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Thread: understanding of The tell-tale heart ,please

  1. #1
    combdada
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    understanding of The tell-tale heart ,please

    Hello all!
    I bumped into this forum when searching for some critical reading on Poe's The tell-tale heart in the net. Amazed by the story, yet failed to get a thorought understanding. How is Poe's own psychology carried in the story? Why is first person narration chosen? What kind of distorted human character is unveiled? Could you please kindly share your understanding with me ? Thanks a lot.
    ^_^
    Last edited by combdada; 05-17-2006 at 12:26 AM.

  2. #2
    Hello, combdada, welcome to the forum.
    The unnamed narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart definitely seems a mysterious one. Edgar Allan Poe, himself, suffered from mental illness, yet not surely determined which; the narrator, too, admits himself as seeming always 'nervous,' but not 'mad.' One cannot deny that to write a whole plethora of mystery short stories, a writer must have quite an analytic mind, such as Poe's; the narrator, perhaps, has analytical tendencies to an extreme to the point where he separates an old man (who he otherwise finds pleasant, not desiring his wealth or feeling envious) from his 'pale blue eye.'
    Plotting on destroying him somehow, the narrator begins a paranoia process much like the main character of Crime and Punishment did, feeling thoughts of fear, guilt, and deceit. By no means would I consider the narrator a villain of the story, but I more pity him. The heartbeat he hears, I feel, seems the narrator's own heartbeat from feeling so 'nervous,' or a hallucination through the immense stress of paranoia.
    In a rather Freudian way of extreme analytical thinking mixed with mental illness, the narrator murders and dismembers the old man; the dismembering, too, I think represents the 'picking apart' of the old man (no pun intended ) - sacrificing the amiable things about the old man for things so detestable. This relieves the narrator's anxiety until the police arrive the next morning, answering to a scream heard by the neighbors. Naturally, again, the narrator would feel nervous, and I think the heartbeat he perceives merely consists of his own due to his anxiety of the police visit, though the officers seem neither aggressive nor accusing. Not tolerating his own anxiety, the narrator admits to the murder, and recovers the corpse from the floorboard grave.
    Hopefully this has helped, combdada, and, if you have more questions, I would love to discuss this masterpiece more.

  3. #3
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    I always thought that the heart beats he hears are more due to his guilty conscience than his 'nervousness' or 'paranoia' and that because he realises that he cannot live with his crime, he confesses his crime; ie, to quieten his conscience and find peace again - even though it means he has to go to jail for it.

    However, I should also add that I have not studied this story at school so my interpretation is purely personal
    ~
    No damn cat and no damn cradle.
    ~


  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Scheherazade
    However, I should also add that I have not studied this story at school so my interpretation is purely personal
    All interpretations seem personal, Scher - no worries!
    I entirely agree, actually, with your interpretation of the narrator's guilty conscience, hence feeling his own heartbeat; perhaps I only used different words. Though the narrator rested well after the murder, probably feeling relieved of his anxiety of the old man and his haunting eye, no doubt, after the bout of delirium he must have felt at the time of the murder, he regained some rational thought, realizing what happened - murder, dismembering, crime, etc. Again, similar to Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart cannot tolerate his own guilty conscious, and the fear and anxiety that seem nearly synonymous with it.

  5. #5
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    Mono... The idea that Poe suffered from mental illness is absurd and there is no evidence to support such a contention from any of his, contemporaries, his texts or from his personal correspondence that is currently available.

    Poe’s story The Tell Tale Heart was first published in the Boston magazine, Pioneer, in January 1843. The owner of the magazine, James Russell Lowell, was familiar with Edgar Poe’s work as a literary critic and accepted the tale, with two other pieces, after another magazine had rejected the story.

