meticulously, but in doing so, he proves the opposite. Even the fact that the narrator hears the beating of the heart — which is not real, but rather exists solely in his mind — shows that he is far from sane.
With that said, why did the narrator hear the beating of the eponymous tell-tale heart? I believe the beating represented the narrator’s conscience, with which he struggles all throughout the story. He attempts to justify his actions and convince himself that he did nothing wrong, but the heartbeat forces him to admit otherwise. This brings up a number of questions for me — does this mean that morality is external or internal? Do we have any sense of control over our feelings of guilt?
On that note, it is surprising how much depth one short story can have. I recalled the article we read in class about how short stories are often considered something of a miniature version of novels, and are then less valuable. I think that Poe’s short stories, and The Tell-Tale Heart in particular, prove that this is simply not true. There is so much to study, discuss, and discover in short stories that their significance should not be underestimated.
Hi Mr. Andrew, I mistakenly posted this on the previous blog, but I’m reposting it here again just in case.
The Tell-Tale Heart is my favorite Poe story so far; maybe that’s because I can relate to it. No, I have never murdered anyone, nor have I ever attempted to murder anyone. But I have lied. Although lying isn’t on the same scale of evil as murder is, I reacted in a similar – though less extreme- way.
The narrator in the Tell-Tale Heart commits an act of sin, and has to bear with his reactions to it. Consciously, the narrator can act perfectly normal – exuberant, after successfully committing the murder. However, in the end, the narrator’s subconscious drives him to confess his crime by making the narrator imagine the intense thudding he hears. Although the narrator blames this reaction on his “over-acuteness of the senses”, I would still argue that his subconscious – or whatever form of a conscience he has left – influences him more than his conscious mind does. His conscious mind tries to justify what his subconscious makes him feel and think by labeling the thudding he hears as a mere exaggerated reaction.
What I find a little funny is that the narrator does not waste his time defending his innocence. Rather, he tries to defend his sanity, and in doing so convinces the reader of his lack of it. Although he does execute his crime with precision and order, he still states that the idea of murder “haunted him day and night”. It is almost like the logical way in which the narrator approaches his murder, is the way he tries to make sense of his insane desires.
The narrator is in a state of denial. His conscious mind does not want to realize his insanity, although his subconscious already does. In the same way, when I am in the wrong but do not want to acknowledge that fact, my subconscious makes me feel remorse. The Tell-Tale Heart is far more relatable than any of Poe’s other short stories, because it deals with a feeling we have all experienced – guilt.
The tell tale heart is about a story of a man who is attempting to surpass the moral conventions of man, in order to become an individual who is above the standards of society, thus becoming a God onto himself.
In the beginning, the man tells the audience that he is nervous, but also sane in the same time, as he begins to recount his murder of an old man. The fact that he is nervous in the first place suggests that the murder itself has brought a nervous feeling inside him, perhaps his morals were affected? However he brushes it off and states that he is not mad, and that he committed the murder fully conscious, stating that he has no qualms over the murder.
The way the man describes his murder is in a way that suggests that he was proud of it. He mentions that “You should have seen me”, and boasts how calculated his murder was. This is common among serial killers, in that they are boastful of the crimes which they perpetrated. In this way, the man is attempting to be proud of his horrible deed, in order to shackle of guilt.
The reason why the old man was murdered was because of his “Evil Eye” as the murderer rationalized it. He said that it bothered him so greatly, and that he needed to kill the old man in order to destroy it.
The murderers description of the killing is also interesting. He focuses on his cunning ability to sneak up on the old man. When the old man realizes that something is wrong, the murderer describes the old man releasing a sound that arises from the bottom of the soul. He then goes to say that the old man’s reaction of attempting to ward off the problem is futile, with glee. And then goes on to say that Death approaches him. The murderer is clearly enjoying the event altogether, and is in love with the total control he has over the old man.
However, when the cops come to the house, he attempts to play a straight face, and actually succeeds at first. However, he starts to hear a heart thumping, and then starts to believe that the cops are on to him in his mind. This is the murderer’s subconscious acting, the heart thumping is the guilt that arisen from the murder, but in his conscious mind, he states that it is the dead old man’s heart beating.
In the end, the guilt forces him to reveal his gruesome murder. The murderer’s goal in conquering morals has failed him, since his guilt has invaded his subconscious, and thus entering his conscious mind, even though it rationalizes the guilt into a supernatural phenomena with the old man’s tell tale heart.
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