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"Tell Tale Heart" By Edgar Allan Poe

1841 words - 7 pages

The Tell-Tale HeartIn the "Tell-Tale Heart", Edgar Allen Poe examines themes of sanity vs. madnessthrough and violence, mental imagery and confusion as well as repetition of thoughts for emphasis. The narrator possesses several qualities of mental instability that lead to his horrible crimes- nervousness, delusions of grandeur, violence and auditory hallucinations. These features of mental instability are repeated numerous times through out this story, one of Poe's shortest works.The first and perhaps most obvious symptom of mental illness exhibited by the narrator is nervousness. This nervousness is apparent in the first line of the story: "True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad"?(Poe 354) The narrator seems nervous because he does not want the reader to think that he is mad. It is very important to him that the reader sees what effort he has put into the crime. I find it interesting that the narrator feel the need to defend his sanity in the first line of the story, because the reader does not yet know the details of the story. We see this nervousness again on the eighth night as he is staring at the "vulture eye". (Poe356) He describes the beating of the heart, and he attributes it to the terror that the old man is feeling. He is in fact hearing the beating of his own heart. He says "I have told you that I am nervous: so I am"(Poe 356). In his nervousness, the sound of the beating heart "incited me to uncontrollable terror". (Poe 356) His nervousness that a neighbor may hear the sound urges him to kill the man. The fact that he attributes his own fear and nervousness to the old man once again points to a mental instability.This leads to yet another symptom of mental illness - delusions of grandeur. To show how sane he is, the narrator begins to go into elaborate detail describing the preparations for murder. "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"! (Poe 354) He takes great pride in his patience and stealth as he enters the old man's room every night for a week. "It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! - would a madman have been as wise as this"?(Poe 354) As noted by Arthur Robinson, his focus on planning is the narrator's overwhelming defense of his sanity. "Specifically, the narrator bases his plea upon the assumption that madness is incompatible with systematic action, and as evidence of his capacity for the latter he relates how he has executed a horrible crime with rational precision."Even as he brags about himself, he still worries about whether or not the reader thinks that he is a madman. We once again see delusions of grandeur when he describes "the wise precautions that I took for concealment of the body"(Poe 356). He has "replaced the boards so cleverly, cunningly...there was nothing...

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