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The Murderer's Motivation Depicted In Poe's The Tell Tale Heart

1864 words - 7 pages

Poe's writings are not without morals, and as a representation of a guilty conscience, “The Tell-Tale Heart” has been called one of the most effective parables ever conceived (Ward 310). “I find it almost impossible to believe that Poe has no serious or artistic motive in 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' that he merely revels in horror and only inadvertently illuminates the depths of the human soul,” James Gargano asserts. He further states that though Poe's stories sometimes seem to be nothing more than ramblings of crazed narrators, the structure, development, arrangement, and irony of the narrator's confessions allow Poe to offer ideas which the narrators themselves never actually possessed (“The Question” 328). For example, the narrator is unsure of his motive for the murder of his elderly companion, except that the pale blue eye aggravated him. Some critics have theorized that the aggravation of eternal time or psychological similarities with the old man prompted the narrator to his crime. However, it is not the theme of time or unity with the old man that drives the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” to murder, but the representation of his own sin within the “Evil Eye.”
In “Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart,'” E. Arthur Robinson falsely proposes, “These two psychological themes – the indefinite extension of subjective time and the psychic merging of killer and killed – are linked closely together in the story” (259). The characters' senses are on high-alert in the darkness as the narrator gazes at the sleeping old man night after night, and the long-lasting periods of silence create a slow-motion effect. Even the narrator's physical movements are agonizingly slow and prolonged (Robinson 257-59). The beating of the tell-tale heart can be likened to the ticking of a clock driving the killer mad as a result of inescapable time (Gargano, “The Theme of Time” 261). According to the second erroneous theory, another influence to the narrator's madness is the similarity between himself and his victim. The gaze of the evil eye is duplicated in the dim ray of light from the lantern, and the narrator and victim both remain completely still in the dark, not moving a muscle, listening. Other sensory details connect the two until they seem to be the same person, and since the narrator wishes to destroy himself, he murders the old man (Robinson 258-59). These assertions that time and unity with the old man are the two pivotal motifs driving the narrator to murder are mistaken. Time plays a different role in relation to the dastardly plot, and the murder has nothing to do with the old man himself, only his eye.
The extension of time in the story is only a result of the narrator's caution in his preparations for the murder. The prolonging of time does not cause the narrator grief and certainly does not drive him to homicide. In fact, his slow movements were intentional. “I moved it slowly – very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep” (46). The...

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