    This story is a psychological thriller told in the first person narrative so that the reader is permitted to see into the mind of a madman that is contemplating murder for a reason that he, himself, justifies as ridding himself of the old man’s evil eye. It can also be viewed as a study in fear brought upon the narrator by an excessively magnified sensitivity and an unusually acute awareness of his surroundings that was fed by his deranged imagination. Most acute was his sense of hearing for “I heard all things in the heaven and in the Earth. I heard many things in hell.” This hyperactive sense of hearing is critically important to the tale and, consequently, should be kept in mind by the reader for it lends support to the tale’s conclusion.

    As the tale begins, Poe reveals to us the madness that is consuming the narrator even as the narrator himself denies his insanity. Extremely agitated, he admits to a disease that has caused him to be “.. dreadfully nervous” but that this nervousness had only “… sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them.” He believes his intellectual faculties to be intact and argues that a madman would be incapable of calmly relating the whole story as he is about to do.

    Of course, the narrator’s very denial is seen as an admission of this madness when he begins to discuss his motives for the murder of the old man he had loved. Clearly, this was Poe’s intent. The narrator confesses he had no desire for his wealth and that the old man had never wronged or insulted him. There were no passions he felt against the old man and no object of gain or advantage to be had by his death. Here and, apparently, for the first time the realization occurs to him that it was the old man’s hideous eye, his vulture-like evil eye. This gives the reader the sense that the crime was an act of compulsion driven by his exaggerated imagination that had obscured reason and rationality.

    Poe offers no clear suggestion regarding the relationship between the narrator and the old man. The only inference to be drawn is that they were, most likely, not related by bloodline. In fact, we can only presume that he lived with the old man as opposed to vice-versa. At best, the relationship could be viewed as a master to apprentice arrangement but even this is speculative because Poe so clearly avoids any specificity in this regard. So... why did the narrator possess so visceral a loathing for the old man’s eye? Again, Poe offers no clue as to the cause but, rather, repeatedly speaks to the magnitude of hatred and the narrator’s desperate desire to rid himself of the terror it provoked. This lack of malice toward the old man redirects the reader’s logic and ensures that the narrator’s madness and irrationality is the root cause.

    The narrator goes on to exquisitely detail the stealth and care he uses to enter the old man’s room and for seven nights he remains undetected. On the eighth night, the old man stirs at a sound and is now wide awake, sitting up in bed, as the narrator releases a single beam of light from the lamp that falls upon the hideous blue orb of his vulture eye. At length, he is able to separate the evil eye from the old man by illuminating only the hideous and leaving the old man in the darkness, obscured and unseen. His senses heightened, his heart racing, the narrator believes he can hear the heartbeat of the old man and paints a graphically vivid picture of the terror the old man is suffering. He becomes enraged at the sight of the eye for he believes it to be the source of his own terror.

    After killing the old man and dismembering the corpse, he places all the evidence under the floorboards of the old man’s room and restores all things to normal. Satisfied that all appeared routine, cleaned, replaced and restored, the narrator, lighthearted after his heavy labors, hears a knock at the door where he finds three officers from the police. It seems a “shriek” had been heard and they were asked to investigate. Gleefully, the narrator enthusiastically allows a search and acts as a guide throughout the house. He revels in the security of the perfect crime by demonstrating [to the reader] that his misdeed is undetectable, unfathomable. In his supreme confidence that only madness allows, he invites the officers to sit and rest in the very room the corpse is hidden and places his own chair directly over the corpse.

    As he calmly answers their questions to their satisfaction, he begins to tire, perhaps from his labors, and wishes them to leave. He grows pale, his head aches and he begins to hear a ringing in his ears. To hide his discomfort and cover the sounds, he becomes more animated and speaks louder until he realizes the sound is not in his ears. To cover the “… low, dull quick sound…”, he speaks faster and louder and louder still until he begins to argue minor things and fling his arms about in wild motions. Unaware of the sound, the police continued to chat while the sound grew only louder and louder still. Persuaded now that the police suspected him and convinced that they could hear the horrible rhythmic sound, he also becomes convinced they are mocking his terror of discovery and, he, unable to bear their “.. hypocritical smiles” any longer, shrieks “Villains! dissemble no more! I admit the deed” – tear up the planks! – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

    The basic conflict, in my opinion, can be seen in the struggle between the narrator’s intellect and his madness. While his intellect retains some control of reason and logic, allowing him to carry out his devious work of murder, his madness, the illness that had so sharpened his senses (especially his hearing) is in full control of his fertile imagination and obscures reality, feeds his base emotions and ultimately overwhelms his natural inhibitions.

