“The Tell Tail Heart,” by Edger Allan Poe, is a novel in which tension and expectation play essential roles to the reader’s experience. The audience, generally well educated widely read adults, would appreciate this novel as a recollection of a clearly insane man. In order to “tell you the whole story”‘ Poe has written somewhat of an early psychological thriller, creating a mental portrait of a mad protagonist, who details the killing of an old man, and later hears his victims ‘relentless heartbeat.
’ The opening sets up a contrast of sanity versus insanity, creating a psychological chaos that enraptures the reader. Drama intention is portrayed through a variety of ways, all working cohesively with one another to create an over all sense of embossed insanity and powerful emotion.
The way in which the opening is written gives the reader an immediate clue to the mental state of the protagonist. The very first line; “True! – nervous – very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” uses all three tenses within one shortened period.
This reflects the narrator’s excitement, suggesting that his mind is jittery, jumping about with different thoughts and ideas. An elevated use of punctuation reinforces this effect, as it means the text does not flow, creating sentence fragmentation, allowing the reader to comprehend the elevated mental state of the protagonist. It is not yet made clear to the reader as to why the narrator is excited in this manner, he appears to be worked up about something, causing the reader to grow curious and excited themselves about the prospect of finding out what is causing his fuss.
Poe has used the tactic of withholding information strongly within the first paragraph, causing the monologue to become somewhat of a gradual revelation. This allows Poe to hold the reader in suspense, consequentially creating a heightened level of dramatic tension. Written in a first person narrative, it is made very clear that the monologue is of the form of a speech to the reader. This effect is achieved by the extensive use of punctuation and colloquial terminology. As it is a monologue, there is a suggestion or effect that he is confessing his thoughts to the reader. This means that the piece is almost as if we can see into the mind of the protagonist. Allowing the reader to see a unique view of the thoughts and feelings of another. The form of the text is not over zealous or important, however the contrast of the content and the form is very clear. The piece is written in standard, respectable paragraphed prose, contrasting the disturbing and gruesome content of the novel.
The language employed, and the literary devices it is used within, is the primary way in which Poe has succeeded in creating this suspenseful piece. Punctuation is used to great effect, embellishing the sentences to create the narrative confession of the protagonist. Extensive use of exclamation marks, hyphens, and semi colons are all relied upon to create sentence fragments and colloquial, broken text. The reader is given an immediate sense of excitement and instability; in “True! – nervous- very very dreadfully nervous.” This suggests that the protagonist is jumpy and in a chaotic mental state. As an opening this proves to be attention gauging, as the reader is unaware of the motive for excitement.
This is extended throughout by a heightened use of fragmentation through hyphens. The line, “Sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them” reiterates the form of a monologue, reinforcing the idea of speech to the reader, using the sentence fragment as a chance to find some self affirmation. Therefore the reader is allowed to see the within the mind of the criminal, giving them a unique insight to the way he thinks – allowing greater involvement and understanding from the reader. This is an unlikely experience as the protagonist shows signs of mental instability and therefore would create a very interesting subject for the reader to asses from a psychological point of view.
An extensive vocabulary and heightened lexis is employed throughout the piece, suggesting that the piece is aimed at the well educated adult. The majority of the novel is comprised of Standard English, with a small number of colloquialisms spread throughout, allowing the protagonist to appear both educated and well-spoken.
This creates an interesting contrast to his actions, as it is not the norm to have well educated, (supposedly well judged and reasoned) people committing a very irrational act such as murder. The monologue is written in the form of a conventional novel, but primarily in the form of a narrative first person. Hints of confession to the audience are found, intertwined with the use of direct address, with colloquial terms such as “Ha!” and the use of rhetorical questions, for example “why will you say that I am mad?” Poe has used these devices to thoroughly involve the audience within the piece. The result of this is that the reader is manipulated to feel like part of the story and therefore feel the tension created at a greater effect.
