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The Issue of The Insane Narrator in "The Tell-tale Heart"

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In the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, the main character is seen to be insane. He tells us he is not a madman, but only has some type of nervous disorder, and gives examples to justify himself. Many people in the world have anxiety, which is also a type of nervous disorder but people don’t go out calling them insane. People believe that the character is unreliable, but in fact, he is quite the opposite. He was the only one to have seen the murder because he was the one who had done it. This narrator is a madman, he is perfectly sane. He just had the will to do what he thought he needed to do. He tells how every night has played through up until the murder, describing and justifying his every move. His mind is not corrupt with madness, just corrupt. He is even self-aware enough to know he needs to hide all evidence of the crime.

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An article by Psychology Today called “Profiling a Murderer” explains that murderers show remorse by covering up the body, especially if they knew who the person was. In this story, the main character’s tale is his way of showing he knows what he did rather than committing an act of insanity. As the story unfolds, he is perfectly calm throughout, which only a murderer would be able to do. Poe states “observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story”. This is a clue to his mind. An example that is similar is the murderer Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy committed many murders and calmly confessed how he did it to police after being captured. Ted Bundy is not seen as mentally ill, but he is seen as a murderer. The narrator also could have been trying to convince the court (if that is who the narrator is trying to convince) that he is insane for an insanity plea. He could have tried to take a safe path. He obviously already exposed himself to the cops, but that is a theory. In the story, day after day the main character is consistent with spying on the old man and studying him. Only in the end do we see him stressing out, but that is only because of the guilt inside him, as anyone would feel after just killing a person. If the cops had not come, he probably would not have lost his cool.

The evil eye is what really motivates the narrator to murder the beloved old man. Now this is why people find him crazy because he killed a man over an eye. Among many cultures, an evil eye is taken very seriously. In Central American cultures, the evil eye means that someone possesses the power to do harm to others. Since we do not know what culture the narrator is from this cannot be excluded information. Like when a person looks at someone and just gets an uneasy feeling just by looking into their eyes, what is to say the eye really was evil. When he spies on the old man during the night he puts the lantern light directly on his eye just so he could look at it and get almost motivated “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”. The old man was not really the one who he wanted to kill but he could not have just taken his eye out and not be caught.

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Even though killing someone today for their eye would be extremely irrational, back when this story was written in the 1800’s this was how things were. The Salem Witch Trials also took place in the 1800’s. The people would kill these innocent women just because they felt unsafe or had heard they were “witches”. So why this narrator would be seen as insane if he felt unsafe with this man’s eye as the people who killed the “witches” felt. His actions might have been immoral but they are justifiable. To recapitulate, the narrator was not insane. Many cultures and the inferred time period of this story supports that he was simply a murderer. Even certain people in today’s society would agree that he is not a madman, especially how he justified the crime he committed. The narrator felt guilt in what he did to the old man but he was finally freed of the evil eye.

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The Issue of the Insane Narrator in “The Tell-tale Heart”. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 4, 2023, from
“The Issue of the Insane Narrator in “The Tell-tale Heart”.” GradesFixer, 10 Dec. 2020,
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