“The Tell Tale Heart” is typical of the gothic genre in the way that the main character who seems to be a polite, normal gentleman on the outside is quite brutal, vicious and insane on the inside.
Right from the start of the story we interrupt the narrator in ‘Media Res’ which means in the middle of something, we get the feeling there is something wrong with the narrator from the way he speaks. He doesn’t tell us who he’s speaking to in this sentence, he could be talking to a cell mate in prison but we get the feeling he is talking to us and. This gives you an eerie feeling you a part of the story. He says “The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them” he says it like his illness has something to do with senses and the way it had affected them but really it’s his obsession for the eye. He tells us “I heard all things in heaven and earth and many things in hell,” we get the feeling from this that he is insane as no one can hear things in Heaven or Hell. He then asks “How then am I mad?” it’s almost as if he can read our minds and knows that we are already thinking he is mad.
He then goes on to tell us in the 2nd paragraph that he had NO motive at all for killing the old man, this just strengthens our thoughts about him being mad. He even says “I loved the old man” yet feels he must kill him. The strangest thing is that the old man did absolutely nothing wrong to the narrator, it was purely because of the eye. The narrator however at first cannot remember why he killed the old man. He says “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this.” It’s almost like he didn’t even know and he just stumbled upon it while thinking back over.
Poe then uses the way the narrator watches in on the old man as a device to prove further how mad he is. He tells us it takes him an entire hour to just put his head through a little gap in the old man’s door. “You fancy me a madman. Madmen know nothing” this statement is indicating he is not mad as madmen don’t know what to do to get into a room with such skill and wait for hours to watch an old man. He boasts about himself a lot and talks to us as if we should be in awe of what he’s doing. He talks about this brutal, insane plan in a very formal way as if what he is doing is something people do everyday and uses words such as ” Proceeded, caution and foresight” which are very business like almost like he’s comparing it to a business job. He savours everything he is doing and it seams like he enjoys doing this.
The narrator tells us that the morning after he “boldly” goes into the old man’s room and “courageously” speaks to him. He thinks he is like a god for doing this, like he is incredibly brave as if he’s in some terrible danger by talking to the man. Talking about what he’s doing like it was soldier’s work, just by facing the old man.
Throughout the story the narrator repeats words to himself like “all in vain. ALL IN VAIN” This could be interpreted as someone who has lost their mind and is repeating things to reassure themselves but it also emphasizes all the boasting he as done. Again, the narrator asks us a question, “do you mark me well?” he asks if we are listening as he possibly thinks the next part is very important, and by asking us another question we get the eerie feeling once more.
On the 8th night when he finally enters the room, he tells us he takes even longer than usual to open the door and watch the old man. He starts to hear a low beating sound which he decides is the old man’s heart. Despite him imagining it, he says he knows the sound all to well. “It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates a soldier into courage,” again he compares what he’s going through to something like soldier, which is ironic because the work he is doing is as far from a soldier’s work as possible. He brutally murders a helpless old man and feels he should be praised for this. “It grew quicker and quicker, louder and louder. He continues to repeat his words, this time it builds up tension but also the sentence is like the beating of the man’s heart.
He shows a great deal of audacity by inviting the police into his house , after he’s killed the old man, and then sitting himself on top of where he hid the body. Towards the end of the story, Poe starts to write words in block letters. They obviously stand out, but also show the nervousness of the narrator as he starts to hear the sound of the old mans heart. This is a sign of guilt. Throughout the story he acts as if he wants to become a monster and has the potential to be a monster but somewhere inside is some conscience. He says “A LOW DULL QUICK SOUND – MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH ENVELOPED IN COTTON.” He earlier refers to the old mans heart sounding like a watch enveloped in cotton. This shows he can’t escape from his own morality. The sound of the heart acts as a dull constant reminder, of the murder he has committed, in the background and he can’t get away from it despite how he acts. His speech starts to become choppy and short almost like the way he’s thinking and like the beating of the apparent beating of the man’s heart. He then becomes very paranoid; he starts to pant and gasp for breath because he thinks that the police are onto him, despite them not having a clue about the noise he is hearing. He curses to the sound of the imaginary heart and is convinced the police are laughing at him as he curses and tries to get rid of the noise this suggests that he is going completely mad from guilt as the police continue to talk normally and pay no real attention to any apparent noise. He says “here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!” even when he admits to killing the man he sees no wrong in what he has done. He doesn’t blame is own guilt for the noise but instead blames it all on the sound of the old man’s heart.
To summarize, the story is about a very insane man who thinks he is completely sane which is typical of the gothic genre. He kills a helpless old man because of an irrational fear towards his strange eye. He goes about everything he does in a very calm and formal way when it’s really a very brutal act which is shocking to everyone who reads it.