Gothic Elements in the Tell Tale Heart and other Novels

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The gothic period came apparent from a style of writing with elements of death and horror.  Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first writers to foster the genre of detective and horror. Poe’s writing had a crucial impingement on the Gothic Period. This can be perceived through the usage of punctuation, sentence structure, calculated word choice, tone, and usage of figurative language. Poe’s unique writing style can be seen throughout all of his poems, and a few poems that will be focused on entail, “The Black Cat,” “The Raven,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.

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” Through the usage of figurative language Poe was able to create a sense of melancholy, and suspense, which evokes the reader.  

Edgar Allan Poe had a life full of pain, and suffering and went through a grave amount of loss in his lifetime. Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston Massachusetts.  He never knew who his parents were because they died before he was even three years old (Giordano Page). His foster father, John who was an affluent tobacco exporter was able to send Poe to the best boarding school available. Poe attended the University of Virginia, and was an excellent student until he took up drinking and gambling (A&E Networks). It was after this that Poe was forced to leave college when he was unable to pay his gambling debt and his father refused to pay it. Despite these unfortunate events Poe was able to write his first book in 1827, titled Tamerlane and Other Poems (American Literature). In 1828, Poe lost all of his money and made the decision to enlist in the United States Amy. Poe’s father was able to have him appointed at West Point, where eventually Poe soon was expelled due to lack of ambition. Poe’s disappointed father, ultimately lead to Poe leaving home (A&E Networks).  

After getting expelled from West Point, Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his Aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia which Poe later married. To support himself, Poe wrote for the Southern Literary Messenger and his work became extremely popular. Virginia was Poe’s inspiration to write and years later they fell in love and were married in 1836. Virginia was thirteen years of age when she married in 1836 (A&E Networks).  

Edgar Allan Poe first collection of short stories, “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” Shortly after he published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was first published in 1839 and turned out to be a groundbreaking like no one have ever read before (Giordano). In 1845, Poe was awarded a hundred dollar prize for his short story “The Gold Bug.” In 1847 his wife, Virginia passed away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four. The unfortunate circumstance helped open his eyes to the haunting tales in which he explores, and brought to life each time someone read his short stories and poems. In 1849, Poe died just days after collapsing on the streets in Baltimore (Giordano). Edgar Allan Poe, created the genre of detective fiction or “gothic style” and is most famous for his for his great short stories produced in this style including, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Purloined Letter” (A&E Networks).  

The Gothic Period in literature occurred at the same time as the Romantic Period. Romanticism Period focused on love, and brought about the idea of endless imagination, individuality, and inspiration. It is through this freedom that allowed writers of this time to discover the threshold of the unknown.  It was from this that the Gothic Era was born.  Poe’s writing had a major influence on the Gothic Period and is reflected in the following stories and show how Edgar Allan Poe had a great influence on American Literature; ‘The Black Cat’, ‘The Raven’, and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart” by Poe is written in first person narrative and falls into the realm of Gothic Literature.  They encompass the themes of insanity, fear, horror, and death.  

Foreshadowing and symbolism is seen throughout the poem ‘The Black Cat’. These devices make the reader question whether the main character is a decent and sane human being.  In the beginning of the story the main character talks about how he loves animals and that he is an ordinary guy, however as we continue to read we are shown quite a different person. We come to realize that the main character is deranged and is quite capable of doing harm.  Throughout the story, Poe makes references that parallel his own life and marriage to his wife Virginia. For instance,  in the “Black Cat,” ‘I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own’ (Poe 1).  Poe uses this reference when telling the story the day before the narrator is killed for the crime of murdering his wife. ‘From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition.  My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions'(Poe 1).  The main character is an alcoholic as Poe was and talks about his relationship with his cat.  He is unable to keep a friendly relationship due to his alcoholic episodes and here again we see how dysfunctional Poe and his characters are.  ‘I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of feelings for others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my at length, I even offered her personal violence’ (Poe 2). The narrator then proceeds to gouge the eyes out  and kill the family cat.  The cat is found hanging in a tree the next day. Though the narrator insists he is not crazy or insane, the actions taken throughout the story, i.e., gouging a cats eyes out and hanging him in a tree, certainly states otherwise.  After killing the cat, the narrator and his wife jumped up due to their house being on fire. The house was a loss and so were all of their possessions.  This insanity was thought to be the result of the narrator’s actions though it wasn’t proven.  He returns to the ruins afterwards to find that everything was destroyed except for one wall left standing. “I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat.” “The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvelous.” “There was a rope about the animal’s neck.” “When I first beheld this apparition – for I could scarcely regard it as less – my wonder and my terror were extreme” (Poe 3). At this point, we are able to see that the narrator is quite disturbed and cannot get a grip on reality.  He is overcome with guilt from killing the family cat and hallucinating from his alcoholism.  The narrator truly believes that he sees the image of the cat.  Obsessed, he feels that the only way to be absolved from this heinous act is to replace the cat.  He is unable to put his mind at ease and feels as if he is going crazy. “Evil thoughts became my sole intimates – the darkest and most evil of thoughts” (Poe 4). Replacing the cat that he killed does not help his conscience.  He is being swallowed whole with his guilt.  As the days go on, his hatred grows for the new cat and he wishes he could destroy him too. “I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster” (Poe 4). Wrought with disease and truly going insane the narrator is consumed with madness.  He and his wife go to visit their old house and in a frenzy of anger, swung an axe and killed his wife. The narrator quickly takes the body and hides it in the wall in the cellar. “The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! Was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers” (Poe 5). Days later, the police knock on his door and do a thorough search of the premises.  To their surprise they find nothing.  However, upon leaving the narrator decides to start telling the officers stories.  The narrator feels no fear and no remorse.  At this time, Poe is trying to show that his narrator is truly sane and competent. He begins to bang the wall to show them that the house is built well.  He continues and the officers start to realize that he is sweating and nervous.  This led the officers to the discovery of the murder. The poem, “The Black Cat” is a portrayal of a man that progressively gets more and more insane as we turn the pages.  The narrator is truly a cruel and evil man that is being swallowed up by his own remorse.  The Black Cat’s elements of foreshadowing and symbolism build upon the reader’s sense of horror and disgust with a sense of the supernatural written as a true gothic piece.  

