The Unique Use of Literary Devices in the Tell-Tale Heart

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The Unique Use of Literary Devices in the Tell-Tale Heart

This essay will delve into Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” focusing on the unique use of literary devices. It will explore how Poe employs techniques like unreliable narration, symbolism, and irony to create a tense and unsettling atmosphere. The essay will examine the narrator’s descent into madness, the symbolism of the old man’s eye, and the irony of the narrator’s situation. It will discuss how these devices enhance the themes of guilt and paranoia, and Poe’s mastery in crafting a compelling psychological thriller. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to The Tell Tale Heart.

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The short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe is about a psychopath who butchers an old man with a “vulture eye” (357) but ends with the lunatic’s guilty conscience driving him to confess his evil deed. At the beginning, the narrator becomes increasingly disturbed by the old man’s eye and plans to take the life of the man to rid himself of that very eye forever. When he finally murders the man on the eighth night, the madman mutilates the corpse and crams his remains underneath the floorboards.

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The next morning, police officers knock at his front door declaring a neighbor reported hearing a shriek in the middle of the night. Smug and confident that he would not be caught, the narrator invites them inside to examine the house. Ultimately, the man’s guilty conscience overwhelms his already precarious mind and leads him to acknowledge his deed, exclaiming, “Villains! Dissemble no more! Admit the deed! — Tear up the planks! — Here, here! — It is the beating of his hideous heart!”(359). Poe cleverly manipulates a specific sentence style and uses punctuation that accentuates the story’s mood of horror. His dexterous use of figurative language reinforces the mood of the story. Additionally, he employs dark irony to emphasize the horror by continually demonstrating negative emotions that people do not regularly feel. Therefore, “The Tell-Tale Heart” keeps the reader on edge through Poe’s unique style that creates a dark and mysterious atmosphere.

Poe uses a unique sentence technique and syntax to stress the story’s mood of horror. In the first paragraph, the reader encounters a skittish narrator through Poe’s use of a choppy sentence form. The story begins with the narrator attempting to defend his sanity by saying, “True! — Nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (354). After reading the introduction, the audience progressively grows more apprehensive and doubtful about trusting the narrator as his mental health seems unstable. Subsequently, the lunatic attempts to persuade the readers and himself that he is not mad. He appears confident and believes his crime will go unnoticed, stating, “I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye … could have detected anything wrong” (359). Reading this, the audience should begin to question the psychopath’s mental state as he continuously assures himself of his sanity, causing readers to doubt the veracity of the narrator’s words. As the climax approaches, Poe uses repetition to create a rhythm similar to a heartbeat. According to the narrator, the heartbeat sound grows “louder — louder — louder!”(359), causing him extreme torment. The two syllables within the word ‘louder’ mimic the two ‘beats’ of a heartbeat, escalating the tension and adrenaline to the climax. Not only does Poe manipulate sentence style and punctuation, but he also creatively employs figurative language to convey the mood of horror.

Poe used figurative language throughout the story to emphasize horror through similes and metaphors. First, Poe uses dark imagery to describe the ray of light coming from the lantern. Using a simile, the madman described “a thin dim ray” and compared it to “the thread of a spider” (357). Poe takes the common fear of spiders, arachnophobia, and uses it to establish a negative atmosphere. Next, Poe uses the allusion “damned spot” to create a whole new meaning to the phrase. In the text, the narrator “directed the ray precisely upon the damned spot…”(359). The phrase is referring to a scene in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth cannot wash out the blood dyed into her guilty conscience–foreshadowing that an event will occur having to do with guilt. After the psychopath brutally murders the old man, Poe uses a metaphor and repetition to emphasize his death. In the madman’s moment of triumph and pride, he repeats “Yes, he was stone, stone dead …He was stone dead”(357) several times. The lunatic sees the old man’s life as worthless as stone and is convinced that he is dead. Though Poe used figurative language, he also used dramatic irony.

Finally, Poe uses irony throughout his work to maintain a mood of horror. An example would be when the old man feared robbers, when he should have dreaded his caretaker. In the text, the “shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers”(355). Though the old man took careful precautions against robbers, he did not think to protect himself against his own caretaker. The lunatic believed that his crime would not be discovered–instead he himself confesses to his atrocity. He trusted that there was nothing to be afraid of saying, “What had I to fear?”(358). In the end, he concedes saying, “I admit the deed!”(359). The madman did not foresee that he would be the one acknowledging his wrongdoing–surprising the readers. In addition, the madman heard the thumping of the old man’s heart two times in the tale. He heard a “low, dull quick sound–much like a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”(355). The man did not expect to hear the beating of the heart twice as he presumed him to be dead. So you see, Poe carefully used many types of dramatic irony to emphasize the mood of horror.

Lastly, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story that keeps its audience suspicious as it catches readers off guard, while maintaining a mood of horror. Poe used different sentence styles and punctuation, creating creepy sentences. He also used descriptive figurative language to create a dark atmosphere, along with dramatic irony. Edgar Allan Poe’s apparent style is disturbing and horrific through his details and imagery–achieving a mysterious tone to “The Tell-Tale Heart”.

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The Unique Use of Literary Devices in The Tell-Tale Heart. (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from