The tell-tale heart (1846)
Edgar Allan Poe
Definition of a ‘tell-tale’ = a gossip/er who tells things about others to get them into trouble
‘A tell-tale heart’ (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe is told through a homodiegetic narrator, who is most likely the old man’s butler. He tries to convince himself and the reader that, although he confesses to have killed the old man with the pale, blue eye, he is not mad.
Possible reasons for not giving details of the murder itself: 1. Narrative techniques on Poe’s part – open spaces: leaves the details up to the reader’s own imagination/fears 2. The murder and the old man isn’t really important to the narrator – it’s his ego that matters (how clever he is) + ensuring the interlocutor that he isn’t mad 3. That it’s all in his mind – the murder didn’t take place
Questions for the text
1. Who are the characters of this story? Do we get to know anything about their names, their jobs or any other of the things we normally use for a basic characterization The narrator (most likely a man)
Younger than the old man, works for the old man – might be a butler (goes to the old man’s room every morning) Describes himself as sick (p. 20, ll. 2-3)
“you” – an unspecified interlocutor – the reader? – or himself? An old man
Without family living with him, probably well-off since he owns a big house The police officers
The neighbors (who hears the screaming and calls the police, does not participate)
2. Where does it take place? HOW much are we told about the setting? In the old man’s house – in the bedroom. Once the police officers come they go down stairs. No specific place name makes the story universal
No detailed descriptions of interior
3. When does it take place? Are we given any indications of time? Before the murder: 8 days (p. 21, l. 10)
The night of the murder around midnight (the lanterns) at least until around 4 am when the police officers arrive No specific year mentioned
Generic features of horror stories – do not mention specific year, place – as that would take away some of the horror ( universalism – it could be you… horror stories are oriented towards the readers and their fears)
4. What reason does the narrator give for murdering the old man? “I love the old man. He had never wronged me (…) yes, it was this!” (p. 20, ll. 10-12) The pale, blue eye with a film over it of the old man the narrator fears the eye
5. What is wrong with the old man’s eye?
The description of it being pale, blue eye with a film over it gives the idea that the old man is blind
6. What do you think could be the problem with an eye having ‘a film over it’? It gives the idea of the eye being blind.
Symbolic: make this man blind to the truth of the narrator not loving the old man as much as he thinks.
The eye = the mirror of the soul film over his eye, hence, there is a barrier between the narrator and the old man – gives less insight into the old man’s soul. the narrator is frustrated by this (he cannot get into real contact with the old man – they are supposed to be such great friends)
7. What is the relationship between the narrator and the old man? The narrator is working for the old man – most likely the narrator is the butler for the old man. The narrator has not got anything against the old man, besides the eye.
8. Describe how the narrator murders the old man?
He has been visited the old man’s chamber during 7 days at midnight and then at the eight night the old man suddenly wakes up, and the pale, blue eye is open so the narrator kills him by hiding him with a lantern in his head. He then cuts of his legs, arms and head and hides the body parts under beneath the floor.
9. Describe how the murder is unravelled?
The narrator gets “mind fucked” by hearing the beating heart within his own head – thinks that the police men can hear him, so he confesses to the murder.
10. This story is written as a...
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