How Does Edgar Allen Poe Create Tension in the Tell Tale Heart Essay
The short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was written by Edgar Allen Poe in the year 1843. He was born in America, January 1809 and died shortly after in October 1849. Poe spent most of his life in the United States army and only started writing literacy after his brother had died in the late 1830’s. Poe was one of the first American authors to be recognised in the genre gothic horror or simple horror. Poe’s most recurring themes were views of premature burial and reanimation of the dead in this case the beating of the old mans heart towards the end of the story.
Poe’s believed inspiration for writing in this style was after his wife Virginia Clemm died shortly after their marriage. Gothic horror combines the elements of horror and romance into its own style, the style includes different aspects that normally re-occur in the genre; A darkened atmosphere and a rickety old house which gives home to a sinister villain that creates havoc for a certain victim of their choice.
In this instance the narrator is the villain wrecked my madness and distress and the victim which is an old man who is wanted dead for his “Evil” “vulture” eye that torments the narrator .
This end with the narrator killing the old man in cold blood which is a usual theme in gothic horrors. An unnamed narrator opens the story by addressing the reader and claiming that he is nervous but not mad. This automatically makes the reader feel a gradual build in tension and by unnaming the narrator it dehumanises him which makes the reader feel no human compassion towards. He says that he is going to tell a story in which he will defend his sanity yet confess to having killed an old man. His motivation was not desire for money, but rather a fear of the old man’s pale blue eye.
Again, he states that he is not crazy because his calm and fastidious actions, though villainous, are not those of a madman. Every night, he went to the old man’s rom and secretly observed the man sleeping. In the morning, he would behave as if everything were normal. After a week of this, the narrator decides to kill the old man. When the narrator arrives late on the eighth night, though, the old man wakes up and cries out. The narrator remains still, watching the old man as he sits awake and frightened.
The narrator understands how frightened the old man is, having also experienced the lonely terrors of the night with the voices he heres through heaven and hell. Soon, the narrator hears a dull pounding that he interprets as the old man’s terrified heartbeat. Worried that a neighbour might hear the loud thumping, he attacks and kills the old man. He then dismembers the body and hides the pieces below the floorboards in the bedroom. He is careful not to leave even a drop of blood on the floor. As he finishes his job, the narrator hears a knock at the street door.
The police have arrived, having been called by a neighbour who heard the old man shriek. The narrator is careful to be chatty and to appear normal. He leads the officers all over the house without acting suspiciously. At the height of his bravado, he even brings them into the old man’s bedroom to sit down and talk at the scene of the crime. The policemen do not suspect a thing. The narrator is comfortable until he starts to hear a low thumping sound. He recognises the low sound as the heart of the old man, pounding away beneath the floorboards.
He panics, believing that the policemen must also hear the sound and know his act of guilt guilt. Driven mad by the idea he confesses to the crime and shrieks at the men to rip up the floorboards. The story starts in media res, which means that the story is neither started or ended and it makes the reader feel as if they have already been involved with the plot of a previous storyline. An unnamed narrator is having a one to one conversation with the reader and a link is created between the reader and the narrator as if involved with the story.
The narrator abruptly begins to question his own sanity at the start of the story and brings the reader in to a personal question, “will you say that I am mad? ”, “How, then, am I mad? ”Again the comment is a personal remark using the term “you”, however the reader begins to feel as if the narrator is confessing or has already be accused of being “mad” as he is denying the claim without anyone stating it. This in creases the tension of the story as the reader has not stated anything about the narrators sanity, however he replies with intruding question which makes the reader feel unnerved.
He also continues to state about his “disease” and how it has sharpened his sense of hearing and by doing so claims that he can hear all doings in heaven and hell. The reader at this moment feels anxious towards this statement as heaven and hell are non accessible and a tension rises as we believe he is hearing these words in his own head. This is a common theme for a Gothic Horror and repeats itself through the rest of the story as the theme of madness and disease is almost always included.
The theme or repetition is common in the story as it the narrator trying desperately to conceive his point through to the reader and make the reader believe him After the link is created between the bard and the reader he begins to open up to the reader the conversation progresses as he speaks about an old man. The bard then tells the reader about an object that “haunted” him. The use of the word haunted startles the reader as the narrator earlier stated he has herd things in heaven and hell, however he does not fear those things, so the tension increases as we consider that the “object” that he speaks of must but of pure evil.
He then reveals the hated object by creating a paradox with the old man as he says he “loved the old man” and “he had never wronged” him, however he has a personal obsession with the old man’s eye. The bard similes’ the old man’s eye as a “vulture” eye and how whenever it fell upon him his blood ran cold, the narrator uses the word “vulture” as a vulture is a dark and sinister create that feeds of the dead. The narrator does this to make it feel like the old man is evil and to rid us of any compassion for him.
