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The Tell-Tale Heart - Analysis

by Tiffany




The Tell-Tale Heart" is a fun little horror story. Just like Poe's The Raven, the narrator is driven practically insane. In this case, his obsession is an old man's creepy eye.

Reading the story isn't even half the fun. In this lesson I'll discuss some vocabulary and story themes. There's also a video animation which you might find cool.

Cartoon Short


This animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart was made in 1953 by UPA for Columbia Pictures. The voice is narrated by James Mason. But beware - this isn't a cutesy cartoon for kids. In fact, it's pretty scary. It was the first cartoon to be X-rated (adults only) in Great Britain under the British Board of Film Censors classification system. Totally awesome.





Vocabulary

This short story was first published in 1843, so the writing style may be a little different from what you're used to. Check out some vocabulary words found in the text:

Foresight: thoughtful regard for the future
Dissimulation: a form of deception where one hides the truth; to disguise one's true feelings under a fake appearance.
Vexed: troubled, distressed, agitated

Sagacity: Sound judgment

Hearkening: Giving careful attention

Awe: A mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder

Over-acuteness: Very keen

Waned: To become gradually less

Scantlings: small quantities or amounts

Suavity: Gracefulness, politeness

Bade: Past tense of "bid" - to utter or summon

Audacity: Bold courage, fearless daring

Reposed: To lay at rest

Derision: Contempt, ridicule



Edgar Allan Poe
1809 â€" 1849

Poe was born in Boston. He was a poet, writer editor and literary critic. His short stories were his main type of writing, and today they are considered some of the best American short stories in history. His tales usually are a mix of mystery and macabre (grim and dealing with death).

Poe married his 13-year old cousin, Virginia Clemm. Her early death may have inspired some of his writing. Poe's best known fiction are Gothic (horror and romance) in order to appeal to the public's tastes at the time.


In terms of literary theory, Poe's criticisms and essays reflected his belief that a work's meaning should be an undercurrent "just below the surface". He thought that works with obvious meanings were no longer art.


Plot Summary

A narrator begins the story by explaining that he's sane. He tells use that his precision in killing him means that he could not possibly be insane. For 7 nights, the narrator opens the man's door - a process which takes him a whole hour. However, the old man's eye is always closed, making it impossible to do the deed.

On the 8th night, the old man wakes up and the narrator's lantern flashes in the man's vulture eye. The old man screams. He jumps onto the old man and gives him a heart attack. He smothers him in the bed and chops his body up into little pieces, then hiding it under the floorboards.

A neighbour phones the police and 3 officers come to check out the disturbance. Pleasant and courteous, the narrator is confident that they'll find no trace of murder. But soon he hears the old man's thumping heart coming from under the floor (not realizing it could have been his own nervous heart thumping). He feels that the officers must hear the sound too, so then the man confesses to killing him and tell them to tear up the floorboards in order to reveal the body.



Literary Techniques
in media res

The story begins in media res - in the middle of an event. This is obvious because the story begins with a conversation that's already begun. The narrator is talking to someone else - another person who is not identified. It could be a prison warden, a judge, psychiatrist, etc.

Repetition
You'll notice that throughout the story, Poe repeats certain words. This helps emphasize the thought process of the narrator. He often says "very, very" when recounting events. The effect of repetition also indicates the "acuteness of his senses" - that is, his great sensitivity to everything going around him. This sensitivity, in turn, is what causes him to be so irritated by the old man's eye. Notice that it is not only just a repetition of certain words, but also a repetition in sentence structure, as seen below.


"TRUE!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am…"
"I moved it slowly - very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep.."
"I foamed - I raved - I swore!"
"They heard! - they suspected! - they knew!"
"And now - again! - hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!"

First-person narrative
The Tell-Tale Heart is written in first-person narrative. The narrator tells the story from his perspective to someone else. Notice how he refers to "you", the reader. He is trying to persuade you of his innocence and his sanity. (We're never actually told whether the narrator is a man or a woman. Most people assume that the narrator is a man.)

"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!"


Suspense
Right from the start of the story, Edgar Allan Poe uses imagery to describe the man's eye and to set up the ominous atmosphere of the story.

"All a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones…"




Trivia

If you've ever heard of the director Tim Burton, you should know that he was greatly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's stories growing up. Burton has gone on to produce films such as the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Forever, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice.

Even The Simpsons
uses The Tell-Tale Heart as a storyline in one of its episode. This episode, called "Lisa's Rival", involves Lisa's jealousy of one of her classmates. Her classmate creates a diorama of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Lisa steals it. Lisa's guilt eventually ends in her confession of the theft, just like in Poe's story.



References: Wikipedia

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