Gothic Elements in “The Telltale Heart” Analysis

Table of Content

The classic short story of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, written by one of the all time masters of horror, Edgar Allen Poe, has always been used as an excellent example of Gothic fiction. Edgar Allen Poe specialized in the art of gothic writing and wrote many stories that portrayed disturbing events and delved deeply into the minds of its characters. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe revolves the plot around a raving individual who, insisting that he is sane, murders an old man because of his` “vulture eye”.

The three main gothic elements that are evident in this story are the unique setting, the theme of death and decay, and the presence of madness.Unlike many other works of gothic fiction, this story does not take place in your typical abandoned monastery, haunted house or ominous castle. The setting is described as a dark and shadowy place (“black as pitch with the thick darkness”), but the story probably takes place in a house located in an urban area instead of an isolated one. We know this because of the neighbors, who are able to hear the old man cry out at night and then proceed to call the police who later show up at the house.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Because the house is so vaguely described, the reader is forced to imagine the setting and that makes it all the more frightening.A classic element of gothic fiction typically involves a threatening atmosphere and it is very important that this is not just part of the background, but forms a crucial part of the storyline. Poe does an excellent job of portraying this by demonstrating that true horror is not always found in one’s surroundings, but instead comes from deep within one’s self. The nervous, frantic tone of the story presents the reader with a rather dark, eerie feeling of gloominess and despair.

Another archetypal element of gothic writings can be found when one analyzes the pervasive theme of death and decay in this narrative.The theme of death as an obsession is apparent when the narrator describes his night time activities, which involve him creeping into the old man’s room and watching his “vexing eye” which then motivates him to murder the man in a very violent and traumatic way. The narrator can think of nothing else but killing the old man with which he lives even though he has nothing against this man and actually doesn’t mind him. He finds the man’s eye to be so repulsive that the only way to deal with it is by destroying the old man.

The eye is described as resembling “that of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. ” The narrator also describes how this eye makes him feel when he states that “I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness – all a dull blue, with a hideous veil that chilled the very marrow in his bones. ” This startling quote helps to deepen the story’s suspense.

The theme of violence is also shown when the murderer describes what he does with the old man’s body after killing him. “First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs. The theme of decay is evident throughout the story as well because it is the associated process with death and because of several descriptions in the story, such as the dim lighting, the creaking door hinges, and the loose floorboards, all which can be used as evidence of decay.

The old man gives the reader the image of a man whose body is aged and frail as well. The third and final element of gothic literature that can be found in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is that of the presence of madness and the thin boundary line that exists between sanity and insanity.The narrator repeatedly presents himself as a reliable and completely sane character in the story. He insists to the reader that he is not mad and that this can be proven by how carefully he thought out and executed his plan to carry out such a brutal crime.

“Harken! and observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story”. The violent dislike that the narrator takes to the way the old man looks at him with the eye, as well as the way that he describes how satisfied he was after killing the old man clearly indicate that he is not sane and that he has descended into madness.Poe’s main element of gothic literature which establishes the main theme of insanity is the use of psychological sounds. In this story he uses the abnormal sound of a heartbeat when the police arrive.

The narrator describes how confidently he spoke with the police officers, up until the point where the sound of the dead old man’s heart began to beat loudly. He describes the sound, saying that it “was a low, dull, quick sound–much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”.Poe makes it clear in this scene that the beating heart is not just the narrator listening to his own heart, but an unexplainable sound which may be the work of the supernatural. There is no reasonable explanation with which to reassure ourselves when we ask where this sound is coming from.

This element of ambiguity is also quite common in gothic literature. Once the sound of the heart beating becomes unbearable for him, the narrator, overcome by a frenzy of emotions, loses grip of his sanity and confesses to the crime saying: “Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! –here, here! it is the beating of his hideous heart! ” The internal chaos or struggle of self-delusion at this point proves to be his doom. The dark, unsettling setting, the theme of death and decay and the presence of madness suggest gothic characteristics in this narrative. Edgar Allen Poe uses this story to prove that true evil comes from within and that everyone is capable of committing heinous acts like this one.

He does an excellent job of using the classic elements in gothic literature to illustrate how ultimately; a man’s guilt can manifest it self by way of hallucinations and lead to a confession.

Cite this page

Gothic Elements in “The Telltale Heart” Analysis. (2017, May 02). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront