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Theme of Guilt in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

Updated October 13, 2020
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Theme of Guilt in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart essay

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Introduction

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a story that explores the theme of guilt narrated by an unnamed narrator. The story started with the unnamed narrator claiming that he is not insane, and offers a story as proof. In that story, the initial situation is the narrator’s decision to kill the old man so that the man’s eye will stop looking at the narrator. So what’s up with the title? What do you think it really means?

Below is an analysis made using the elements of a short story:

Characters

Narrator

In this short story, the narrator is a nameless person who explains that he is and was extremely nervous, but is not and was not insane. Rather, the narrator claims that he has a “disease” which makes all his senses, especially his hearing, very sensitive. To prove that he isn’t insane, the narrator shares an event from his past. The narrator claims that he loves the old man and has no motive for the murder other than growing dislike of a cloudy film over one of the old man’s eyes.

Old Man

Characteristics of the old man is only known to readers through the insane protagonist’s narration. According to the narrator, the old man has cloudy, pale blue eyes which bothers the narrator tremendously.

Setting

As narrated, the only setting of the story is known to be inside a house. Although, the details of the house are not given. The old man was said to keep his shutters locked. Though the tale takes place in the house which the narrator shares with the old man, main setting is actually inside the obsessed mind of the narrator himself. As the tale progresses, he becomes more and more unhinged leading to the dreadful murder of the old man.

Plot

The plot of the story started with the narrator trying to prove his sanity by telling a story from the past. The first part tells about the eight nights out of which for seven nights, the narrator peeks into the old man’s bedroom while he sleeps. The conflict started when the narrator continuously for a week, goes to the old man’s room every midnight to attempt to do the dirty deed. However, he could not kill the old man while he is sleeping because the old man’s “evil eye” is the narrator\’s problem not the old man himself. The second part of the plot is all about killing, cutting and hiding the old man’s dead body. The murder of the old man which is considered as the climax of the story. The old man’s heart was heard to be beating on the eighth night, when the narrator realizes that something is not right in his room. His heart tells a tale of fear, which in turn makes the narrator extremely angry and gives him the push he needs to carry out his dastardly deed. The third part is about the police turning up and the narrator admitting to them about his crime. The beating of the heart was heard after the old man’s death and this is the part where the denouement started. Given the impossibility of the old man still being alive after his body was cut up and buried under the floorboards, we could say that the low thumping sound which could be attributed to the old man’s heartbeat was the narrator’s own hidden guilt over the deed, thus telling a tale of the narrator’s guilty feelings. The plot ends when the source of sound is identified by the narrator as “the beating of hideous heart!”

Conflict

The conflict of the story is the narrator’s obsessed anger with the old man’s eye as earlier presented in the description of the old man. He also had problems with his true interpretations of what is happening around him as referenced in his line “\’Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening with its dreadful echo, the terror that distracted me” referring to the groans of the old man while asleep. As a matter of fact, the compounding factor of the old man’s nightly moans and the narrator’s insane desire to peek through the old man’s room is already a conflict of interest. Why would he want to see the old man’s evil eye at night unless he is enticed or obsessed with it? In any case, this leads to the climax which painted his evil deed of the eventual killing of the old man.

Point of View

The Tell-Tale Heart is a story told in 1st person point of view. It is a dramatic monologue told from the perspective of a person who has committed a murder. Through telling the story from 1st person point of view, the readers creep into the mind of the criminal and create a nervous and suspense effect to the story. Though, the narrator may be considered as unreliable considering the suspected abnormalities in his mental condition. The narrator is trying to prove his sanity and the proof he provides is his ability to act and speak in a way to hide his feelings about the old man and his intentions to kill him. So his insight into the old man’s mind is a reflection of his own experience.

Theme

One of the themes of the story is the human’s evil side. This tells the readers that a human being possesses another side of his personality which is perverse and wicked. It is another self that instigates him to do evil things without any obvious reason or apparent motive. Another theme that can be seen in this short story is the versions of reality. In this story, the reader’s version of reality is disrupted. The narrator is so powerful in this description that the reader is forced to follow and believe whatever he tells. And last is guilt. Guild leads the narrator to accept his crime in agony. He is not suspected and he completes his task perfectly like an expert criminal. Yet his conscience torments him to the extent that he is troubled to admit to policemen what he has done.

Motif

The identification of the narrator in ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ with the old man is the primary motif in the story. Many times throughout the story, the narrator says that he knows how the old man feels. He claims to know the “groans” of the old man, and that he too had experienced the same moans. The narrator knows such fearful restlessness first hand; thus the narrator and the old man are on such equal footing that they seem almost like the same person.

Moral

The Tell-Tale Heart implies to its readers to not commit crimes as our own sense of guilt will eventually expose us in the end. The story makes it clear that the truth cannot be contained and the guilt always dominates the decision to tell a lie or to hide the truth.

Theme of Guilt in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart essay

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Theme of Guilt in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. (2020, Sep 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-of-guilt-in-edgar-allan-poes-the-tell-tale-heart/

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