In the poem, “The Raven” the Gothic style is seen from the onset.  The narrator is alone in an apartment longing and feeling sorry for himself over the woman he used to love, Lenore.  This can be seen as a foreshadowing of what is to become of our narrator.  As seen in the last poem, our narrator’s personality is flawed and will lead him to insanity. The narrator is consumed with his lost love and as he is sitting in the dark room he becomes paranoid from the curtain moving from the draft from the window.  He allows his mind to believe that there is an apparition about to appear. “Rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before” (Poe 1). Suspense is building and we are beginning to realize that things are about to become erratic. The narrator is frightened and stares into the darkness whispering “Lenore.” “Lenore is echoed back” we can see how much he misses his love Lenore and wants to believe that she is there with him. The narrator hears loud tapping noises at the window and tries to make him self believe it’s the wind even though he is scared to death. “Tis the wind and nothing more.” (Poe 2). The noise becomes more frequent and louder.  He cannot keep himself from wondering what it is.  He goes to the window and opens it, in flies a raven.  The narrator put his mind at ease, it was a raven and he wasn’t going mad after all.  The raven symbolizes night and the death of his love. “By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.” “Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore.” He decides to talk to the raven and ask him his name and the raven spoke and said ‘Nevermore’” (Poe 2-3). The narrator stares at the raven couldn’t make sense of its presence. The narrator sat and wondered about his own pathetic life and was confused by the birds utterance of the word “nevermore.”  He stares at the raven and senses the arrival of angels. “He asks the raven if his sorrow will be taken away the raven replies, “nevermore.” “He asks the raven if he is evil and the raven replies, “nevermore.” “He asks the raven if he will ever see Lenore again and the raven replies “nevermore.” “He demands the raven leaves and the raven remains sitting on Athena.” (Poe….) We can see that the narrator is deteriorating.  His questioning and rant goes on and on.  He is truly losing his mind and his love Lenore will return “nevermore.” Throughout the narrative, the narrator becomes more agitated both in mind and in his actions, leading us to see he has gone mad.   

In the  “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator, unlike the narrator of “The Black Cat” and          “The Raven”, opens the story by professing his sanity. “‘It’s true! Yes, I have been ill, very ill. But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind?’”(Poe 1). After he tells us he is ill and insane, we are told that he is also a murderer.  He claims that he needed to kill this man because of the color of his eye. “His eye was like the eye of a vulture, the eye of one of those terrible birds that watch and wait while an animal dies, and then fall upon the dead body and pull it to pieces to eat it” (Poe 1). He watched the old man sleep every night and in the morning speaks to him as if everything was normal. On the eighth night the narrator arrives and the old man wakes up and shrieks, knowing that someone or something is in his room. As the narrator sits he claims that the beating of the old man’s heart becomes louder and louder. He believes that someone might hear the old man’s heart and knows he needs to kill the man. He shines his light to see the old man and kills him. He takes apart the body and hides the pieces under the floorboards in the bedroom. After, the police arrive and question the narrator. The narrator acts normal and tells the officers that the old man was away visiting a friend. They looked through the house and found nothing. The narrator asked them to sit down in the old man’s room and talk for a while. The narrator feels superior to his crime however as the guilt and paranoia builds he begins to get dreadfully nervous. He starts to fall apart as he believes that he hears the beating of the old man’s heart through the floorboards. He becomes totally consumed with the sound and makes noises to mask it so that the police would not hear the beating. “I talked still faster and louder.” “And the sound, too, became louder.” “It was a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a clock heard through a wall, a sound I knew well.” “Louder it became, and louder” (Poe 4). The narrator’s paranoia and guilt make it inevitable to give himself away. The narrator, consumed by his own guilty heartbeat, jumps up and removes the floorboards, admitting his guilt and going insane. In “The Tell Tale Heart,” the narrator perceives himself as sane and declares his sanity throughout the story.  However, this declaration leads him to admit that he is guilty of murder. The narrator, in “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” essentially tries to provide explanation for all of his actions yet all of his actions and explanations prove them to be totally irrational and unhinged leading to their downfall.   

Edgar Allan Poe, was an influential writer to American and international literature.  He was one of the first to develop the genre of both detective fiction and horror (American Literature). Stories like  “The Black Cat,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” as well as poems such as the “Raven” make him truly unique. His stories in general share the social setting of his own life and wellbeing. Poe’s writings are obscure lending to one’s imagination and curiosity into the unknown.  He created a genre that was unexplored and therefore had readers wondering and wanting more.  His characters were one of a kind, and the stories that surrounded them could lead you to question what was real and not real, frightened you until you were on the edge of your seat and even feeling your heartbeat through your shirt. His use of foreshadowing and symbolism to build suspense and spark the imagination led to the unknown, and a new era “the Gothic Period of Literature!” 

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Gothic Elements In The Tell Tale Heart And Other Novels. (2021, Jul 06). Retrieved from