Readers get an education when it comes to the role that the first-person narrator takes on some of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843) the unnamed narrator is not trying to convince the reader that he is not guilty, just that he is not crazy. He was justified in killing the old man with the “vulture-like eye” and hiding the body under the floorboards of his home. He may be trying to save his own skin, but that is not the point. The crime is not in question; it is the narrator’s sanity. How can one trust the storyteller, if you only get one part of the story?
This is what makes the journey as a reader more interesting. How do you discern the truth? This is ...view middle of the document...
However each lady suffers a tragic fate, in part, by the men who love her. The readers only get one side of the story, that of the narrator. Everything is questionable—the relationships, the alleged love story, even the narrator’s own sanity. It is up to the reader to figure out the veracity of each tale.
“Berenice” – Like Pulling Teeth
Egaeus, the narrator, is a sickly man who is about to marry his cousin. According to Egaeus he described Berenice as
Oh, gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! … Oh, Naiad among its fountains! And then—then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease—a fatal disease, fell like the simoon upon her frame; and even, while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went!—and the victim—where is she? I knew her not—knew her no longer as Berenice! (582).
The beauty that was his soon-to-be wife disappeared and now she is a shell of her former self. She is dying from some form of catalepsy or epilepsy and it wounds him. He feels that he is also dying and nothing will bring him back to life. The only thing that saves him is her smile, aminly her teeth. It will be Egaeus obsession.
They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died! (584).
Then further ahead
I more seriously believed que tous ses dents [all her teeth] etaient des idees!… I felt that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace, in giving me back to reason (584).
Shortly thereafter a servant arrives to inform Egaeus that Berenice has died. She is buried and according to the narrator he suffered some sort of fugue state where he has no memory as to what happened (at least that is what he claims).
“But of that dreary period which intervened [Berenice’s burial] I had no positive, at least no definite comprehension. Yet its memory was replete with horror… (584).
It is not until the end of the story when a servant shrieks in terror as he sees Egaeus and points at his master’s clothing “muddy and clotted with gore” and “indented with human nails.” There were some objects by the wall—a spade and a box inside “some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white, and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.”
Berenice was alive and Egaeus obsession made a bad thing even worse. He is in denial as to what he did that he identified Berenice’s teeth as “ivory-looking substances.” He turns something ugly into a beautiful thing as he describes what he sees. Egaeus does not want to believe that he did what he did. Just on that element alone, his story needs to be questioned.
However in fiction things do not tend to be so...