Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tale-Tell Heart" - Guilty or not guilty? The accountability of the protagonist

Pre-University Paper, 2021

12 Pages, Grade: 2



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Context
2.1 Edgar Allen Poe
2.2 Historical Cases

3. Analysis ofThe Tell-Tale Heart

4. Conclusion

5. Sources

1. Introduction

Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" was published in 1834. It is a story of a murder who tells us how he acted out his plan. Through this, the narrator wants to convince us that he is not insane because " Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded". He insists that his plan was without passion. He only murders the old man because of his blue eye, after which he hides his body under the floorboards. Then three policemen show up. They were alerted through the scream of the old man. The narrator allows them in. He feels safe because of how well he hid the body. While he is talking to the three-man, he starts to hear the old man's heart beating through the floor. It grows louder and louder until he confesses the murder.

The first time I stumbled upon this story was trough a reading published online by the Poe Museum. Instantly I was hooked as it was not just a reading but also a discussion about the protagonist's accountability. I have read some American literature over the years, but the horror stories always engaged me the most. The difference between someone like HP. Lovecraft, who writes fantastical and outer worlds stories, Poe's storys always seem more human, more natural. They were about people and what scared them at the time. It was not until some odd weeks later that when I thought about what I could choose as a topic for a term paper, I thought back to myself, this discussion would be fascinating to flash out even more, so, decided it was. Firstly, I will summaries Poe's life and the historical cases on which the story is based. Then, I will analyse the story, after which I will conclude if the protagonist is accountable or not.

2.1 Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe was one of the most influential authors of his time. He is said to be the father of the modern short story and wrote classics like "To Helen," "The Raven," and "The Tell-Tale Heart."

He was born in 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, the child of two actors tho both of them died when he wasjust three years old. John Allan took care of the young Poe but never legally adopted him. After being forced out of University due to money problems, he enlisted in the army and published his first poetry collection. This and his second collection gathered much attention from neither readers nor reviewers, after being honorably discharged from the military, and was then admitted to the United States Military Academy. However, again due to money reasons, he was dismissed and moved to New York. Here his third collection, Poems, was published inl831.He then moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm. It was at this time, John Allan died, leaving Poe out ofhis will. Poe was living in poverty, and he had started writing short stories. One of these stories won a contest. This gave Poe some connections, through which he was able to publish even more. Eventually, he gotajob at the Southern Literary Messanger in Richmond.

A year later, the Messenger was now the most popular magazine in the south through Poe's sensation writings and book reviews. Quickly Poe became known for his harsh reviews and personal insults to the authors. At 27, Poe married his cousin Virginia, who was 13at the time. The marriage was a happy one, although the money was always tight. This led him to move to New York City and Philadelphia a year later, but he could not make a living despite his growing fame. For the publication ofhis first book of short stories, "Tales of the Grotesque andArabesque," he was paid with twenty-five copies of said book. All of this led him to be active in the cause of higher wages for writers and international copyright law. In 1845, when he published "The Raven," he became a household name. He moved away from the city because ofVirginia's deteriorating health a year later. Her death let him fall into depression, unable to write for months. He spent the last two years of his life traveling along the east coast, searching for backers to fund his new projects. In 1849, he returned to Richmond and got back with his first fiancee, Elmira Royster Shelton. They engaged again and planned to marry once Poe came back from a trip to Philadelphia. However, on the way there, he stopped in Baltimore, disappearing for five days. He was found in the bar room of a polling station. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital, where he spent the last few days of his life. Elmira did not find out what happened until she read the newspaper. Poe died on October the 7th, 1849. How he died precisely is still a mystery.

2.2 Historical Cases;

Over the years, two real-life cases are Poe's inspiration for this short story as told by Christopher P. Semtner, the curator for the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, on the Biography.com Website. One is the 1830 murder of Joseph White, whose prosecutor published a pamphlet of his argument on trial, in which he wrote that the murderer's guilt will reveal itself and that "the secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him...it overcomes him...He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence ofhis thoughts. It has become his master."

