“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe is an intellectual murder story told from a first-person perspective of an eccentric narrator who kills a man because he is so frightened of the man’s eye. The mad narrator ultimately is unable to maintain his innocence to the deed. The narrator is obsesses with the vulture eye of the old man who he lives with. He describes the eye as “evil”, like the eye of a vulture, “a pale blue eye, with a film over it. The narrator has a good relationship with the old man but decides that he must kill him in order to rid himself of the eye forever. During the events of the story it is obvious that the narrator is a man in fear of the evil eye with conscience eating away at him in the events of killing the old man. Even though the narrator focuses on the evil eye and tries to justify his actions, in the end he can’t escape his own conscience. The narrator has a loving and friendly relationship with the old man. He states “I loved the old man. The old man had never wronged him nor insulted him and he had no desire for the old man’s money. He says “For his gold I had no desire.” The narrator is also sure to state to the readers that he was kind to the old man, “I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.” He was careful not to disturb the old man’s sleep each of the seven nights that he watched him and every morning he “spoke courageously to him”, “called him by name in a hearty tone”, and “inquired how he had passed the night” before.
The old man’s evil eye seems to have power over the narrator. He states “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture… Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold.” For an unknown reason, the old man’s evil eye has provoked insanity in the narrator though the narrator argues that he is not crazy. He says “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!… And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?… ”
The narrator’s obsession with the evil is shown by his extreme precision on how he watched the old man in order to catch a glimpse of the vulture eye. Every night at midnight he would turn the latch of the old man’s door and opened it “oh so gently”. When he had made a sufficient opening for his head he put in a closed dark lantern so that no light shone in, then he thrust his head in, “I moved it slowly – very, very slowly… and “It took (him) and hour to place (his) whole head within the opening so far that (he) could see him…” Then when his head was well in the room he “undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously – cautiously (for the hinges creaked) – I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights – every night just at midnight…” And on the eighth night he describes a watch’s minute hand as being quicker than his own. All of this shows how the narrator used such vigilance in how he went about carrying out his plan to kill the old man.
The extreme precision and mindfulness that he went about doing these things in order to see the old man’s vulture eye illustrates the extent of the narrator’s obsession and fear of the evil eye. Although the narrator is so cautious about how he goes about killing the old man he begins the story by letting the reader know that he was very nervous about what he had planned to do. The narrator’s first sentence says “TRUE! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am.” This is the first indication to the reader that the narrator does have a conscience.
He even says that his idea to kill the old man “haunted him day and night.” When the narrator is hearing what he believes to be the old man’s heart beating he is really just so nervous that he is hearing the beat of his own heart. The beat becomes so loud that he begins to worry; “But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me – the sound would be heard by a neighbour!” After the killing is done and the officers have not found anything suspicious they sit over the dead body and begin in chat.
As they are chatting the narrator, now the killer, grows anxious and his guilty conscience begins to overwhelm him. He says “I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone.” This caused him to begin to hear his own heart beat louder and louder again. The noise drove him to agony and he began to think the officers were “making a mockery of his horror.” His guilty conscience overwhelmed him so much that he couldn’t bear it any longer until he finally admitted to doing the deed to the officers. Edgar Allan Poe indicates that the narrator is a mentally ill man with an extreme fear of the old man’s vulture eye.
Or should he be viewed as a mentally ill, mad man? Throughout the events of the story, the narrator is unaware that his plan to kill the old man simply to rid himself of the evil eye is wrong. Poe wants readers to see that this man, the narrator, does indeed have a conscience though. It just doesn’t overpower his obsession with the eye and his plan to get rid of it. The evidence of the narrator’s existing conscience throughout the story shows that his natural instincts were present in knowing that even the idea of killing the old was wrong.
In the event of the officers sitting and chatting for such a long period of time after he has killed the old man, the narrator’s guilt and anxiety becomes an extreme factor overwhelming him and causes his big plan to hurt himself in the end by telling the officers what he has done. Subconsciously the narrator hurts himself in the because of the decisions that he made to carry out his plan as a result of his guilt.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Literature, Reading, Reacting, Writing. Eds. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Compact 7th Edition. Mason, OH: Cengage, 2009. Print.