The Tell-Tale heart by Edgar Allan Poe : Answers to descriptive questions.
Justify the title of the short story the tell-tale heart.
The Tell Tale Heart is among the shortest stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. While the title may sound a bit strange, it is still a fitting title for the short story. Right from the beginning, the narrator starts defending his sanity. It becomes evident has been trying to hide something in his heart. He claims he has been ill but still has complete control of his mind. However, while it might be true, his heart is definitely not under his control. The heart is one of the most important symbols used in the story and implies human emotions.
While it might be easy for someone to hide his thoughts, he cannot completely hide his emotions from himself or others. This is what the author proves at the end of the story. While trying his best to hide his emotions from the police men, the narrator ends up revealing the truth. A reading of the story shows that he is clearly paranoid and hears various kinds of sounds. The narrator claims that his illness has sharpened his senses and he is receiving sounds from the heaven and hell. However, that cannot be true and his argument sounds childish and false indicating his insanity.
However, it is not the narrator’s mind but his heart that helps the policemen discover the truth. The narrator pretends to be friendly to the policemen and politely asks them in on the next day of the murder. He is bold enough to take them to the room where he committed the murder and is hiding the body in pieces. The policemen are sitting there and talking to the bastard who believes he has finally found success in his game. The narrator believes he can successfully hide everything in his heart but finally gives up to the intensifying pressure.
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On the night he murdered the old man, the narrator heard loud thumping of the victim’s heart. While he believes it was the loud thumping of the old man’s heart he could hear, it must have been his own heart. Someone must be paranoid enough to believe he can hear someone’s heart thumping from a few metres away. The narrator is clearly insane and trying to hide his own fear and anxiety. He is nervous at the time of the murder and waits an hour at the door before finally pouncing on the old man. The next morning as the policemen arrive, the narrator talks to them and does his best to hide his real emotions. However, while in the room where he committed the murder, the narrator’s heart again starts beating loudly out of anxiety. He has kept his fear suppressed while talking to the policemen but the situation does not last long. Soon, he is overcome so much by fear and anxiety that he finds it unbearable to stop that deafening thumping sound from falling into his ears. He still believes that it is the old man’s heart beating under the floor and even the policemen can hear it.
So, his heart betrays him and reveals the entire truth. He pours it all out and lets the policemen know where he buried the old man’s body. If it was not for the loud beating of his heart, he might have successfully gotten away with a heinous crime. However, he cannot bring his anxiety under control and at last gives in to fear. It is not a tell-tale mind but a tell-tale heart. The narrator can hide everything in his mind but his emotional state reveals the truth. The author has selected an appropriate and interesting title for the story.
Suggested Reading: The Tell Tale Heart Summary and Analysis
What is the narrator’s motivation behind killing the old man? Why does the narrator kill the old man in the Tell Tale Heart?
The narrator is clearly insane despite his desperately defending his sanity in the opening paragraphs and throughout most of the rest of the story. He notes that there is no clear source of motivation for killing the old man. He does not even remember how the idea cropped up in his mind but it clearly did and he wanted to kill the old man.
The narrator is a paranoid and hears sounds from heaven and hell. While he believes his senses and especially his hearing has grown stronger since he fell ill, it is really difficult to believe that a sane man would hear such noises. These noises are disturbing his mind and not allowing him to think clearly. He cannot forget the old man’s pale vulture like eyes. His fear of those eyes has turned into rage and he is losing self-control.
As the narrator says,
” 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! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. “
The narrator does not want the old man’s wealth and there is no purpose for revenge either. As the narrator acknowledges in the story, the old man has never offended him. However, it becomes clear from the reading of the story that the old man is living without a family and so is the narrator. It is the neighbors who heard the old man’s cry on the night of the murder.
The narrator’s mental situation is unstable. Even on the night he murdered the old man, he believes that he is hearing the poor victim’s heartbeats. However, that is not possible since any person cannot hear another’s heartbeat from even a meter or two away.
It all shows that the narrator is in a poor state of mind and tries to hide his mental and emotional state from the readers throughout the story. Might be he also hallucinates about heaven and hell. However, the only motivation that is clear from the reading of the story is the narrator’s fear of the old man’s eyes. Those eyes appear odd and evil to the narrator. He cannot shake those eyes off from his mind that appear to be staring at him like a vulture watches its prey.
The fear and hatred inside the narrator have been growing. He cannot think of a way to get rid of those eyes without killing the old man. While it is the narrator’s insanity that is clearly the main reason that he killed the old man, his fear of the old man’s eyes and the resulting anxiety pushed him to commit the crime.
However, there can also be another hidden motivation behind the old man’s murder. Since the narrator is an insane person, an old and weak man can be an easy prey. The eyes are just an excuse. It is the old man’s age and helplessness that the pretentious and insane narrator might have felt incited to kill him and vent an inner rage that fuels from nowhere but his own insanity and anxiety.
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What are the two main symbols in the story The Tell Tale Heart? What does each one represent? What is one other symbol Poe might have chosen?
