Madness! Edgar Allen Poe once said, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. ” There are many breathtaking horror stories, but none of them influenced literature as much as “The Tell-Tale Heart. ” Poe uses the character and theme to make “The Tell-Tale Heart” one of his near perfect tales. His works often explored the inner workings of the human mind; in particular its dark side (Bouchard). This story shows the terrible war of superego upon the id, the endless battle between conscience and impulse (Hoffman 226). These struggles, although always in disguise, are constantly enacted on Poe’s work.
Poe explored the limits of human reality in stories shaped by both intuitive genius and literary craftsmanship (Howard). In this paper we will analyze how Poe uses the theme and character to make one of the greatest horror stories of all time. First, to me the story “The Tell-Tale Heart” has several themes which make it really fascinating. The first, and perhaps the most important, is madness. “How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily-how calmly I can tell you the whole story,” (Poe 121). In this sentence at the beginning of the story, he attempts to state that he is not mad.
Just from this, we are led to believe that he is mad. By the end of the story when the murderer makes known the facts that he can hear the sounds of heaven and hell, he killed his friend just because of his pale blue eye, and believes that because he was so cautious at hiding and dismembering the body proves he is sane; after all of this we know for sure that he is crazy. Another theme is guilt. The narrator has killed his old friend, whom he loved. Throughout the whole story, he admits to the murder and never tries to give a good logical explanation of why he did it.
He doesn’t give a reason for his actions because he feels guilty for doing what he did. Also, the narrator says he understands his victims terror just as he is about to murder him, and the beating heart he mistakes for the old man’s may well be his own (Nesbitt 240). “Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart! ” (Poe 124). The ending of the story is his confession to the murder. The narrator’s own nervousness and guilt over his actions causes him to confess his crime (Bouchard).
A third theme is time. Throughout the story the narrator is obsessed with time: the central image of the heart is associated with the ticking of the watch, the nightly visits take place precisely at midnight, and time seems to slow and almost stop as the murderer enters the old man’s chamber (Nesbitt 240). The narrator describes in detail how he tried to kill his friend for seven days before the night he was able to commit it. He also knows how long it actually took him to commit the murder as well as the hour he saw on the clock after he was done hiding the body.
It seems that the story links death and time. It is unknown why the narrator links time with death, but it can be because of his mental illness. Another important feature of this story is the character which is also the narrator. In my opinion the character neither deteriorates nor changes throughout the story. In the beginning we have a feeling that he is crazy and by the end of the story we’re sure he is just as crazy as he was in the beginning. All throughout the story, however, he believes that he is not mad and is perfectly sane.
He believes it is perfectly reasonable, for example, to kill someone, even someone he loves, because one of their eyes makes him feel uncomfortable. He believes himself sane because he is so calm, so methodical, so fully aware and in control of his purpose (Hoffman 229). He never even thinks of the possibility that he might be mad and keeps stating he is not mad. You could say that he is a flat character because he is simply a mad man. We don’t hesitate whether he is a crazy or not, and the only thing in the story we are certain about him is that he is insane.
But you can also say he is a round character because he describes his thought processes and the reasons for his actions. “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,” (Poe 121). This sentence gives us a reason for the murder, the old man’s eye. Later in the story he tells us his clever process of hiding the body. He is not simply crazy, he is full of the praise of his own sagacity (Hoffman 230).
In the other hand, he is also a dynamic character. We know this because he is not just narrating the story but he is also in it. By knowing he is the narrator and also in the protagonist of the story, we can’t trust what he is saying because he will want us see him as a good person. He would want to justify his own actions and that is just what he does. He justifies himself to why he killed a man and explains why he is not mad. To me he is a dynamic character because we have to see him in two different ways at the same time, as the narrator and as the protagonist in the story.
In conclusion, there’s not another story like “The Tell-Tale Heart. ” This short story is one of the best because of the theme, characters, and many other features it had. The three themes madness, guilt, and time gave the story a whole new perspective. Also, the protagonist character, which was also the narrator, made the story even better. Poe was a master of the first-person narrator, and that technique, so treacherous in the hands of a lesser artist, makes for unusual intimacy between the reader and the storyteller (Howard). The narrator of this story is probably the most dynamic character in a short story.
Poe had the ability to portray his protagonists, mad though they might be, in sympathetic terms (Howard). Poe did an excellent job to make such a great story in just four pages. Like this story, many of Poe’s short stories have characters whose madness or wild imaginings lead to their self-destruction (Bouchard). Because this story was amazing and almost all of Poe’s stories are in the same genre, I’ll recommend all of Poe’s work. Works Cited Bouchard, Jennifer. “Literary Contexts In Short Stories: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart. Literary Contexts In Short Stories: Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ (2008): 1. Literary Reference Center. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. Hoffman, Daniel. POE POE POE POE POE POE POE . Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc. , 1972. Howard, Ronald W. “The Tell-Tale Heart. ” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. Nesbitt, Anna Sheets ed. Short Story Criticism . Vol. 34. Farmington Hills: Gale Group, 2000. Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. , 1966.