The Tell-Tale Heart and Symbolism

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Like many of Edgar Allen Poe's works, "The Tell-Tale Heart" is full of death and darkness. Poe used many of the real life tragedies he experienced as inspiration for his gothic style of writing. Poe dealt with many aspects of death and madness in his stories, madness again is playing a key role in the plot. In this short story Poe used literary devices such as point of view and symbolism to give it a more dramatic effect and add to the madness the narrator portrays.

Poe's use of the point of view device is very evident in "The Tell-Tale Heart". The madman that speaks through the entire story talks in an unreliable first person view. Because of the man's obvious madness you are not sure what is taking place in the introduction and what the actual events of the story were. Although there is a definite madness in the man's attitude and he is constantly aware of it yet he makes many claims that he is not mad at all. "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!…Ha!-would a madman have been so wise as this?" He is obviously well aware of his madness but he tries to justify it by saying that he is not mad because he puts so much effort and wisdom into his deeds. It is kind of an ironic statement that he justifies his madness in the wisdom he shows in the insane act itself. This is like a student saying he is not cheating because he had to "do work" to get the plagiarism. There is ironically no "method to the madness" in his argument. After the narrator commits the murder he again tries to justify his present madness. "If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence." Even after the thought of possible murder has left his mind and he has done the act, he again justifies his deeds by his precautions. In his mind things are not what they actually are in reality in the least bit. In another part of the story the narrator tries to explain what he says we see as his madness. "And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?" The resulting madness the narrator sees in the old mans heart is in his words just an extra sensitive hearing. That in his mind is what is wrong with everyone else's thinking but only he knows to be true.

Symbolism is another literary device that Poe used strongly in "The Tell-Tale Heart". In other Poe works like "The Raven", Poe uses one object and tries to play upon it the most of the plot in the story. The title of the story gives the reader the symbol from the beginning, as the heart. Although he uses the heart as a symbol, Poe also uses other symbolic representations too. From the beginning of the story, the narrator tries to describe his reasoning in killing the old man. "It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. 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!…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 for ever." The narrator clearly states that there is no logical reason fro him to kill the old man, but for some reason the narrator cannot think of anything but the man's eye and says that it gave him the idea of murder. The chilling feeling that the eye gave him planted in him, the thought to kill the old man, and after thinking about it day and night, that is what brings the narrator to his mad state. He is so obsessed with it that he goes into the old mans room...
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