View Full Version : The Tell-tale Heart: Insanity's Darkness

05-26-2007, 07:24 AM
The remarkably demented Narrator in THE TELL-TALE HEART is a certified inhabitant of insanity's endless night. He (or she?) is enveloped within a silent flood of darkness: a claustrophobic state of calculative plotting. While he isn't a ranting or raving lunatic (not just yet), his scheming to murder the old man is catatonic in its obsessiveness and determination. Watchful night after watchful night, as the light of his murderous intent inches ever closer and closer to its target (the "old man's eye"), he exhibits a child-like pride in his soon to be accomplished task and the planning that went into it. The only object allowed illumination is the old man's eye...his approaching killer, hidden in darkness, is one with darkness: insanity's darkness (as envisioned in Poe's day and age).

The confining elements of darkness and walls, that would later be granted psychiatric terms (such as Id, Ego, Super-Ego, Subconscious Mind, etc.) symbolized the mental states of Poe's more sinister characters. For instance, Roderick Usher (THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER), Montressor (THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO), the Speaker in THE RAVEN, all inhabit worlds of claustrophobic gloom that feed their self-absorption...as if they wouldn't and couldn't exist in the light.

When the police arrive, the Narrator imagines that he can maintain the same skill in a pretended innocence of the murder as he did in its execution...and, at first, he's successful. However, now he isn't hidden in darkness, and he could be seen by others as well as see them. This time he isn't gazing at a feeble old man's eye but into the alert and alive eyes of police officers. It's one thing to plot and carry-out one's murderous deeds in darkness, and quite another thing to assume ignorance of them in the light of public scrutiny. Even though the police seem convinced that the Narrator has nothing to hide, the casual nature of their talk appears to mock him; the cruel intensity of his crime is buried right beneath the floorboards. He emerges a ranting-raving creature, in the stark light of reality, as his subconscious guilt is revealed: the "beating of the old man's heart" forces him to confess to his murder... it's the frantic beating of the Narrator's own heart.