Poe has employed various forms of imagery within the piece. He describes that the “hinges creaked” on the old wooden door. This is a little clichï¿½d however acts very successfully in creating a picture within the mind of the reader. This is done by almost sub-consciously relating back to children’s stories, where an old creaking door would make the entrance to a spooky castle in which an evil witch lived. This very definite image of the eerie or spooky, reinforces that the novel is somewhat of a refined horror. Creaking doors are often used to create a dramatic atmosphere, and Poe has clearly played on this link and used it to his advantage to create a scary situation for the reader.
Animal imagery, coupled with an extended metaphor is also used to great effect. It is suggested that the old man that is to be killed is in possession of an “evil eye.” This eye becomes the protagonist’s excuse for killing the man, and so it is capitalised upon as a reason. This develops into an extended metaphor when it is referred to as a “vulture eye” and later, it is suggested that his eye “resembled that of a vulture.” A vulture is an animal commonly associated with evil and malice. This provokes a similar reaction or opinion of the old man from the narrator, however the reader is still left considering the sanity of the protagonist, and therefore is more reluctant to hold the same opinion as him over the justification of killing the old man. The irrational killing about to happen is used to put the reader on edge, creating intense suspension and a heightened expectation of the approaching events.
Clichï¿½s provide an interesting platform on which Poe entertains the reader. “My blood ran cold,” provides a very clear sense of the emotional situation of the protagonist. This allows us to observe the effect that the eye has on the narrator. “Blood ran cold” suggests fear and apprehension, as this is a very human emotion, the reader has a rare chance to sympathise with the protagonist. This is somewhat ironic as the narrator is very far from the stereotypical hero, and yet the reader is ready to find an appealing quality in the character.
In order to interpret the piece properly the reader must pay close attention to both the syntax and the repetition of language, used conjunctively to create a dramatic effect. “Object there was none, passion there was none” is a primary example. The repetition of “none” creates a very distinctive rhythm, whilst the double use of five syllable sentence fragments forms a very recognisable syntax. In this case it creates a sense of ruthlessness and suggests that the protagonist will stop at nothing in order to achieve his goal.
Repetition of “closed” in “closed closed” creates emphasis on the words, displaying to the reader his self affirmation that his actions are good. This is reinforced by the use of “oh so cunningly” making it clear that (in his opinion) he is very skilled at what he is doing, and consequentially commending his efforts. This is further enhanced by the narrator’s egocentricity. Use of “I” is extensive throughout, (which is partially natural during a monologue) however, it is used to such an extent that the reader is led to believe that the protagonist is almost obsessed with himself and his own actions, reiterating the previous suggestion of psychological instability.
The author has included various forms of irony within the novel. The narrator is seen “inquiring how he (the old man) had passed the night” – explaining how he asks the old man how his night was even though he already knows, seen as he was there and watching him in his sleep. This involves the reader as they feel as if they are let in on a secret (seen as they know that the narrator was with the man last night) making the reader feel involved as they are aware of a secret of which another character is not – raising tension and expectation.
Further use of direct address to the reader, is that narrator suggests to the reader that “you fancy me mad.” This forces audience intervention, we are expected to assume, or are at least are accused of assumption that the narrator is mad. This means that the audience are forced to participate, further involving the reader within the story. By this statement Poe has grouped the reader with the rest of the characters within the novel, suggesting they are a collective of people who doubt his sanity. This is in fact true as the protagonist is clearly insane.
Syntax plays a key role in the way in which this novel is read. It is clearly set, and easily recognisable throughout the text, varying in both tempo and patterning. Definite patterns in language are used; “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.” creating a very obvious rhythm in which the words are read, also further enforcing the very bleak and ruthless appearance to his actions.
“The Tell-Tale Heart,” a horror story of crime and murder, can easily be recognised as a heavily dramatic novel. Poe, In consequence to the timing in which it was written, has created a strongly macabre piece, that in its day was probably very horrific and shocking. The way in which society has adapted to accept more and more gruesome revelations means that this tale may not be so shocking to the modern day reader, but was quite a feat in its time. It is however, still evident that the novel, in particular the opening, contains many devices employed in conjunction with one another to create a sense of drama intention. This is used to great effect, causing the reader to appreciate the dramatics of the novel, whilst becoming deeply involved with the plot.