How does the writer create suspense in the Tell Tale Heart?

Categories: The Black Cat

The Tell Tale Heart is an extraordinary horror story. It was written by Edgar Allan Poe. His horror story keeps you interested, builds a lot of tension and creates suspense. I am going to write an essay on how Edgar Allan Poe creates suspense by explaining thoroughly all the techniques he uses. These techniques are, use of repetition, punctuation, how he uses first person, sound, imagery, tension, his use of time and finally in addition, how Poe uses italics and similes.

I will also use quotes from the Tell Tale Heart to explain my points fully.

Firstly, Poe uses lots of repetition or repeated words. For example, "I moved it slowly- very, very slowly." Poe does this because he wants you to imagine how slowly and carefully he thrust his head in, so the man would not wake up. Also, he keeps repeating this because he is saying that it wasn't just slowly. It was much slower than that. This quote was shown on the third paragraph, already this soon he has used a repetition.

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My next example is he uses or repeats the words "madness and mad" a lot. This has the effect of you believing that the main character is actually quite mad, even though he is repeating he isn't. This is said throughout the story, starting from the first paragraph and the reader starts to understand what the murderer is really like.

My final example is "it grew louder- louder- louder!" This adds to the point of how loud it really was and by repeating it exaggerates how it was.

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It also gives you a clear image of this, as it is repeated throughout the paragraphs. As a last point, I would like to explain the effect of using repetition. Repetition exaggerates the point and gives you a clear image of how it was. It adds to the suspense, for example "carefully, very, very carefully." This shows he took it over the top because he had to be very quiet.

Secondly, I will explain how Poe uses a variety of punctuation, for a greater effect. He uses punctuation to speed up and slow down the pace, which is much better than reading normally. My first example is "they heard! - They suspected! - They knew!" In this quotation, Poe has gripped the audience using dashes and exclamation marks. As this speeds up the pace, so therefore you can feel the murderer is frightened, worried and terrified. Poe speeds up the pace here because there is a lot of tension at this point.

If he never used this you would read it normally and wouldn't feel the suspense in this piece of text. My next example is "I foamed- I raved- I swore!" Here dashes and exclamation marks are used again. The punctuation shows he was angry and shouting. This is especially shown by the exclamation marks. To finish with punctuation have a good effect on the reader. It speeds up and slows down the pace and is more interesting than reading normal. This is also a very good hooking technique and adds to the suspense quite well. Finally, he uses a lot of punctuation throughout the whole story giving a good result.

Next, Poe uses first person because it lets the reader see the story from the murderer's point of view. This makes the story more interesting, as you can find out all the feelings and emotions of the murderer along the way. Where as, in 3rd person you wouldn't get to know as much. My first example is "I have told you that I am nervous: so I am." This quotation shows how the murderer feels when he is going through killing the man. My next example is "I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror." This quotation gives a very good effect, as it shows what he heard and saw right up to slaughtering the man. Also, from first person narrative you can share what is happening in some ways.

Poe makes out the murderer as to be the following things, very secretive as you don't know the sex, name, appearance and very little of his background. Next, he is incredibly mad, as he killed a man and cut his arms and legs up. The quotation to show he is mad is "I heard many things in hell." This example shows he isn't exactly normal. The murderer is also very obsessive as he can't stop talking about they evil eye. He is crazy and gets very nervous around people, especially when the officers of the police come in near the end. You can also see he is disturbed and very unusual. Furthermore, the murderer has a routine and is in some ways organised because he plans out everything on what he is going to do step by step. Poe makes the murderer different and crazy in his own way. This is because it adds to the horror and suspense of the story.

In addition, the murderer being first person uses a hooking technique which is to directly address the reader. This keeps the reader involved and keeps them paying attention to what's happening. My first example is "how then, am I mad?" In this quotation, when he talks to the reader he uses rhetorical questions (questions that shouldn't be answered). This includes the reader in the story, as they are being talked to. My next example is "I smiled - for what had I to fear?" This does the same again using rhetorical questions to the reader. This is almost like the murderer is sharing his worries with you, which has a good effect overall. To conclude this section, using direct address and talking to the reader, gets them involved on what is happening and is a great result, as sometimes you can relate to the story. Poe does this by using the word "you" and question marks from rhetorical questions.

Another unique way Poe creates suspense is describing a lot of sound in the Tell Tale Heart; this has an exceptional effect on the reader. My first example is "for the hinges creaked." This phrase reminds you of old scary horror films and makes you wonder, who is behind the door? It is also a creepy noise that relates to old abandoned houses. My second example is "It was the low stifled sound." This quotation shows that in some ways he is paranoid as he is hearing things.

