Creating Suspense in Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart
In the gothic genre there are numerous techniques the author can use
to add interest and suspense to a story, such as the choice of words,
the time of day and pathetic fallacy, to name but a few. In the Tell
Tale- Heart Poe uses psychosis, detail, and appeal to the reader to
keep us on the edge of our seats. These are just some examples of what
makes the story so thrilling.
The story is written in the first person in the style of a confession,
an example of this would be when the narrator says, ‘I foamed- I
raved- I swore.’ During the story the narrator is telling us of the
terrible deed he has done, in the style of a confession. The reader
feels that they are being allowed to find out something, but only they
are being told, they feel that the story is exclusive to them. This
creates a lot of tension throughout the play because the reader is
feeling things that the narrator feels and is trying to fathom out
what his next move will be.
The very first word in the story creates a lot of the atmosphere
because it is in capital letters and has an exclamation mark after it.
This instantaneously awakens the reader and captures their interest.
The word itself, ‘true,’ is also important because the narrator is
replying to a question that the reader has supposedly asked before the
story has even begun. This simple technique makes the reader want to
read on, if only to find out what the question was.
One of the first things the narrator says is ‘but why will you say I’m
mad?’ It is an accusation that the reader is condemning him as mad. Of
course Poe then goes on to prove that the narrator is mad through his
feigned innocence: the more the narrator is trying to persuade the
reader of their sanity, the more the reader is believing him to be
mad. The narrator describes sharpened senses; a fear of an evil eye,
and an obsession with a murder, so much so that for seven nights
before the murder, he practices creeping into the old mans room
unnoticed. This is all very subtly suggesting that the narrator is
mad. What's more, throughout the story the narrator is over
emphasising how things were done by constantly saying things happened
very slowly, or very cautiously and that the procedure went ahead very
wisely. In the narrators mind this is enough justification to prove
that they are not mad. However perhaps when Poe was writing this he
wanted to emphasise this point to show how obsessive the narrator and
how carefully he went about the whole sordid event. The narrator
wanted to impress us but perhaps Poe was indicating to us that the
narrator was not in the correct state of mind.
When the narrator talks about the acute sense of hearing he has he
mentions that he can hear all the things in heaven, earth, and hell
and then later on in the story the narrator connects with the old man
when he says, ‘it was the low stifled sound that arises from the