Literary Analysis Essay on the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Published: 2021-06-22
843 words
4 pages
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Boston College
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Critical thinking
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The short story the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe is a first person narrative. The narrator is introduced having nervousness. (Serravalle & Edgar 1843). The narrator seems to have a problem with an old man who he lives with. However, the narrator does not hate the old man but only his eye that seems to have an abnormality. The narrator sees the old mans eye as a resemblance of that of a vulture since it pale blue in color and has a film covering it. When the narrator looks at that eye, it usually causes his blood to run cold making him believe that it is evil in it. This eye makes the narrator kill the old man and begins to hear the heartbeat of the old man though he is dead. The pounding of the heart persists and becomes louder hence driving him crazy making him confess to killing the old man to the officers who had come to search the house after they had heard the screams of the dying old man. Ironically, the narrator shows the officers where he had hidden the body. The sober madness and also the heightened senses of hearing leads to his downfall (Serravalle & Edgar 1843).

The setting of the story is some place in the northern part of the USA, probably in the 1800s. But the actual setting is in the imagination of the narrator. The fact that the narrator was able to make perfect preparation and execute his plans for more than a week shows the evil in the humankind and the society as a whole (Bonaparte 32). The narrator knows very well that killing the old man is not morally acceptable, but he executes his plans and also brags about his preparations and the fact that the old man suspected nothing about his plans of mayhem and terror. Though he is not mad, he has no motive at all to kill the old man. I love the old man. (Serravalle & Edgar 1843). No person in their rightful mind would do such a cruel act of killing a helpless old man who has done nothing wrong. Therefore, the narrator must have a problem. The narrator hears the old mans pounding only on the night of the murder. Therefore, the heartbeat in question is in the troubled mind of the narrator due to his tortured imagination. Due to the sense of guilt and fear of being caught, the senses of the narrator have heightened hence the increase in his heartbeat (Poe et al. 43). The pain and agony of the pounding heartbeat made him confess to the crime.

Poe uses artificial contrivances of his imagination which he believes reveals more truth about the human condition, beliefs, attitudes, morals and habits than the faithful adherence to the observed reality. There is an element of self-justification as the narrator admits to being nervous, but he also insists on his complete sanity (Bonaparte 107). He mentions a disease sharpens his senses particularly the ability to hear. He retells the events calmly so that the reader clearly understands that he is not mad. There is also self-confidence of the narrator expressed through the continuous self-laudation. The narrator knows it is against all cultures and moral values to take someones life hence he acts mostly at night and the wee hours of the morning to camouflage the night endeavors so that he goes unnoticed by the old man (Renee 2)

Poe successfully demonstrates how our inner turmoil and fear can drive us insane. He further shows that there is law and order in that setting as the neighbor calls the police who come to investigate and finally ends up discovering a murder. There is a mental conflict within the narrator himself. Through clues and various statements, the writer alerts the readers the mental capacity of the narrator which is insanity. The insanity becomes an obsession which leads to loss of control and finally violence. Most people assumes that insane persons are way beyond the ordinary realm of reason found in healthy people; however, Guilt is a common emotion shared by all humans (Bonaparte 329). Through the use of setting, language, and character, Poe reveals that even insane individuals feel guilt.


This short story is one of Poes shortest stories; however, it has significantly and successfully enlightened the reader on mans paranoia, insanity, and guilt. The narrator is portrayed as a beast as he tortures the innocent old man before killing him (Renee 2). This greatly shows the irrational behavior of the narrator. The writer aims at revealing that the feeling of guilt is universal. Although the narrator is not normal, he feels guilt hence he cannot stand any more psychological pressure. He confesses to his terrible actions. The narrators heart tells the tale.


Bonaparte, Marie. The life and works of Edgar Allan Poe: A psycho-analytic interpretation. The Hogarth Press Ltd, 1949.

Poe, Edgar Allan, Charles Baudelaire, and Albert Anderegg. "The Tell-Tale Heart." (2013).

Renee, E. "Analysis of" The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe." Docs. school Publications (2008).

Serravalle de Sa, Daniel, and Edgar Allan Poe. "The Tell-Tale Heart." (1843).

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