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The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe

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In today’s society there are constant arguments debating the sanity of one’s mind when they have committed a crime to decide their fate. There are similar arguments for the short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, where an unnamed narrator has committed a murder to a man that had an “eye of a vulture” (Poe1). He does not say why he killed him, other than that the man’s eye bothered him. Throughout the story there are many instances where the readers question his sanity, and where the narrator himself questions his sanity.

A reader could make both arguments on whether the narrator is a madman or a calculated killer based on the narrator’s thoughts and actions throughout the story, however, upon closer examination of the text, readers can see that he is a madman. The narrator is a madman because he is constantly denying that he is mad, and he is nervous throughout the whole story. From the very beginning and a few times throughout the plot of the story, he denies his madness. He continuously tells himself and the reader that he is not mad. This makes the readers question his sanity. One of these instances is stated in the quote, “Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?” (Poe 1). Denying and questioning if and how he is mad without anyone but himself questioning him makes his character seem more suspicious.

When people are constantly denying their sanity to someone without them asking about it, almost like they are talking to themselves, it makes their mental health suspicious. The narrator also claims that he heard many things in hell, and a sane person would not be hearing things from hell. Not only is the narrator admitting to hearing things in hell, but he is also hearing things from heaven and earth. This infers that he is mad, since people do not usually hear things coming from a supernatural place.

Another reason that points to him being a madman is that he is constantly anxious. An example of this is in the quote, “And now a new anxiety seized me-the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come!” (Poe 1). Another example of this is in the quote, “True!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (Poe 1). Both of these quotes suggest how nervous the narrator is to commit this murder. He never says why he is nervous. He also proclaims to the reader that he was wise and cautious with his actions. He goes back and forth saying that he was so nervous that he could hear his own heart beating, and then other times he would tell the readers how quiet and calm he was. Whereas a calculated killer could be anxious in a situation like this at times, this narrator was constantly anxious, worried, and frenzied by his thoughts and actions. A calculated killer would most likely be calm, since they would have planned out everything they would do to the last detail. A calculated killer might also have a reason to kill someone. In this short story, the narrator’s only reason to why he killed the old man was because his eye bothered him. This is said in the quote, “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” (Poe 1).

At the end of the short story after he has murdered the man, the police come to the door claiming that people have heard shrieks the night before coming from this man’s house. When they come in, the narrator instantly thinks that the police knew what he did. However, the police do not suspect anything, and have a normal conversation with each other. By doing so, the narrator starts to believe that they are mocking him, and he began to hear loud ringing in his head. When seeing that the police acted like they could not hear the ringing and were going about a normal conversation, he began to become frantic in his thoughts, thinking they were mocking him. Eventually he could not take the loud ringing and the mockery, he confessed to the murder. This is stated in the quote, “Almighty God!-no, no! They heard! -they suspected! –they knew! -they were making a mockery of my horror! –this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony” (Poe 1). This quote concludes he is a madman because he thought that the police knew what he did, and were mocking him by not telling him that they knew what he did, even though they truly did not know anything regarding the murder. A calculated killer would not confess to the murder as quickly as he did.

Even today, people are still contemplating whether the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe is a madman or a calculated killer. There are many arguments that could prove both sides, however, there is more proof that the narrator is a madman by his reasons, actions, and thoughts. The supporting evidence is important because by understanding the narrator’s thoughts and emotions after committing a murder could not only help in understanding this story but also could help real life crime investigators to determine whether a killer should be put in jail or into a mental institution. By doing so, it could help protect people in society and in prisons from a mentally unstable criminal.

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