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The Tell-Tale Heart (lit essay)

Posted on February 24, 2013 at 9:40 AM

The Tell-Tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe, 1843) is a short story with elements of horror and suspense. While the tale depicts a grisly murder, the horror comes from the twisted psychology of the killer, and the cold, meticulous process of his deed. Poe’s story represents a new kind of genre that emerged during the Victorian era – the detective story. While very similar to a Gothic tale, this piece focuses on a crime (a murder), a criminal’s inner psychology, the process of his dead, and his eventual capture. Unlike most detective stories, however, the killer in The Tell-Tale Heart is not discovered by the two visiting police men. He is foiled by his own guilty conscience, symbolised by the frantic beating of a heart (whom he thinks is the victim, but is actually his own terrified pulse).

 

The tone of the narrator is a mixture of nervousness and excitement. He plots the murder of an old man, with no clear motive, other than his fear of the man’s “blue eye”. This fear may be projected guilt, the notion that the old man senses the narrator for what he truly is – a killer. The narrator sets about to bury this fear, both figuratively and literally, by killing the old man. The murder may also be a Freudian attempt to overthrow the father figure, and usurp his role as patriarch. Throughout the short story, the narrator is constantly insisting to us that he is not a madman, but a thoughtful, meticulous murderer. The implication is that madmen are messy and wild, while he is disciplined and clean – a more sophisticated killer, for a more sophisticated age. As the story progresses, the narrator’s tone becomes more and more frantic. He jumps wildly from one thought to the next, seizing on proof of his sanity. This may illustrate a form of schizophrenia, or may even be Poe’s critique on the formless, frantic style of modern writers.


Categories: ESSAYS, Literature

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