Insanity in the Tell Tale Heart

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An unstable narrator is tortured, and when he can no longer take it and has reached the breaking point, the man murders his master. This is the out-of-control conflict created in Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, “Tell-Tale Heart.” The short story is published in 1843 and gives a better understanding of what an insane person is capable of. Edgar Allan Poe focuses part of his literature on the genre of horror to force many to take it more seriously than otherwise would have (Poe-land 9). To elaborate, after reading “The tell-tale heart” someone would consider guilt as part of the aftermath of murder that they would not have before. Many people with mental illnesses refuse to seek treatment or are not aware of their illness. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator tries to convince the reader that he is not insane by explaining why he murdered his master. The narrator has both external and internal conflicts in this short story. External conflicts that the narrator’s faces are the eye and police, and the internal conflicts are the beating heart and his denial of insanity. Conflict is the most important narrative element in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” because it shows the internal battle of the narrator, the way he is trying to assimilate what has happened while dealing with his psychotic break, conveying the final event and how he is still human and finally breaking when he is being questioned by the police, and feels as though they are making fun of him.

What the narrator seems to be experiencing is a type of Stockholm syndrome, which means that after having lived such a traumatic experience in order to survive the victim develops feelings or an emotional bond with the captor, “There was no reason for what I did. I did not hate the old man; I even loved him. He had never hurt me” (Poe). According to Good Therapy, “A person who develops Stockholm syndrome often experiences symptoms of posttraumatic stress: nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, confusion, and difficulty trusting others” (Stockholm). After having some realizations, the narrator has reached his breaking point, in which his psychosis starts to make him delirious and want to break free, “When the old man looked at me with his vulture eye a cold feeling went up and down my back; even my blood became cold. And so, I finally decided I had to kill the old man and close that eye forever” (Poe). This starts the internal conflicts within the narrator, since he claims he loves his captor but says he sees evil in his eye and is starting to see and hear things, all revolving around the evil eye that wouldn’t leave him alone. In order to deal with his plan, the narrator is trying to find small gestures of affection to make it seem like he is still sane and capable of reasoning. By doing so, he needs to have constant reminders for himself, “So, you think that I am mad? A madman cannot plan. But you should have seen me” (Poe). He started to find reasoning for planning the murder, his mind was playing tricks on him by telling him he wasn’t trying to kill the old man rather than kill of his eye which was full of “evil”, “Always the eye was closed, so it was impossible for me to do the work. For it was not the old man I felt I had to kill; it was the eye, his Evil Eye. And every morning I went to his room, and with a warm, friendly voice I asked him how he had slept. He could not guess that every night, just at twelve, I looked in at him as he slept. The eighth night I was more than usually careful as I opened the door. The hands of a clock move more quickly than did my hand. Never before had I felt so strongly my own power; I was now sure of success.” At this point, he has gone through with his plan, and he sees this as a motive to be okay when the police arrive because he is confident that he did nothing wrong, that is until he starts to realize the actual magnitude of his actions.

Once he heard the last beat of the man’s heart, he proceeded to dismember him and hide his body, until he realized that the old man’s dying wails awoke neighbors encouraging them to call the police, “I asked the policemen to come in. The cry, I said, was my own, in a dream. The old man, I said, was away; he had gone to visit a friend in the country. I took them through the whole house, telling them to search it all, to search well. I led them finally into the old man’s bedroom. As if playing a game with them I asked them to sit down and talk for a while” (Poe). Right now, the narrator is beginning to assimilate the fact that he just murdered someone, and will slowly begin to unravel, “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. Why did the men not go? Louder, louder. I stood up and walked quickly around the room. I pushed my chair across the floor to make more noise, to cover that terrible sound. I talked even louder. And still the men sat and talked and smiled. Was it possible that they could not hear?? No! They heard! I was certain of it. They knew! Now it was they who were playing a game with me. I was suffering more than I could bear, from their smiles, and from that sound” (Poe). The narrator is now experiencing another emotional break, he physically heard the old man’s heart stop beating but as the polices officers prolonged their stay he eventually starts to get nervous which is why he believes he is hearing his heartbeat through the walls, his delusions furthermore make him believe the officers too hear it, but won’t say anything for the simple reason that they are trying to play mind games with him.

Overall, Poe’s short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” is the gruesome narration of a man murdering his captor but strikes up conflict within himself, as he cannot be real to himself and admit he hated the old man, in his mind he believes he loved him but felt compelled that the evil in him was starting to drive him crazy. To furthermore expose his psychosis, he believes his delusions are real, he thinks he is hearing the old man’s heart, bringing him to his final breaking point and confessing to the police. This conflict is what makes the story and makes it so essential due to the intensity and pulls in together all the opposite aspects of the narrator’s mind.  

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Insanity in The Tell Tale Heart. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/insanity-in-the-tell-tale-heart/

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