'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe

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TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! 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.
Now this is the point. 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 old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it --oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly --very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously --cautiously (for the hinges creaked) --I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights --every night just at midnight --but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers --of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back --but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out --"Who's there?"
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; --just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief --oh, no! --it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself --"It is nothing but the wind in the chimney --it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel --although he neither saw nor heard --to feel the presence of my head within the room.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little --a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it --you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily --until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.
It was open --wide, wide open --and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness --all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? --now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! --do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me --the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once --once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye --not even his --could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out --no stain of any kind --no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all --ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock --still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, --for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.
I smiled, --for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search --search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: --It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness --until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I now grew very pale; --but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. 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. I talked more quickly --more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again! --hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Tell-Tale Heart: A Masterpiece of Gothic Horror

Edgar Allan Poe is an undisputed master of Gothic horror fiction, and "The Tell-Tale Heart" is one of his most famous and enduring works. The story is a vivid and disturbing portrayal of a narrator's descent into madness and his obsession with the "vulture eye" of an old man, whom he eventually murders. This 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation aims to examine the themes, symbols, and literary devices used by Poe to create a terrifying and unforgettable tale.

The Theme of Guilt and Madness

One of the central themes of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is guilt and madness. The narrator is plagued by guilt over his murder of the old man, and this guilt manifests itself in the form of auditory hallucinations and a heightened sensitivity to sound. The "tell-tale heart" that he hears is not the old man's heartbeat, but the beating of his own guilty conscience. Moreover, the narrator's obsession with the "vulture eye" is a manifestation of his own madness, which drives him to commit the murder.

Poe's depiction of the narrator's guilt and madness is both vivid and disturbing. The narrator's confession is filled with intense and contradictory emotions, such as fear, anxiety, and a perverse pleasure in his own cunning. The reader is drawn into the narrator's mind, as he vacillates between self-justification and self-condemnation. The narrator's madness is not simply a product of his own psychological makeup, but a reflection of the world around him. The urban landscape of 19th-century America is portrayed as a dark and twisted place, filled with shadows and secrets. The narrator's madness is a product of this environment, and the murder of the old man is a desperate attempt to assert control over a world that he cannot understand.

The Symbolism of the "Vulture Eye"

The "vulture eye" is one of the most powerful symbols in "The Tell-Tale Heart." The eye is described as "pale blue with a film over it," and it represents the old man's vulnerability and weakness. The narrator's obsession with the eye is a manifestation of his own fear and insecurity, which he projects onto the old man. Moreover, the eye symbolizes the narrator's desire for power and control. He sees the old man's weakness as an opportunity to assert his own dominance, and he eventually takes the ultimate step of killing him.

The symbolism of the "vulture eye" goes beyond the narrator's own psychology. It is also a commentary on the nature of perception and reality. The eye is a physical object, but it is also a symbol of the old man's inner self. The narrator's obsession with the eye is a reflection of his own inability to understand the old man's true nature. In this sense, the eye is a symbol of the unknowable and the mysterious, which lies at the heart of Poe's Gothic horror.

The Literary Devices of Irony and Foreshadowing

Poe's use of irony and foreshadowing in "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a testament to his mastery of the Gothic horror genre. The irony is most evident in the narrator's confession. He claims to be perfectly sane, even as he describes his own descent into madness. Moreover, the narrator's obsession with the "vulture eye" is a form of dramatic irony, in which the reader knows more about the narrator's intentions than the old man himself.

Foreshadowing is also an important literary device in "The Tell-Tale Heart." The opening lines of the story, "True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" foreshadow the narrator's eventual confession. Moreover, the narrator's repeated references to the "tell-tale heart" foreshadow his eventual breakdown and the discovery of the murder.

The Role of the Gothic Genre

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a quintessential example of the Gothic horror genre. The story is filled with dark and foreboding imagery, such as "the dreadfully distinct sound of a clock," and "the darkness of the night." Moreover, the narrator's descent into madness is a classic Gothic trope, as is his obsession with the "vulture eye."

Poe's use of the Gothic genre is not simply a matter of style, but a reflection of his own worldview. The Gothic is a genre that explores the darker side of human nature, and it is a genre that is fascinated with death, decay, and the supernatural. Poe's own life was marked by tragedy and loss, and his stories often explore the themes of death and despair. In this sense, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is not simply a horror story, but a reflection of Poe's own inner demons.


"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a masterpiece of Gothic horror that explores the themes of guilt, madness, and the unknowable. Poe's vivid and disturbing portrayal of the narrator's descent into madness is a testament to his mastery of the genre. The story's use of symbolism, irony, and foreshadowing adds to its power and complexity. Moreover, the story's use of the Gothic genre is a reflection of Poe's own worldview and his fascination with death and despair. "The Tell-Tale Heart" remains a timeless and unforgettable work of literature that continues to captivate readers and inspire writers to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Tell-Tale Heart: A Masterpiece of Suspense and Horror

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a classic short story that has captivated readers for over a century. The story is a masterpiece of suspense and horror, and it is one of Poe's most famous works. The story is narrated by an unnamed protagonist who is obsessed with the eye of an old man he lives with. The narrator's obsession leads him to commit a heinous crime, and the story is a chilling account of his descent into madness.

The story begins with the narrator's declaration that he is not mad, despite the fact that he is about to commit a murder. He tells the reader that he has been living with an old man who has a "vulture eye" that he finds repulsive. The narrator becomes obsessed with the eye and decides to kill the old man to rid himself of the sight. He plans the murder carefully, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

The narrator's obsession with the eye is a central theme of the story. The eye represents the narrator's fear and anxiety, and it is a symbol of his own madness. The narrator's obsession with the eye is irrational, and it is a manifestation of his own inner demons. The eye is also a symbol of the old man's vulnerability, and the narrator's desire to destroy it is a reflection of his own desire for power and control.

The story is told from the perspective of the narrator, and this adds to the suspense and horror of the story. The reader is forced to experience the narrator's descent into madness, and it is a chilling and unsettling experience. The narrator's voice is unreliable, and the reader is never quite sure what is real and what is imagined. This creates a sense of unease and tension that is characteristic of Poe's writing.

The murder itself is a gruesome and violent act, and it is described in vivid detail. The narrator's description of the murder is cold and calculated, and it is a reflection of his own detachment from reality. The murder is not a spontaneous act of violence, but rather a premeditated act of madness. The narrator's obsession with the eye has driven him to commit a heinous crime, and it is a chilling reminder of the power of the human mind.

The aftermath of the murder is equally disturbing. The narrator is consumed by guilt and paranoia, and he is haunted by the sound of the old man's heart beating. The sound of the heart is a symbol of the narrator's own guilt, and it is a constant reminder of his own madness. The narrator's fear and anxiety are palpable, and the reader is forced to experience his torment.

The story is a masterful example of Poe's use of language and imagery. The story is filled with vivid descriptions and powerful imagery that create a sense of unease and tension. The use of repetition, particularly the repetition of the phrase "I heard it all" adds to the suspense and horror of the story. The story is also filled with symbolism, particularly the symbolism of the eye and the heart. These symbols add depth and meaning to the story, and they are a reflection of Poe's mastery of the craft of writing.

In conclusion, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a masterpiece of suspense and horror. The story is a chilling account of one man's descent into madness, and it is a reminder of the power of the human mind. The story is a testament to Poe's mastery of the craft of writing, and it is a classic that will continue to captivate readers for generations to come.

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