The Tell-Tale Heart
Q. Choose a novel or a short story in which the author creates a fascinating character. By referring to appropriate techniques, show how the author has created this character and why you found him/her so interesting.
Among the many strange and complex short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ has come to be known as one of the most mysterious and psychologically intriguing. The story contains a fascinating character in form of the narrator, which is explored through Poe’s use of word choice, irony, and alliteration, as well as many other thought provoking techniques. The story as a whole explores the themes of perception versus reality, and the question ...view middle of the document...
The irony used here highlights the unreliability of the narrator, and here we start doubting his sanity but are undeniably intrigued by the thought process he adopts when making his decisions.
Poe then goes on to use anaphora, and continues the irony introduced in the opening lines to further corroborate the idea of the narrators’ insanity.
“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! I was never kinder to the man than during the whole week before I killed him.”
The narrators’ insistence that he is of sound mind only further suggests to the reader that the truth is actually the opposite. The repetition of ‘with what’ as he describes how careful he was while planning the old man’s murder, and the structure of the sentences successfully build up the pace of the story, and add a hectic theme to the narrators thought process. Poe’s use of irony further accentuates how odd it is that the narrator is only able to be kind towards the old man the week leading up to when he plans to kill him. The reader is enthralled by the matter of fact way he recounts the events leading up to the murder he commits.
To further demonstrate how irrational, and unreliable this character is as a narrator, Poe uses comparison and synecdoche to present the reason why the narrator feels compelled to kill the old man.
“He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”
By comparing the man’s eye to a vulture, he successfully begins to dehumanise the man, and views him as a bird of prey that eats carrion, also introducing the idea of death. He also suggests the eye is not just the result of a natural disease (cataracts) but is unnatural, and ‘evil.’ Also, near the end of the extract, he automatically stops referring to the man as a human, and simply ‘the eye’, suggesting this is how he now views him, and lets the reader into his warped train of thought. The eye could also be seen as deeper symbolism that runs throughout the entire story, the distorted, cloudy eye, representing the narrators unclear retelling of the story, and could also represent the accuracy of the story, given the narrators unreliability. The reader is again, left intrigued by the uncertainty of the story, and the events that are unfolding.
Poe attempts to make the character all the more captivating by introducing the aspect of time, and telling the reader how long he spent meticulously planning, and leading up to the ruthless murder of the old man.
“And this I did for seven long nights – every night just at midnight.”
Poe stresses the amount of time it takes the narrator to lead up to the murder, and how long he spends carefully planning his moves before...