    While I do not mean to suggest that Poe’s biographer, Arthur H Quinn would concur with this interpretation, he makes an important point in his book Edgar Allan Poe – A Critical Biography, where he characterizes this story as it relates to Poe’s literary ideals. He says, “It is an almost perfect illustration of Poe’s own theory of the short story, for every word contributes to the central effect.”

    While significantly different in character and theme, this tale does possess some commonality to his other tales such as The Imp of the Perverse and The Black Cat. Yet, The Tell Tale Heart more correctly belongs to Poe’s interest in the general behavior of mankind than it does to the misapprehensions of science or the effects of over indulgence of spirits.

    In April of 1840, Poe wrote an article, a commentary of sorts, in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger regarding the trial for murder and acquittal of one James Wood, a man that killed his daughter, a Mrs. Sarah Ann Peak. Wood, it appears, was acquitted by a 12 man jury for reasons of insanity. Of particular interest, in this case, was the absence of malice usually necessary to commit the foul act of murder, especially of one’s own daughter. I might suggest that by 1843, Poe had not forgotten this incident and, like many of his tales, simply expounded on the events in his story, The Tell Tale Heart.

    I trust you will find this useful in some fashion and I offer it merely as one interpretation. As you can see, there are many.

  6. #6
    combdada
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    thank you all!

    thank you all!
    Your interpretations are pretty much informative and of great help. thank you again.

    To mono
    I particularly like your interpretation of the dismembering as "Picking apart" of the old man. The obsession seems more likely to be the narrator's failure in realizing the normal form of human being's existance. His vision is incomplete in this sense and hence his wicked mind implied. two far-fetched, is it?

    To Scheherazade
    My understanding is also personal and maybe quite shallow or even unacceptable. As a non-native student from china, I have encountered a lot problems in studying literature carried in English. Yet we share a broad common sense and are equally amazed by literary works ^_^ Due to our different background we have different interpretation, and it is just the best thing of literature, is it?

    P.S. I insist that "nervousness" plays a more important role than conscience
    in the confession of the narrator. ^0^

    To Tis
    I could find no evidence suggesting that Poe suffered from mental illness, either.
    You have presented me a comprehensive understanding of the story. It's quite detailed. Helpful! thank you so much.

    To every one
    I have got down to the writing of a book report on it. Perhaps emphasis would be attached to the fuction of language skills adopted in constructing the atomosphere. Hopefully it would not be a failure. hehe.^_^ nice beginning in the forum.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Tis
    Mono... The idea that Poe suffered from mental illness is absurd and there is no evidence to support such a contention from any of his, contemporaries, his texts or from his personal correspondence that is currently available.
    I greatly enjoyed your interpretation of The Tell-Tale Heart, Tis, and welcome to the forum, by the way, but I must suggest the possibility of Poe's mental illness, though I have no empirical proof, mostly related to this chronic alcoholism. Almost any kind of addiction one can say seems driven by the mind, whether for pleasure (many recreational drugs), appetite (food, sexual intercourse), greed (gambling), or the mere need for claiming the desire to 'escape' (also, many recreational drugs).
    A common reader of Edgar Allan Poe, reading even a brief biography, will gain knowledge of his alcoholism, and realize his profound genius, regardless to this psychiatric affliction. Whether one considers alcoholism a mental illness remains in debate, but I will follow the word of the most recent publication of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), which you can find here, listing substance-related disorders as a psychiatric diagnosis. This, I believe, provides enough proof that a book all psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers refer to that Edgar Allan Poe suffered from a psychiatric disorder, and seems neither 'absurd' nor 'without evidence,' as you mentioned; the DSM-IV, no doubt, would possess more knowledge of mental disorders than someone who wrote a biography of Poe.

