Analyzing The Tell-tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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Words: 841 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024

Words: 841|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Feb 12, 2024

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe is a renowned short story that delves into the mind of an unnamed narrator who murders an elderly man and is haunted by his own guilt. Published in 1843, this gothic horror tale explores various elements of formalist literary theory, including the use of imagery to develop symbols, the work's organic unity, and its interconnectedness. Additionally, the story employs paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension to captivate readers and create an aesthetic quality that reinforces the narrator's insanity. The resolution of contradictions within the narrative adds depth to the protagonist's character, while the correlation between the form of the work and its content enhances the overall reading experience. While there is no central passage in the story, the consistency of the narrator's perspective and tone throughout further emphasizes his psychological state. Ultimately, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a masterful example of Poe's ability to engage readers through his skillful use of literary techniques.

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In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator's obsession with the eye of his victim serves as a key symbol. Describing it as "the eye of a vulture," the narrator's focus on the eye represents his own blindness to his actions and mental state (Poe 3). The eye is seen as evil, prompting the narrator to use a lantern to shine light on it. However, this imagery reveals the narrator's own blindness to the truth that the old man was not evil (Amir 20). Both the "evil eye" and the lantern remain closed throughout the story, emphasizing the narrator's delusion.

The story is unified through the consistent narration of the unnamed protagonist. Despite his unreliability, the narrative remains uninterrupted, creating a sense of continuity. Anaphoras, such as the repetition of phrases like "It grew louder—louder—louder!" (Poe 8), further enhance the narrative's consistency and engage the reader as if they were listening to a live confession. The narrator's constant assertion of his sanity, combined with examples that prove otherwise, adds to the story's organic unity.

Poe skillfully employs paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension to heighten the impact of the story. Paradox is used to create illogical and unexpected observations, such as when the narrator claims to have been kind to the old man before killing him (Poe 3). This unexpected contrast adds shock value to the narrative. Irony is evident when the narrator mistakes the sound of a clock for the heartbeat of the deceased man, displaying his own distorted perception (Amir 24). Ambiguity arises from the narrator's uncertain persona, as Poe presents him as mentally stable while revealing troubling details of the crime. Tension is created through the protagonist's pretense when the police arrive to investigate, as he tries to hide his guilt while suspecting their deception (Shen 330).

These elements work together to create aesthetic unity in the story. Poe uses paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension to reinforce the narrator's unreliability and insanity. The poetic rhythm present in the text bridges the gap between prose and poetry, blurring the lines of truth and beauty (Shen 325). Despite deviating from the aesthetic norms of the time, "The Tell-Tale Heart" maintains consistency in its use of literary techniques.

The resolution of contradictions within the narrative adds depth to the main character. The protagonist's calm and rational demeanor in handling and hiding the crime contrasts with his extreme nervousness and lack of motive (Poe 3). This engagement with contradictions can be seen as a satirical commentary on moral insanity, using the lack of rationality as a basis for confirming insanity (Shen 343). By emphasizing these contradictions, Poe creates a more coherent and intriguing story.

The form of the short story itself contributes to the overall reading experience. As the story is primarily narrated by the protagonist, the confessional form accentuates the narrator's perspective. The audience is only shown what passes through the narrator's mind, creating a sense of immediacy and further emphasizing his insanity (Shen 330). The poetic rhythm in certain parts of the text adds to the unreliable nature of the narrative, suggesting that the narrator may not be entirely truthful.

While there is no central passage in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the consistency of the narrator's psychological state throughout the story is evident. Passages that reinforce the narrator's claim of sanity are scattered throughout the text, highlighting the narrator's unwavering insanity (Shen 331). This consistency serves to underscore the protagonist's distorted perception of reality.

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In conclusion, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a captivating short story that explores various elements of formalist literary theory. Through the use of imagery, organic unity, interconnectedness, paradox, irony, ambiguity, tension, and aesthetic quality, Poe creates a chilling narrative that delves into the mind of an unreliable and insane protagonist. The symbolism of the eye, the narrative's consistency, and the resolution of contradictions all contribute to the depth of the main character and the overall reading experience. Additionally, the form of the short story and the consistent psychological state of the narrator further emphasize his insanity. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a testament to Poe's mastery of literary techniques and his ability to engage readers through his captivating storytelling.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Analyzing The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. (2024, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from
“Analyzing The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.” GradesFixer, 12 Feb. 2024,
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