John De Cleene
Due: December 2, 2010
Horror and Tension Within The Tell Tale Heart
Edgar Allen Poe is most famous for his remarkable gothic fiction stories. In fact, some would almost consider him to be the father of them. One of his most recognized pieces is The Tell Tale Heart. This particular tale tells the story of a man who in the end turns out to be insane when he hears the beating of a dead man’s heart. The narrator kills an old man who did nothing wrong. The only thing that made the narrator kill the old man was the old man’s “vulture eye.” If it weren’t for the literary devices used by Poe the tale would not be what it has become. He creates an atmosphere of horror and tension by focusing greatly on the different elements of stories and using them in the specific ways to toy with the reader’s mind. Poe’s descriptions, style of language, and other elements used in The Tell Tale Heart help to create the atmosphere of horror and tension that make this tale so bone-chilling.
One thing that truly makes a story what it is would be the story’s setting. The Tell Tale Heart is set in a mansion, it seems, by the descriptions that Poe uses, “And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him…” When one thinks of chambers it is usually linked back to mansions. Mansions are thought of as enormous and spacious places that seem to continue on forever. A mansion with only two people in it, the narrator and old man, would feel very empty and bare. While reading the tale one would also feel very empty and bare because that is the kind of sense the setting gives them. Another way Poe uses the setting to create his atmosphere is while the narrator is spying on the old man through the door, “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened…” The words he uses generate a feeling of claustrophobia. “Thick darkness” and “shutters were closed fastened” both make the reader feel cramped and agitated, as if there is nowhere to escape. There is a feeling that it is too late to turn back and you are trapped with no way out. Even in such a spacious mansion, you are trapped for good.
Another element that Poe uses to create such a horrific atmosphere is the point of view from which the tale is told. Throughout the tale we only get one person’s point of view because it is told in a first-person narrative. This allows the reader to get inside the narrator’s mind and truly understand what he is thinking. In the beginning the unnamed man introduces himself. He tries to convince the reader that he is sane, “TRUE! -nervous -very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” Though over time as we get to know the man better he starts to show signs of being insane, “I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart.” It is not possible for the narrator to hear the old man’s heart because he had just killed him. He killed the old man, cut him up, and buried him under the floorboards. It is impossible for the heart to still be beating, and any man who would believe so is insane. The narrator hallucinates the sound of the beating heart. Listening to a man who has proven to be insane makes the reader unsure of what is going to happen next. Anything can happen with the man and you do not know exactly what is going to next. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because at any moment he could lash out and go crazy. If the tale was told by the policeman, for example, the reader could not come to the conclusion that the narrator is insane and the reader could not get into the narrators mind. Another thing that the first-person point of view does is that is can drag the reader into the tale. Throughout the tale the narrator keeps referring to the reader as “you”, “TRUE! -nervous -very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” By addressing the reader...
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