My review of 'Tell Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe
In this essay I intend to discuss the overall theme of mankind’s pre-disposition towards real evil and acts of evil, which appears to be the overriding subject matter of Poe’s text, where we witness a carer of a blind man killing him and then speaking directly to us, the audience/reader, in an attempt to justify his actions and legitimate his non-madness, that ultimately becomes clearer to us is really insanity - My review of 'Tell Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe introduction. I will refer directly to sections of the text to direct this analysis before drawing to an overall conclusion about how I experienced the book personally.
The storyline in this book by Poe is narrated directly to the reader as audience by a nameless character, being the person who commits the act of murder. Although he seems at first to be quite normal and reasonable, as the book unfolds and his retelling of how he murders the old man for whom he is responsible for caring for, we see that he becomes more and more desperate and we realise that he is quite insane. This realisation on our part comes as a contradiction to the narrators intended purpose, which is to justify his actions as sane and not those of insanity. In this way it is irony.
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What is all the more disturbing though, is the fact that as this murderer reveals his story through this narration device, it makes us actually challenge our perceptions of ourselves and consider whether in fact there is evil at the core of every human being. Indeed, Poe attempts to make us think about every thing that is revealed by his choice of words used, this can be seen from the very first line in the text, where the narrator is speaking to us and says, “True! –nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? ” .
Immediately we see that this man is anything other than rational and straight away we know that we are meant to decide for ourselves whether this man is mad or not. This is a senseless, motiveless murder, as he kills the old man for whom he is caring for, for no other reason than he did not like the way he looked. That is, he did not like the one cataract blind eye of the old man that he felt was vulture like and watching and judging him. Immediately, therefore, we are informed that this man is anything other than rational and sane, as paranoia seems to be the reason he committed murder.
His paranoia is also evident in the scene at the end of the book where he has killed the old man and put him under the floorboards, then the police arrived, having been called due to a noise disturbance report being received, and he takes them to the room where the old man is buried underneath the floorboards. Although the police cannot hear anything, the man thinks that he can hear the heartbeat of the dead old man coming from the floorboards and so can they, which makes him reveal what he has done to the police, who then obviously arrest him.
This part of the text kind of reminded me of Lady Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ play, where she thought that her hands were still covered in blood and kept washing them, saying, “out damned spot” because in reality she could not rid herself of the guilt of the murder of King Duncan. Similarly, the man thinks he hears the heartbeat because he is feeling guilty of the old mans murder. His act of murder, although not premeditated, seems to be inevitable from his behaviour. For each night, at exactly midnight, he creeps into the old mans room and stands over him, just watching him, just checking that he is sleeping.
To me, this part of the story appeared to show that this was the only time the crazy man felt he was in control over the old man. As for the rest of the time, he was obsessed that the old man’s vulture like eye was following his every move, and I kind of felt that he felt trapped by it. Ultimately, his act of murder was meant to make him feel free, yet it trapped him in guilt instead, made evident by the pounding heartbeat at the end, as it was probably his own heart beating heavily from guilt that he really heard.
In summary then, this short story was a very good read as it looks closely at the dark side of human behaviours and although it may appear that the man has socio-path tendencies, and that Poe appears to be investigating the psychology of evil within mankind, actually, I would argue that this story actually appears to present as an examination of human nature and the delicate balance of good vs. evil. It is only when the precariously maintained balance is disturbed that the dark side surfaces and this book investigates this in-balance in human nature.
Although, the story also is riddled with the guilt that this man feels at his actions and in this way, we can see that this is the internal light of conscience trying to fight through the dark act of murder. I enjoyed the use of descriptive and emotive language used that really brings to the imagination the presentation of each happening within the story. I can see the old man’s deformed eye, I can feel the narrators anxieties building, the use of capital letters adds to this tension.
For example, when at one moment he is sitting down casually talking of everyday events with the police and then starts to think he can hear something, the text follows, “Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND — MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. ” This clearly shows the reader that the sound is intense, our response is therefore intense as the capital letters let us feel and see the panic for ourselves.
By using the analogy of the ticking of a watch wrapped and muffled within cotton, yet the sound is still breaking through when it should not be, we can see that this is something unnatural that he is hearing and experiencing. Poe very successfully uses language and devices such as these to build on the interpersonal experiences for the reader, which I found very enjoyable. In short then, I would say that this was a good story to read.
It is accessible both because it is a short story and therefore is not too time consuming in effort or energies, but it is written in an exciting and highly descriptive way, that clearly leaves a significant impression on the reader. The use of the main character as narrator of the events is also a clever device to use as it allows us to get right inside his head and understand his motives, all be they quite delusional, for the murder. It is the fact that we can understand why he did it, as awful as it was, that makes us wonder how close we may come to committing such an irrational act and that is why I really liked this story.