Edgar Allan Poe, just mention his name and images of death, blood, and insanity fill the mind. Poe was a master of all things scary. He used terror to manipulate the emotions of his audience, and succeeded time and time again. He was a pioneer of the modern detective novel, and his short story plots are used as backbones to some of the best horror movies ever made. Scrape away the supernatural, the death, and the character distention into depravity and you are left with a writer of great skill and talent .
His aptitude and grace as author can easily been seen in the quintessential horror short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” Here, Poe demonstrates how to use theme, character narration and literary devices to produce a story full of suspense, and intrigue. A central theme to much of Poe’s short stories was the idea that man, has a perverse animalistic nature that is usually well controlled but can do horrible things without warning or cause. Certainly this is true in “The Tell-Tale Heart. The narrator attempts to explains his murderous actions to the audience, he states “Object there was none.
Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He never wronged me. He never gave me insult. For his gold I had no desire”. The narrator is expressing his confusion as to why he killed the old man. He realizes that the man is not evil and there was no reason to murder him, yet he did. This leads to another theme in “The Tell-Tale Heart” which is that concealed evil is much deadlier than external evil. While the old man has an “evil eye” that is disgusting and sickening, his character is not evil at all. His ugliness exists only on the outside and causes no “real” harm to anyone.
Contrast the old man against the narrator of the story. The narrator deep inside of him has an unexplained evil that seeps out and decides that the old man must die for no reason other than his diseased eye. The narrator’s evil is concealed and cannot be seen from the outside. It is clear that evil that is not seen is extremely dangerous. While the use of theme is extremely important to the overall story, it is the character narration that makes “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the bulk of Poe’s work unique. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” that narration is done in first person.
The narrator in this story is the main character, who remains unnamed. This is a narrative technique that Poe often uses, it allows the reader to become the main character. The narrator is clearly mentally unstable even though in the first lines of the text he states “True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. ” He makes it clear to the reader that he is not only sane but his sense of hearing has been enhanced.
By uses first person narration, Poe can easily control what the reader sees, hears, and feels. Poe manipulates the emotions of the audience by employing a number of literary devices which forcefully direct the reader in an aggressive downward spiral through murder into insanity. The most prominent literary device is the use of the heartbeat to push along the plot and pace of the story. Early in the story, the text is smooth and regular. The narrator explains “I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could to maintain the ray upon the eye.
Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased,” the pattern of the words is much like a normal heartbeat. In the later part of the story, the narrator’s speech patterns increase, “anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! – and now – again – hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! – “Villains! ” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart! ” This rapid pattern of speech mirrors the increased beat of the heart under the floorboards.
Poe also uses alliteration to move along the path, creating a sense of rhythm by repeating the same sound over and over again. In the following passage take note of the “h” repetition in the following quote “Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story. Meanwhile, the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It is the beating of his hideous heart! ” The “h” sound offers a very haunting, hissing soundtrack to “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Simile and personification can be found in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Poe speaks about death as if it was a living breathe creature.
Placing human characteristics onto inhuman or inanimate objects is called personification. The narrator explains to the reader “Death in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim. ” A simile is when one item is compared to another item. For example in “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator describes the beating of the heart in the following way “It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage. ” The heartbeat is compared to a drum. Poe also uses just a tiny bit of irony in this short story.
Irony occurs when two opposing things are placed together. The narrator states “ I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. ” This is an ironic statement because why would a person be kind to the person they are going to kill. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” Poe employs the narrator to deliver several different types of narrative techniques and themes. He plays all the senses. Through the use of the personification, simile, word manipulation, and alliteration all seen through the eyes of the narrator, he weaves a tail of creeping horror and emotional breakdown.
The themes centering around hidden evil of an unknown cause, creates a sense of unbalanced fear and disgust. Narrative technique is extremely important in the story. Without the narrator there is no story. He is the sole witness of all the tragic events that occur, and the only person who lived.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart. ” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999. 33-37.