The Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart
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The Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart
Through the first person narrator, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" illustrates how man's imagination is capable of being so vivid that it profoundly affects people's lives. The manifestation of the narrator's imagination unconsciously plants seeds in his mind, and those seeds grow into an unmanageable situation for which there is no room for reason and which culminates in murder. The narrator takes care of an old man with whom the relationship is unclear, although the narrator's comment of "For his gold I had no desire" (Poe 34) lends itself to the fact that the old man may be a family member whose death would monetarily benefit the narrator. Moreover, the narrator also intimates a caring relationship when he says, "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult" (34). The narrator's obsession with the old man's eye culminates in his own undoing as he is engulfed with internal conflict and his own transformation from confidence to guilt.
The fixation on the old man's vulture-like eye forces the narrator to concoct a plan to eliminate the old man. The narrator confesses the sole reason for killing the old man is his eye: "Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees - very gradually - I made up my mind to rid myself of the eye for ever" (34). The narrator begins his tale of betrayal by trying to convince the reader he is not insane, but the reader quickly surmises the narrator indeed is out of control. The fact that the old man's eye is the only motivation to murder proves the narrator is so mentally unstable that he must search for justification to kill. In his mind, he rationalizes murder with his own unreasonable fear of the eye.
The narrator wrestles with conflicting feelings of responsibility to the old man and feelings of ridding his life of the man's "Evil Eye" (34). Although afflicted with overriding fear and derangement, the narrator still acts with quasi-allegiance toward the old man; however, his kindness may stem more from protecting himself from suspicion of watching the old man every night than from genuine compassion for the old man.
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Tell-tale Heart Narrator Edgar Allan Evil Eye First Person Internal Conflict Degrees Caring
The narrator shows his contrariety when he confesses he loves the old man, but he is still too overwhelmed by the pale blue eye to restrain himself from the all-consuming desire to eliminate the eye. His struggle is evident as he waits to kill the old man in his sleep so that he won't have to face the old man when he kills him; but on the other hand, the narrator can't justify the killing unless the vulture eye was open. The narrator is finally able to kill the man because "I saw it with perfect distinctness - all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot" (35).
The mission of the narrator begins with meticulous planning and confidence, but ultimately his guilty conscience creates his downfall. For seven days, the narrator watches the old man while he sleeps and he even "chuckled at the idea" that the old man knows nothing of the narrator's "secret deeds or thoughts" (35). The narrator's comments show his confidence and audacity, even pride, in his plan to kill: "Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers - of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph" (34-35). The narrator's assurance in his evil deed continued even when the police came to check on the old man and investigate the loud noises neighbors heard the night before: "I smiled,-for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome" (36). However, the narrator's mind is quickly consumed with guilt, which creates his delusion of hearing the old man's heartbeat taunting him from under the flooring. His paranoia makes the heart beat "louder - louder - louder!" and in his state of delirium he confesses to killing the old man in hopes of ridding his life of the menacing heartbeat: "I felt that I must scream or die! - and now [...]" (37).
The narrator sets out to rid his life of the fear he created by obsessing over the man's eye, but once that fear is destroyed, another fear - that of the heartbeat - is created and becomes more overwhelming than the first. In playing mind games with himself - seeing how far he can push himself to triumph over his own insanity - the narrator slips further into a fantasy world. His overriding confidence in killing the man ultimately turns into overriding guilt even as he justifies in his mind the savage killing, chopping up the body and placing it under the floorboards. The narrator's imagination creates his need and plan to destroy the eye, but it then creates the need to save himself from the heartbeat that drives him over the edge.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Tell-Tale Heart." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999. 33-37.
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Edgar Allan Poe, whose personal torment so powerfully informed his visionary prose and poetry, is a towering figure in the history of American literature. A Virginia gentleman and the son of itinerant actors, the heir to great fortune and a disinherited outcast, a university man who had failed to graduate, a soldier brought out of the army, a husband with an unapproachable child-bride, a brilliant editor and low salaried hack, a world renowned but impoverish author, a temperate man and uncontrollable alcoholic, a materialist who yearned for a final union with God. His fevered imagination brought him to great heights of creativity and the depths of paranoiac despair. Yet although he produced a relatively small volume of work, he virtually invented the horror and detective genres and his literary legacy endures to this day.
In the Tell Tale Heart the main character, the narrator, has a problem with an old man, the antagonist, whom he is living with. The odd thing is that the problem has nothing to do with old man, how he acts, or even his attitude towards the narrator. It is simply one of the old man's eyes which is blind or he can't see a hundred percent in one eye. The narrator's description of the eye is that it resembled that of a vulture, pale blue with a film over it. When the narrator looked at it, it caused his blood to run cold. This drove him crazy and caused him to kill the old man
He begins to believe that he is hearing the old man's heart beating, while he was killing him and after he is dead. The pounding becomes louder and louder, and drives him crazy. It forces him to tell the police officers, who are searching his house, that he killed the old man and showed them were the body is buried, which is the most ironic and the last thing you would think to happen. The irony comes into play when his heightened sense of hearing and sober madness is the cause of his downfall. How ironic, the same craze that led him to kill the man is the same craze that led him to his demise.
The story takes place in a house around the turn of the 1800, probably in the northeastern part of the United States, and covers the period of one week and the relentless pursuit of perfect preparation the narrator went through to commit murder without getting caught. The story involves an old man, the antagonist, the police, and the protagonist, who is also the narrator, and tells the story from his point of view. On the other hand we have no idea of the relationship between the antagonist, the old man and the narrator, but what is told to us by the narrator. One tends to wander if they were related or was he simply a servant for hire and therefore cared for the old man. The narrator has left a lot to our imagination on the relationship of the characters.
His insanity has made him a very paranoid man, he believes that everyone is trying to make a full of him, even thought he believed he carried out a perfect murder. He bragged about his preparation, and thought that the old suspected nothing of his plain of terror and mayhem. The narrator who is aware of what is it to be mad, but cannot bring himself to believe that he himself is insane. He believes that since he is able to recollect and present every detail of the events that took place proves that he is not insane. He believes that he is sane because of the manner in which he carried out the crime of murder.
His reason for wanting the old man dead is without motive. "I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire" the narrator thinks that he has no clear motive and that he loves the old man. The truth in the matter is that he knows he cannot bring himself to admit to the point that only a mad man would kill someone just because of the way their eyes looked. " It was not the old man who vexed me, but his evil eye." He tries to explain his reason without implicating himself. The narrator makes us aware of his illness by presenting us with the fact that his sense of hearing is acute. " I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth." Who in their right mind have the hearing capability to hear sounds in heaven or hell to further prove a point of insanity? One must also asked oneself, who in their right mind would go through such a process to kill some old man, just because of an old eye? By telling the story in such detail, the narrator proves himself mad.
The title of the story in itself presents a puzzle with its title. Which heart was the author referring to? He first hears the old man"s heart in the room on the night of the murder. But the heart in question belongs to the narrator. Due to his heightened sense of hearing and the police refusal to leave his fear of being caught increases his heartbeat. As the sound grew louder and louder, he became uneven and suspected that the officer heard the sound and decided to neglect it, because they were making a mockery of his horror. To him anything was better than going through with the agony and pain of the pounding hear beat. So in the end his conscience led him to admit to his crime.
The story tries to tell many stories, but the one point that I gathered from the story is that one should not hate or dislike someone simply for the way they look. I sometimes asked myself why do racism exists and the story paints a clear picture of the insanity that goes on in the minds of racist individuals. Simply wanting to kill a fellow human being, just because of the way they look is insane no matter how people try to rationalize it.
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