  8. #8
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    Mono... Thank you for the compliment, I'm very appreciative. I have studied Poe and his works for more than 45 years now and I can assure you, if it has been said of Poe, I have read it. Which is why I put so little stock in semantics. "To drink is madness, to love... insane, to create, one must suffer the bitter joys of pain." Its profound, its dramatic, and its hogwash!

    This predisposition of ours to know a person's mind always reminds me of Alexander Pope's observation...
    "Remembrance and reflection, how allied,
    What thin partitions thought from sense divide"


    One of the most truly fascinating aspects of a study of Edgar Allan Poe, his life and his art, is the broad variation with which enthusiasts, students and scholars alike, seem to interpret their studies. Of particular interest is the extraordinarily extensive range of adjectives typically used to characterize Mr. Poe or his work. Many of these characterizations are seemly mutually exclusive and were this a modern trend, one might suspect that any given examiner may have been researching two or more different individuals. Alas, the trend is not new and, effectively, began on the very day Edgar Poe was laid to rest in Baltimore on October 9, 1849.

    Since that day to this, it would be difficult to find a historical figure that has engendered more mystery with an attendant enduring interest than Mr. Poe. From an ironic perspective, it is profoundly amusing that the perfidious death notice by Rufus W. Griswold and his outrageously slanderous biography of Edgar Poe did as much to propel this brilliant poet into world literary history as, perhaps, Poe’s own genius. It is doubly ironic that history recalls the name Rufus W. Griswold only in relation to the very man he mercilessly vilified. More ironic still, is the accuracy with which an anonymous review of Griswold’s Poets and Poetry of America concluded in the Saturday Museum of January 1843. Written by Poe’s friend, Henry B. Hirst, but thought to echo the thoughts of Edgar Poe himself, the review prophetically forecasts Griswold’s consignment to the shadows of history...

    “Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust." (Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore quoted from James Harrison’s “Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe”)

    Perhaps, the most judicious irony of all is that the singular ray of light in all of history’s radiant glow illuminating Mr. Griswold is born of the brilliance of the very man he so thoughtlessly slandered. The unfortunate fact that this deceitful slander has found a home in our class rooms for the past 157 years speaks not to Poe’s frailties as a man or as an author. It does, however, speak volumes about us and our childish but perpetual need to psychoanalyze 19th century genius with 21st century suppositions, silliness and conjecture. In our dullness, we always seem to associate gifted genius with madness or with pain or despair.

    This is not to say there does not exist some consistency of views, for clearly, there certainly are those opinions that have remained essentially free of contradiction for over one hundred and fifty years. Typically, we accept these as “the facts” and tend to dismiss qualitative and/or quantitative discourse to the contrary as bothersome intrusions into established truths. Yet, even these ‘truths’ have varying degrees of precision and are, generally, dependent upon our individual definitive understanding and perceptions. While one may pigeon-hole Poe as an incurable alcoholic, to another, he was merely a periodic abuser driven to drink by intermittent despair. While one may point to an addiction to opium and habitual drug abuse, another views his use of laudanum as primarily for medicinal purposes resulting from a sensitive constitution. His alleged 1848 suicide attempt by laudanum, suspicious at best, is incidental to the argument and confirms neither the former or the latter. The ridiculous and tired old notion (and an almost exclusively American one) that true artistic genius finds its genesis in pain and/or madness is absurd.

    Whether you are a fan or foe of Poe or his works, his contributions to society through American literature are undeniable. His innovative and imaginative approach to prose established the modern short story form. His poetic principles and ideals helped to establish a uniquely American identity in a manner that demanded recognition and appreciation world wide. He was the most articulate and discriminating American literary critic of his time. He completely revamped and infused the tired mystery genre and is known today as the Father of the modern detective story and his influence is still alive in modern authors and movie makers. He brought the gothic tale and stories of the macabre forward as a literary art form and has, inadvertently, established a unique culture of its own (though somewhat misplaced in my opinion). His constant struggle to further the cause of literary independence for all authors. His constant call for the establishment and enforcement of effective copyright laws. Of lesser recognition is his social commentary that includes his views on education, government, politics, the law and slavery.
    George Bernard Shaw, one of the most respected and admired critics, author, and 1925 Nobel prize winner for literature, once said of Poe...

