Tell-Tale Heart the Narrator of Edgar Allen Thesis

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Tell-Tale Heart

The narrator of Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" intentionally mystifies the reader by demanding respect for his narratorial authority while constantly calling his own judgment and sensory perceptions into question. The effect is to create a sense of suspicion surrounding the narrator which is confirmed not when he murders the old man, but when he reveals the madness which causes him to hear the old man's heart beating. In this way, the story uses the narrator as a way of questioning the reader's assumptions regarding sanity and the role of narrator, because the story seems to suggest that readers are quite content with murderous narrator, and that the true "horror" of the story is the textual ambiguity created by the narrator's madness. By examining the instances in which the narrator seems to break from reality, it will be possible to see how the story uses these instances to challenge the reader's attitudes surrounding the role of the narrator and to demonstrate that perhaps the most maddening role of all is that of the storyteller.

The reader is immediately challenged by the story because the narrator seems to make a joke regarding the commonly conceived "omniscient" narrator when he claims "I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?" (Poe 303). Immediately the narrator uses the effects of his madness to portray himself not as mad, but rather as the kind of superhuman consciousness commonly ascribed to the imagined narrator of other stories. As Johann Pillai notes in her essay "Death and Its Moments: The End of the Reader in History," the question "how, then, am I mad?" serves "to close the text off from the actual reader in another sense by insisting, counterproductively, that the narrator is not mad but has been, or will be, categorized as such regardless" (Pillai 107). The narrator continues this work throughout the story, repeatedly insisting on his sanity while simultaneously putting that sanity in doubt through the particular details of his story that the narrator chooses to deploy as evidence.
All of the instances in which the narrator points out a seemingly bizarre detail as evidence for his sanity need not be listed here, but a choice few should provide enough evidence to demonstrate this phenomenon. As mentioned before, the narrator first uses his role as narrator to justify his mental state, arguing that his narratorial super senses justify his state of mind. The narrator later states "you fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me," for instance, when he thrusts his head into the old man's darkened room; "oh you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!" (Poe 303). These interjections increase in frequency over the course of the story until the narration breaks down the barrier between the narrator's recounting of the story to the reader and the events of the story itself and the full extent of the narrator's madness is revealed.

To see this manic dissolution of narrative boundaries, consider the moments in which the narrator believes his crime has been discovered: "Oh God! What could I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I….....

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