Further on in the story he decides to “ take the life of the old man, “ and rid himself “of the eye forever” because of his “Evil Eye”. This part of the story is a good point to show how poe uses the letter “E” in the start of evil to emphasise the extent of what the narrator sees evil in the old mans eye. Another contradiction central to the story involves the tension between the narrator’s capacities for love and hate. Poe’s narrator loves the old man. He is not greedy for the old man’s wealth, nor vengeful because of any slight.
The narrator thus eliminates motives that might normally inspire such a violent murder. As he states his own sanity, the narrator fixes on the old man’s vulture-eye. He reduces the old man to the pale blue of his eye in obsessive way. He wants to separate the man from his “Evil Eye” so he can spare the man the burden of guilt that he directs to the eye itself just like how the narrator introduces the old man he does not name him or give any details of the old man so the reader does not feel any compassion towards the old man as he chooses to kill him.
The murder of the old man illustrates the extent to which the narrator separates the old man’s identity from his eye. The narrator sees the eye as completely separate from the man, and as a result, he is capable of murdering him while maintaining that he loves him, this point is backed up by the narrator saying “i was never kinder to the old man thundering the whole week before i killed hi” this increases the tension as we cant understand how someone who loves another has the mind to kill them and it makes the reader think about he narrators mental health. when the murder is in development the narrator is very self involved and admires each and every step he creates. ” You should have seen how wisely i proceeded”, oh you would have laughed to see how cunningly i thrust in! “, “Cautiously – oh so cautiously”. this makes the reader feel completely unnerved as we cant conceive how a person my think that a lead up to a murder could be entertaining in the way that the narrators scores out his tall, this makes the reader feel confused and in suspense of what could happen next.
The narrator also tells the reader how every night before he committed the murder he would venture into the old mans room and watch him while he slept “indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked upon him while he slept”. This act creates a complete new view on the narrator for the reader as menacing and sinister as we have to think of someone in complete darkness watching someone as they sleep also in the witching hour of twelve which again increases the tension.
After completing the murder we understand the narrator’s desire to remove the man’s eye motivated the murder, but the narrator did not acknowledge that this act will end the man’s life but would only rid himself of the eye. The narrator decides that the pro-cations he has taken to rid himself of the eye are not of sufficient quality to him now and decides to dismember his victim ” First of all i dismembered the corpse. i cut off the head and the arms and legs” which further deprives the old man of his humanity.
This makes the reader feel complete horror towards the narrator as the narrator decides that killing the old man was not good enough for his plans alone, and decides that dismembering the old man will be an appropriate move. This is also very anticlimactic to the reader as a cautious murder has been turned into a blood bath. The narrator confirms his conception of the old man’s eye as separate from the man by ending the man altogether and turning him into so many parts and a sudden drop in tension as the muddier has been completed.
Towards the end of the story the narrator’s newly heightened sensitivity to sound which he claims to have ultimately overcomes him, as he proves unwilling or unable to distinguish between real and imagined sounds. Because of his warped sense of reality, he obsesses over the low beats of the man’s heart yet shows little concern about the man’s shrieks, which are loud enough both to attract a neighbour’s attention and to draw the police to the scene of the crime. Poe’s interest is less in external forms of power than in the power that pathologies of the mind can hold over an individual.
The narrator’s paranoia and guilt make it inevitable that he will give himself away. The police arrive on the scene to give him the opportunity to betray himself. The more the narrator proclaims his own cool mannered welcomes the policemen into his home “I smiled – for what had I to fear? I bade the men welcome”. The narrator here is being overconfident and the drop of tension after the murder is starting to child up again as the reader can feel something must go wrong at this point in the story. He sits the policemen above the floorboards in which he had placed the old mans dismembered body.
The reader is now held in suspense as the narrator has slipped into his own mental state which makes us prepare for the second climax. The more he cannot escape the beating of his own heart, which he mistakes for the beating of the old man’s heart. As he confesses to the crime in the final sentence, he addresses the policemen as “villains,” indicating his inability to distinguish between their real identity and his own crime which makes the reader feel as if the tension has been irradiated away from the main line of the story.
I think that the main theme of poe’s gothic horror style is portrayed very well in this story as the theme of a villain and prey to that villain which in this case is the narrator and the old man. And how the ending of the story is very climatic at the end and how i believe like the start of the story it has not finished or started its tale and is only a section of the story that has been told.
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