    “America has been found out; and Poe had not; that is the situation. How did he live there, this finest of fine artists, this born aristocrat of letters? Alas! he did not live there: he died there, and was duly explained away as a drunkard and a failure... He was the greatest journalistic critic of his time... His poetry is exquisitely refined... In his stories of mystery and imagination Poe created a world record for the English language: perhaps for all languages... unparalleled and unapproached... Poe constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty... There is really nothing to be said about it; we others simply take off our hats and let Mr. Poe go first.”

    Good old George... he always told it like it was.

    Regards

  9. #9
    My goodness, Tis! I stand (or sit, actually ) in amazement!
    Thank you for all of the very enlightening information regarding Poe. I think I will have to do some research into some of your sources, as they sound quite enthralling. True, no one can nearly even deny the great impact Edgar Allan Poe had on literature, and his literature, no doubt, shall continue on forever as a rejuvenating inspiration for all readers alike; obviously you, most of all, have done your great amount of studying, and show the strongest reverence for such a genius mind.
    Thank you again for all of the information, and I surely intend on looking into some of the resources you kindly provided.

  10. #10
    Beatnick Dreamtreker Whof Mojophonious's Avatar
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    Talking Bipolar to the rescue!

    Quote Originally Posted by combdada View Post
    Hello all!
    I bumped into this forum when searching for some critical reading on Poe's The tell-tale heart in the net. Amazed by the story, yet failed to get a thorought understanding. How is Poe's own psychology carried in the story? Why is first person narration chosen? What kind of distorted human character is unveiled? Could you please kindly share your understanding with me ? Thanks a lot.
    ^_^
    Poe was in fact a sufferer of great melancholy followed by periods lengthy creativity; later known as manic depression and most recently known as Bipolar disorder. I myself began to read him again for that reason alone and was astonished at the amount of references I caught after learning how to deal with my own illness. In the manic state, one does indeed have a sense that all senses are sharpened beyond belief - particularly smell and hearing. This is an aspect that makes you feel just fine, like you have some superpowers - so how can you be mad? I just wonder how the poor guy ever came down since he didn't have the meds that I have!

    The second big key to this persona is his paranoia. When the police come to his flat, he could have gotten off scott-free had it not been for the paranoia which began to take hold. Becoming paranoid is a big part of losing your wits; such as ..."you are jealous that i have these new super ablities" "who can i trust to speak with about these abilities" "are you hearing what I am hearing?" ... the litany becomes endless!
    "... this above all; to thine own self be true and as it must follow the night the day - thou canst not then be false to any man."

  11. #11

    so..insane?....

    many people say that the guy is insane, but I could only find three pieces of evidence ...could anyone give me 3 more textual evidences that he is insane?...but beyond the obvious ones. That would be great help...thank you this is for a debate...
    thanks

  12. #12
    The "Tell-tale Story of Edgar Allan Poe is about a murder of an old man by the narrator itself..The narrator don't have specific gender in the story.. While the literary technique of Poe was seen in the narration of the murderer, If you have read the story you will noticed that the way the narrator told that the heart of the old man that he had killed is still beating and the way he told the story is a reason of him being insane.. But when you analyse it more carefully the narrator is just stating his own delusion. his guilt was manifested in his way of telling the story.

  13. #13
    I haven't read that novel but I'll give it a try.. what I learned about the author when I was in college was that he has suffered from severe brain disorder and I think that you could use it as an analysis in your paper.

  14. #14
    This novel is unknown for me. I'll try it $)

  15. #15
    Registered User Jassy Melson's Avatar
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    The comment by Tis is the best thing I have ever read about Poe (and I've read most of the things written about him).
    Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist.

    Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. - Albert Einstein

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