The two main symbols in the Tell Tale Heart are the eyes and the heart. The narrator describes the old man’s eye as a pale blue eye with a film over it. He cannot bear the old man’s eyes because they look like that of a vulture. The narrator is reminded of those birds of prey that tear dead flesh with their beaks. He does not have any other reason to kill the old man. In fact, it is just the eye and he does not dislike anything else about the old man. The eye compels him to kill the old man.
Another important symbol is the heart. While the old man’s eye compels the insane narrator to kill him, it is the narrator’s own heart that forces him to confess the crime. However, the narrator keeps thinking that it is the old man’s heart beats he can hear. When he is inside the room to commit the murder and the next day when he is in the same room with the policemen and trying to hide his crime, he again hears the same heartbeat.
While the eye denotes sanity and wisdom, which the narrator lacks, the heart denotes, human conscience and emotions. The narrator is also lacking in terms of emotions. However, despite trying his best, he is unable to hide his real emotions before the policemen. He tries all the time to be sly and fool them. However, his anxiety and nervousness grow so high and his heart beats so loudly that he feels his secret is revealed. The narrator feels everyone in the room can hear the heart beat which is coming from under the floor and spills the secret out.
Dead men tell no tale. It is the narrator’s own heart that beats so hard that he cannot bear to hide the secret. While there are many symbols that Poe could have chosen from, the heart is irreplaceable in the context of this story. It symbolizes trust, love, humanity, and many more things. The helpless old man could not protest or save himself from the narrator because he was old and weak. However, the cunning narrator’s fear grew so heavy that if he himself did not confess, he might have lost control of his mind.
The author could also have used other symbols to denote wisdom and human conscience. For example, the sound of church bells could also imply a similar meaning. However, in the context of the given story nothing fits better than the eye and heart.
What is some evidence that shows that the narrator is insane in the Tell Tale Heart?
While the narrator continually defends his sanity since the beginning of the story, there is still a lot of evidence that points towards his insanity and lack of conscience. The brutality of his crime and his claim that he has a healthy mind offer strong evidence that he is not in a sound mental state. Apart from it, his obsession with the old man’s pale blue eyes also shows that he is having some problem in terms of understanding others.
The narrator might be dealing with schizophrenia or paranoia, as he finds it difficult to resist his rage when he thinks of the old man’s vulture like eyes. Another strong evidence that proves that the narrator is insane is his claim that he can hear sounds from the heaven and hell. The narrator claims that he has been ill but he has still retained control of his mind. However, the illness has sharpened his hearing and he can hear sounds from afar. On the night of the murder, he hears the beating of the old man’s heart and feels afraid that his neighbors might also hear the loud noise. However, no sane person can hear the beating of someone’s heart from a distance.
He is having his own delusions and perhaps he also hallucinates. Perhaps, the old man’s presence diminishes his self-importance which might be a side effect of the narrator’s mental illness. The narrator also appears sly because while his crime is brutal, he tries to paint an evil picture of the old man. To prove his sanity he claims that no insane man can work with the accuracy he did. No mad man can demonstrate the same dissimulation and foresight as him.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me, You should have seen how wisely I proceeded – with what caution – with what foresight- with what dissimulation I went to work!
He speaks like a surgeon who is going to eliminate a disease by removing an eye. However, his method is brutal and his attempt to disguise his feelings also proves his insanity and inability to control his emotions. The strongest proof of his insanity comes at the end of the story when he is unable to resist a nervous breakdown and ends up spilling the beans. Soon as he thinks he has successfully hidden his crime from the policemen, his heart starts beating harder. He feels like being laughed at by the policemen whom he believes are hearing the same deafening heart beats of the dead old man as him. These are not the signs of sanity since dead people’s hearts do not beat but according to the narrator they do. There are several things peculiar about the narrator but that’s also what makes the story interesting.
Can the narrator in The Tell Tale Heart be considered reliable?
The narrator in the Tell Tale Heart cannot be considered reliable. It is his mental state that makes him unreliable. His style of narration also casts a shadow of doubt on his reliability. He tries to appear innocent of the crime that he himself accepts to have committed. At the beginning of the story, he starts defending his sanity and tries to prove that he has complete control of his mind. A person having a sane mind would not do that.
There are contradictions in his story which make him an unreliable narrator. He claims he loves the old man and there is nothing to provoke him to kill the helpless soul apart from an eye that appears evil. Clearly, there is more than meets the eyes in the case of the narrator. He hates the old man’s eyes and wants to get rid of them. However, this does not make a lot of sense. It seems he is just trying to fool the audience by using the eyes as an excuse. The old man’s eyes look like that of a vulture to the narrator. He has an intense dislike for those eyes and feels provoked to kill the old man. The old man is no monster, but the narrator does his best to hide the monster inside him. His insanity is one reason that he cannot be relied upon but the other reason is his mindset and the monstrosity he commits without the slightest provocation.
If he is capable of such monstrosity, he is inhuman and there is no explanation behind his evil behavior. Relying on his account only will misguide the audience. Killing someone is not a child’s play and the narrator claims that he has exercised a lot of caution and precision to commit the murder. Even if that does not prove the murderer insane, it does not prove him honest either. He says he hears sounds from heaven and hell. Even a child would find it difficult to believe. The narrator also omits some parts of the story in a manner that makes readers doubt his character.