Edgar Allan Poe has been a renowned poet and literary artist in his generation because of his unique and catchy writing style which excites and keeps the emotions of his readers on edge. He has been regarded as one of the most powerful and convincing authors of all time that uses a mix of different rhetorical figures with powerful figures of speech and thought as well as thrilling arguments which undoubtedly increase the readers’ emotional attachment to his stories (Zimmerman, “Edgar Allan Poe” 28). Causing this kind of effect on the readers is never easy. It definitely requires artistic abilities and empathizing considerations on the part of the poets in order to understand what the readers would like to know and read about. Nonetheless, Poe was highly regarded in the field of literature despite the challenging competitions during his time. However, there are still several literary criticisms that cast doubt on Poe’s skills in terms of whether they are worthy of such recognition. Most of his stories have acquired several criticisms, including one of his most studied and reviewed work of all time, The Tell Tale Heart.
What the Critics Would Have to Say About The Tell Tale Heart
The Tell Tale Heart is basically an interesting tale of a criminal who tried to prove his sanity by writing about his own account of how he killed a man. Throughout the entire story, the readers can expect detailed descriptions of how the murder was accomplished and what thoughts – sane or insane – went on inside the murderer’s mind. In this story, an effect which may evidently be observed is the doppelganger effect, as depicted in the old man’s identification with the murderer who is also the narrator of the story (Chua 350).
In various scenes of the story, the narrator revealed that he understands and empathizes with what the old man feels (Chua 351). The narrator feels bad whenever the old man looks like he is having trouble, and he also feels terrified every time the old man looks frightened. Therefore, this shows that the narrator actually had no hostile reason to kill the man since he actually feels for him and loves him. However, what made the narrator murder the old man is his eye, for “he had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it” (Poe 2). This may appear to be a confusing and quite misleading reasoning for some; however, literary critic John Chua interprets the “eye” as a homonym for “I,” suggesting that the one the murderer was trying to destroy was actually himself (351). Thus, this literary technique can be regarded as a seriously tricky and deceiving.
However, although Poe’s use of symbolisms and the doppelganger effect may be considered an impressive literary technique, some critics still regard his narration and the characters he used as unconvincing. Brett Zimmerman, for example, notes that although Poe succeeded in using notable figures of speech and several argumentative appeals, there are still parts in the story which force the readers to just stand back and watch how the characters of the story “fall short” of their persuasive efforts (“Edgar Allan Poe” 28).
On the other hand, some critics prefer to look not at the context of Poe’s characters but rather on the significance of the portrayal of the characters. For one, Brent Zimmerman believes that The Tell Tale Heart is a good reflection of forensic and oratory “courtroom rhetoric” (“Frantic Forensic Oratory” 34). He regards the narrator’s manner of recounting the specific details on how the murder was done as a crafty and artistic interpretation of the true paranoid and schizophrenic tendencies of a murderer who confesses inside a court trial (Zimmerman, “Frantic Forensic Oratory” 34).
What the critics generally say about The Tell Tale Heart of Edgar Allan Poe is that it is artistic, clever, imaginative, and thrilling enough to amuse the readers. However, in some parts, it may lack supporting details to make the argument more persuasive and convincing. Generally, most critics also commend Poe’s ability to mold physically simple and typical yet internally complex characters such as the narrator in this story. Although some critics question his ability to persuade and move readers through the dialogues of his characters, they are nevertheless all praises for his conceptualization of such complex characters.
Truly, understanding Poe’s work just like Tell Tale Heart would require reading between the lines as the message and real meaning that Poe tries to express appear to be always hidden between the symbols and dialogues in his stories. Based on the general criticisms on his works by the literary critics, it appears that Poe definitely deserves all the recognition and positive appraisal that he has acquired over the years. Knowing that succeeding to capture the heart and interest of critical readers in the world of literature is never an easy task, Poe was still able to win the attention of his readers in uniquely artistic and imaginative ways. Thus, looking at this work of Edgar Allan Poe, it is not surprising that the comments and evaluations still generally show consistent and unchanging positive marks to date.
Chua, John. Criticism of the Tell Tale Heart in, An Offprint from Short Stories for Students: presenting Analysis, Context and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories. Michigan: Gale, 2002.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale Heart: The Originals. Raleigh, North Carolina: Hayes Barton Press, 2002.
Zimmerman, Brett. Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.
—. “Frantic Forensic Oratory: Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’.” Style 35.1 (Spring 2001): 34–49.