The Narrator in "The Tell-tale Heart": Sane Or Insane?

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About this sample


Words: 521 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Updated: 29 March, 2024

Words: 521|Page: 1|3 min read

Updated: 29 March, 2024

Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" delves into the intricate depths of the human psyche, raising questions about sanity and madness. The protagonist of the story, while outwardly appearing insane, presents a compelling case for his rationality, challenging conventional notions of mental health. This essay explores the psychological complexity of the narrator, examining the blurred lines between sanity and insanity.

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At first glance, the narrator's erratic behavior and chilling recounting of the murder may lead readers to conclude that he is undoubtedly insane. However, a closer analysis reveals a calculated and methodical individual whose actions are driven by a warped sense of reality rather than sheer madness. Despite his insistence that he is not mad but merely afflicted by a nervous disorder, his meticulous planning and execution of the crime suggest a degree of lucidity that contradicts traditional perceptions of insanity.

In an article titled "Profiling a Murderer," Psychology Today discusses how murderers often exhibit remorse by attempting to conceal their crimes, particularly if they knew the victim. Similarly, the narrator's careful dismemberment and concealment of the old man's body serve as a macabre display of his awareness and intentionality. Poe emphasizes the narrator's composure and self-assurance as he recounts the events, further complicating the portrayal of his mental state. The line, "observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story," underscores his unnervingly calm demeanor, reminiscent of notorious real-life murderers like Ted Bundy.

Moreover, the narrator's fixation on the old man's "evil eye" adds another layer of complexity to his character. While some may dismiss his obsession as a symptom of insanity, it is essential to consider the cultural significance of the evil eye motif. Across various cultures, the evil eye symbolizes malevolence or harm, suggesting that the narrator's fear may stem from a deeply ingrained belief rather than irrational paranoia. By contextualizing his actions within the broader cultural landscape, we can appreciate the narrator's motivations with greater nuance.

Furthermore, the historical context of the story sheds light on the narrator's perceived sanity. In the 1800s, a time marked by superstition and moral hysteria, extreme actions driven by irrational fears were not uncommon. The Salem Witch Trials serve as a poignant example of mass hysteria leading to unfounded accusations and violence. Similarly, the narrator's fixation on the old man's eye can be interpreted as a product of the societal anxieties prevalent during Poe's era.

While the narrator's actions may be morally reprehensible, it is essential to distinguish between moral culpability and mental illness. His meticulous planning, calculated demeanor, and culturally informed fears suggest a level of cognitive functioning inconsistent with traditional notions of insanity. By exploring the psychological complexity of the narrator, Poe challenges readers to confront their preconceived notions of sanity and madness.

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Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" offers a compelling exploration of the human psyche, blurring the lines between sanity and insanity. Through the enigmatic narrator, Poe invites readers to question the nature of mental health and the complexities of human behavior. By contextualizing the narrator's actions within cultural and historical frameworks, we gain a deeper understanding of his motivations and the broader themes of the story.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Sane or Insane? (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
“The Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Sane or Insane?” GradesFixer, 10 Dec. 2020,
The Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Sane or Insane? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Apr. 2024].
The Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Sane or Insane? [Internet] GradesFixer. 2020 Dec 10 [cited 2024 Apr 24]. Available from:
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