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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anticipation, Fear, and Death: A Critique of "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Madeline Nagel
Gothic Literature
Blog 4, Option #5

In his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Edgar Allen Poe takes the reader inside the mind of a man, whom some would argue as crazy, and his quest to kill the old man who lives with him. I was honestly a little disturbed while reading this story, for although it isn’t lengthy, Poe is able to quickly create a sense of suspense, fear, and death through the personification of the old man’s “vulture eye” (Poe). Even though I was somewhat frightened while reading this story, I would rate it a 4 out of 5: Poe creates a story that quickly captivates the reader’s attention and effectively employs gothic tropes. However, he does make the narrator rather difficult to trust or believe because of his mental state.
Poe’s short story successfully utilizes several gothic tropes in order to contribute to the story’s overall gothic nature. As we have seen in several other previous texts including Poe’s “The Black Cat”, the unreliable narrator is once again one of the dominant tropes of this story. In the beginning, the narrator claims to have a disease that “sharpened his senses” (Poe), which was the reason he killed this old man. He attempts to justify himself and his actions throughout the story, blaming it on this “dreadfully nervous” (Poe) disease. The narrator says the old man has never caused him trouble, it was only his eye: 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!” (Poe). This statement in and of itself is enough reason to question the narrator’s reliability and mental state. He claims to love and then kills. One could argue that revenge is what also drives the narrator’s actions, as he attempts to destroy this eye that has disturbed him so. 
 Additionally, I was impressed by how Poe was able to incorporate the sublime into this story by personifying the old man’s eye. When one thinks of a human eye, one does not immediately picture something frightening or intimidating. However, the narrator describes how the old man “had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold” (Poe). By utilizing this trope, Poe is able to exert a more powerful effect on the reader, ultimately creating a disturbing image. One could also argue that the narrator does not view this old man as a whole being; his eye is evil and he wants it dead, thus the eye and man are two separate beings. This eye also contributes to the sense of mystery and dread that the reader experiences throughout the story. It is very eerie, yet engaging, causing one to anticipate what will happen.
Poe’s way of describing sound in the climax of the story contributes to the anticipation the readers have built, and is ultimately a vehicle for revealing the overall mood of this short story. The narrator starts to repeat words and phrases as the noise of the beating heart steadily escalates: “It grew louder --louder --louder!...I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again! --hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!” (Poe). I think Poe did an excellent job of utilizing specific motifs, personifying objects, and creating graphic images in order to effectively convey mystery, anticipation, and dread throughout this story. As a reader, I was able to vividly image what was happening in the story, because Poe so effectively employed these gothic tropes. This semester has really expanded my genre of reading…I typically do not first reach for the gothic, disturbing stories; however, it is interesting to see how authors are able to incorporate different elements to reveal their mood and intentions. I definitely enjoy Edgar Allen Poe out of all the authors we have been studying this semester! I would recommend this story to others, and I hope to read more of his works in the future!

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Tell-Tale Heart”. (PDF doc) 

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