The part about the victim's heartbeat and the hearing can be linked easily to Poe's Tale.

This case might have influenced the Tale in its writing, but this example does not show us the bigger picture, which is revealed in the following case, the one of James Wood in 1840, who murdered his daughter. Here the connection between murder and victim is similar to the one in the Tell-Tale Heart. Wood pleads for not guilty because of insanity, which is the opposite of the protagonist. A covering of the trail for Alexander's Weekly Messenger states that you should not be fooled by Wood's calmness and identify him as a cold-blooded killer because this would be the "cunning of the maniac — a cunning which baffles that of the wisest man of sound mind."

We can assume this second case to be Poe's inspiration beyond the shadow of a doubt since the report's author was none other than Poe himself.

3. Analysis of "The Tell-Tale Heart"

The short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" was written by Edgar Allen Poe for the magazine "The Pioneer" in 1843. It is about an unnamed narrator who describes how he murdered an older man to whom he was very close. The story opens with the narrator telling us how nervous he is while also stating that this nervousness has nothing to do with him being mad. He continues by letting us know that there was no passion involved in the murder and that he had no desire for the gold the old man possessed. He states that he loved the old man. Then we get to know the reason for the murder. It was his eye, the narrator claims, a pale blue eye that looked like that of a vulture. He says it was so upsetting that every time he saw it, his blood would run cold. After this, he again tries to convince the reader that he is sane by explaining how carefully he planned the murder because, in his eyes, an insane person would not be able to do this. The narrator states that he tried to sneak into the old man's room for seven-night in a row and waited for the perfect moment to commit the crime. He can not bring himself to murder him as long as he can not see his eye. The next night he sneaks back into the room and giggles inside as he thinks about how clever he is. Suddenly, the old man awakes. Our narrator lets us know that this did not bother him, for he knew that the old man would not have been able to see him in the darkness. The old man asks who is in the room. The narrator claims that he did not move a muscle for over an hour. He informs us that the old man lets out a slight groan. Of terror through the narrator's telling, we can suspect that the old man knew that Death was coming for him. Now the narrator tells us that he moved the ray of light onto the old man's face and was enraged for the man's eye was open. After that, he says that he was able to hear the old man's heart. He gets so angry that he breaks his stance andjumps the old man, dropping the bed onto him, which leads to his Death. The narrator is relieved that the eye will trouble him no longer. To further "proof11 his sanity by explaining to us how he hid the body. He dismantles the body very, very carefully and stuffs it below the floorboards so that no one could find it. After he finished, someone knocked at the door. He opens it, again, very calm and lets in the policemen that had arrived. They were called because one of the Neighbors hear the old man shriek before he was killed. The narrator explains that this was only due to a nightmare and escorts them through the building to do their research. Because he feels so safe, he leads them to the place where he hid the body and let them sit directly above the old man's corpse. He tells us that through his calmness, the policemen believed everything he told them. They talk for a while, but suddenly the narrator wishes they were gone. Slowly he becomes paranoid, and he stops being calm. He starts hearing a sound, first thinking it's from inside his head but then stating that it must come from inside the room. He begins to talk louder to draw out the sound, but the sound does not go away. He stands up and walks through the room, but the sound gets louder with him. However, the policemen claim not to hear anything, and they continue chatting. The narrator believes that the policemen are making fun of him, and eventually, he breaks. He tells the policemen to open up the floorboards and to find the old man's mutilated body, whose heart he claims to heart pumping.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tale-Tell Heart" - Guilty or not guilty? The accountability of the protagonist
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Edgar Allen Poe, Tale-Tell Heart, TTH, Short story, accountability of the protagonist, American Literature, Gothic, unreliable narrator
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2021, Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tale-Tell Heart" - Guilty or not guilty? The accountability of the protagonist, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1164026


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