The modern view of psychopathic killers is much closer to the true medical definition than the mid-19th century concept of psychotic, or mad, behaviour when “The Tell-Tale Heart” was written; this is primarily due to the fact that we now identify psychotic actions as a psychological issue, as opposed to demonic or evil intent. Despite this, whether they are medically accurate or not, there are certain traits and natures that are tied to psychopaths in the modern conscience. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, despite its age, exhibits a few of these contemporary expectations but there are exceptions throughout.
One of the major attributes of the modern concept of psychopathy is the inherent apathy, or at least lack of empathy, exhibited by the individual; often after performing a heinous or otherwise socially unacceptable act they display no emotional gravitas. The protagonist of “The Tell-Tale Heart” demonstrates a mixture of this indifference but also sporadic bouts of regret and remorse. An example of this is when the eponymous heart begins to beat and the protagonist begins to fear it: “But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die!”. There are however many examples in which the character does display these behaviours. Firstly is the insensitive reason as to why he commits the murder:
Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
This demonstrates that he committed the crime for no emotional reason bar the fact he did not like the old man’s eye, which in itself is a farcical reason to commit murder. There is also the derision and contempt he holds for the constabulary when they find no evidence of his crime as well as the false persona he presents when they investigate his house. He understands the situation and does not let empathy cloud his actions when talking with the police; indicative of psychopathic behaviour. Finally there is the sadistic pleasure he finds in controlling the fate of the old man: “I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart”. Psychopaths often perform grave acts for the purposes of empowerment or demonstrating superiority over other people; this is clearly exhibited by the main character.
Another trait of the modern psychopath is the obsessive and...