It gets the reader more into suspense, as he believes the murderer is not alone and something is going to happen within this. Also, the sound gives you an idea of how it sounded. An additional example is "the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out- whose there?" In this example there is a lot of tension, you can almost hear the old voice of the man. A last quotation is "I fairly chuckled at the idea." This shows that you can imagine the murderer laughing in an evil way; also he is amused that the man has no idea about what is going to happen. As a final point, sound gives the idea of how something sounded - so maybe quietly. It gives an idea of the surroundings and creates atmosphere. Poe has used this at the right moments in the story when he is describing something.

A further reason Poe creates suspense is the use of descriptive words (imagery). These describe a lot of things throughout the story, these things are - evil words, the description of the eye and murdering the elderly man. A lot is used at certain points to emphasise his ideas. Also, it keeps you imagining and gets you hooked. Some examples of evil words he uses are "corpse". This gives the reader the idea of a murdered body; it gives a scarier effect as it is more horrifying than just saying a dead body. My next example is "the evil eye". This shows the eye was not exactly normal and it wasn't nice looking. It was something that made his blood run cold and make him shake with fear. So you can imagine what it was like, also it suggests the centre of the story. My final example for this point is "the mortal terror." It shows the feelings of the man and he wasn't just frightened he was absolutely terrified.

Additionally, he makes the 'eye' sound disgusting, here are some examples "his eye resembled that of a vulture." This shows his eye was repulsive as it looks like a vulture (not a very nice creature). It also lets you imagine what the eye looks like. Another example is "a pale blue eye". This describes how the eye looked and that it was unusually pale, which makes the reader feel the same way, as the murderer. Poe also makes 'death' sound disgusting, as all the tension builds up in a horrible way.

The man gets killed astonishingly, which is quite scary. He gets suffocated by the bed covers and the way it is revolting is that, it says "the heart beat on with a muffled sound." So he suffocated and his heart carried on beating a few minutes after. He also "shrieked" just before he was murdered. Finally, a last point that was terrifying is that when he pulled back the covers "he was stone dead." So you can imagine how horrible he looked while dead. To conclude this, Poe uses descriptive words all throughout the story. This is to emphasise how horrifying something looked and it shows that the murderer looks at everything from the dark side.

Next, Poe's use of tension right through the story increases and decreases. This is done to not get the reader bored, whilst reading. It usually starts low, and then builds up more and more until it is really high. The parts where the tension is high is when: he is about to murder the man, when he is trying to hide the body under the floorboards and when the police has come round and he is about to confess. The parts when there is a low amount of tension is when: they are at the start and the murderer is explaining why he wants to kill the man and when he is waiting long time for when it is the right time to kill. Poe has made the tension go up and down because it is more exciting and keeps you in suspense. If I was to draw a graph for this it would go up and then down all the way through, so in other words it would go zigzag.

A next point is how Poe uses time in the Tale Tell Heart, in some sections time goes slowly and some times it goes fast. When Poe makes time go slowly the character is doing something important or the murderer is describing something in detail. The evidence for this is "slowly so not to wake the man up". Here this is a part where time goes slowly as it is telling the audience he has to be very quiet - to not cause any suspicion. Another example for time going slowly is when he is killing the man. The example for this is "yet for some minutes longer I stood still." Here everything is going slow because he is about to murder the man. Poe makes time go fast when he is describing his actions over a period of time. My example for this is "every morning when the day broke." Here he is describing time fast and over a period of time. Poe has made time go fast and slowly, so there is more tension and pace.

A final point, to how Poe creates suspense in the Tell Tale Heart, is using italics and similes. To start with italics emphasize what is said, or something repeated. So it could emphasize something horrible that has happened, for a scarier effect. My example for this is "I now grew very pale." This is said when the police officers have come in, to show he is nervous. The italics give emphasis to how pale he looked, so the murderer was looking really colourless. Italics are used a lot in The Tale Heart for many different reasons.

Next, similes are used to describe something towards something else. My first example for this is "his room was as black as pitch." This quotation gives you a clear image of how dark it was, as it is being referred to a pitch. Another example is "a low dull quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton." This gives you another image of what the sound was like being referred to something else. As a final point, Poe uses italics and similes because they stress the point clearly.

In conclusion, Poe uses a variety of techniques to create suspense in the Tale Tell Heart. These are - use of repetition, punctuation, how he uses first person, sound, imagery, tension, his use of time and italics and similes. These techniques create a good effect on the reader and are mostly successful hooking techniques. Poe keeps you reading the story by making you want to know what happens next using these skilful ways, without those ways The Tell Tale heart wouldn't be as good. I think that the use of tension is most effective because it covers just about all the areas and it makes the story more exciting and interesting to read. The part of story I think is the best, is where all the tension increases when he is going to murder the man. This is because at that point you don't want to put it down, as there is a lot of suspense. Overall, I would rate The Tale Tell Heart a very good horror story, with impressive techniques used throughout.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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How does the writer create suspense in the Tell Tale Heart?. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from

How does the writer create suspense in the Tell Tale Heart? essay
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