Sadism in the Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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The tell-tale Sadist:

Sadism and Masochism in “The tell-tale heart”

Many of Poe’s tales portray characters which intently harm other creatures or people and enjoy the process of doing so. This tendency which Poe himself called “the spirit of perverseness”(Poe 10) in The Black Cat is described as the need to cause pain to other being without any reason, evil per se. However, from a psychological point of view, this spirit of perverseness would be labeled as sadism and its source may be traced by making a deep analysis of the character’s psyche. It will be posed that the character participant narrator in the tell-tale heart does not kill the old man as an act of pure evilness or spirit of perverseness, but rather the source of his/her sadistic drive comes from an unfilled sexual desire towards the old man and the guilt caused by his/her crime leads him/her to masochist behaviour.

On Three Essays on Sexuality, Freud describes sadism as “The desire to cause pain to the sexual object.”(Freud, 1914) Although, there are not any explicit evidence of a sexual relation between the old man and the narrator, whose gender is actually unknown, we may say that the bond was a close one because the narrator says “I loved the old man.”(Poe 3) In addition, the descriptions in which the narrator describes his seven days of surveillance include metonymic references to the sexual act:

"I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously (for the hinges creaked)- I undid it just so much that a single thing ray fell upon the vulture eye"(Poe 4)

This action of undoing the lantern and observing the eye as a source of arousal resembles the act of undressing a person slowly and cautiously during the sexual act and being aroused by the sight of his/her anatomy[1]. Also, the narrator observes the old man sleeping which seems to be a classical behaviour of lovers. This is plainly stated by the narrator himself: “I looked in upon him while he slept” [2](Poe 4). Another instance of this



Bibliography: Asselineau, Roger. Edgar Allan Poe. Minneapolis: Minnesota Archive Editions, 1970. Freud, Sigmund. Three essays on Sexuality. Boston. 1910. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14969 on the 10th of October 2010. Glowinsky, Marks and Murphy. A Compendium of Lacanian Terms. London: Free Association Books, 2001. Poe, Edgar A. The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings. New York: Bantam Classics, 2004. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/868969/edgar_allen_poes_the_telltale_heart_pg2.html?cat=38 ----------------------- [1] This idea was developed following the discussion retrieved from this web page: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/868969/edgar_allen_poes_the_telltale_heart_pg2.html?cat=38 [2] Again this idea was developed bearing in mind the paper retrieved from the previously mentioned web page.

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