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Poe’s Narcissistic Narrator: The Real Vs. The Insane

Categories Book Review, Books And Reading, Detective, Literature

Essay, Pages 9 (2026 words)



Essay, Pages 9 (2026 words)

The writings of Edgar Allan Poe often times border and delve into the mysteries and horrors of the human imagination and ego. The purpose of this paper is to extrapolate these human characteristics and to argue that Poe’s writing style isn’t merely fiction but are very much occult fetishes. The analysis of this paper will explore the narrator of Poe’s story The Tell Tale Heart. It is in the narration that the paper will seek to find subjective reality and argue that the story is subjective and not real in a factual account.

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The subjective reality will be of great use in the examination of the narrator as it is their insanity that the reader must read beyond in order to fully understand the events of the story. The paper will present the facts of the narrator’s insanity, how his psychological make-up including aural hallucinations and his correlation to psychopaths, serial killers, and paranoid schizophrenics all support the thesis of the narrator’s unsound mind.

At the very beginning of the story the narrator makes mention of himself not being mad; this claim is supported by the subjective facts of the narrator having an acute sense of hearing, as the passage reads, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. ” (Poe) and the narrator seeks to relate to the reader an exact (or again subjective) point of view of the unfolding of the murder (thus, the reader is meant to automatically trust the narrator, despite evidence of him being a murderer and probably insane by anyone’s account).

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The narrator’s insanity, at least his insanity in comparison with the normalcy of society is seen at the very beginning of the story. It is interesting to note that Poe’s writing style has the narrator be a madman telling a story, by which Poe is trying to test his audience with their bravery, their fact-checking and quite possibly their gullibility. Poe envisions to his readers the idea of the macabre; the story told from first person point of view is bound to be filled with nuisances of character, or facts that are only half truths since the narrators usually wish to withhold the complete truth for fear of judgment or other reasons.

In The Tell Tale Heart there is a twist in the first person point of view, and that is the unleashing of the complete truth, without facade for the story. The narrator admits to the reader why he killed the old man. He denies the usual reasons of money (gold in this case), anger, revenge, or malice toward the old man, but the narrator reveals to the reader a simple and altogether insane truth; The narrator killed the old man because of his eye, as Poe writes, “He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it.

Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (Poe). Therefore it was not the intention of the narrator to necessarily kill the old man, but rather to get rid of the plaguing eye, and because the old man was an extension of that eye, then he also had to be disposed of. The reasoning behind this murder is simply macabre, insane, and altogether holds the reader’s attention as they turn page after page trying to get the reason behind the narrator’s actions.

The fact that Poe gave this narrator a voice is what makes the story all that much more enthralling. The reader gets to travel into the mind of a madman, who has killed someone for insane reasons yet somehow rationalizes it and at the end of the story the reader empathizes with the narrator for their crux to bear (the old man’s eye) was equally disturbing to us in the narrator’s subjective reality. The endowment of supernatural powers to a pseudo-inanimate object would necessitate a person’s insanity.

However, it is incredible how cunning the narrator is at his murder and his nearly getting away with the murder of the old man. It seems that in the end, although it may be difficult to explain how well crafted the murder was, it is certain that the cause of the murder was the narrator’s insanity, and the fact remains that the reason he did not get away with the murder is because he could not stand to hear the beating of the old man’s heart beneath the floor boards (a sane feeling of remorse or more lunacy? ), and as Pritchard states,

Egocentrism is at the heart of sadomasochism: “men want to feel like they are better than they are” (Stekel 1:7). Perhaps this explains why the narrator goes into such detail about how perfect his crime is. He comments, “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded-with what caution-with what foresight” (Poe 303). However, in the end, he cannot accept that he gets away with the deed. Perhaps his confession represents a sadomasochist’s “return to reality after this excursion into the fantastic” (Stekel 1:21). (Pritchard 146). These two facts are omission of insanity.

However, since the narrator did tell the police where to find the heart of the old man, the reader must think about the reason behind such an omission. It could be that the narrator felt a surging of remorse for killing the old man and the sound of the heartbeat beneath the floorboards was an aural manifestation of his guilt. In this case, the narrator shows signs of being sane, at least in the case that he is feeling remorseful for his actions; a feeling that an insane person might not feel as their subjective realities excuse them from feeling guilty about their actions because in their mind they are right.

However, this aural manifestation could be used to further support the case of the narrator’s insanity. Anyone who has these types of hallucinations, of hearing sounds that are not there, as in some instances with schizophrenic people who hear voices in their head that tell them what to do. Thus, the narrator could be exhibiting sings of schizophrenia at this juncture in the plot. In a court case, if the narrator were to take the stand and have to admit he heard the heart beating this omission would surely secure for him the insanity plea.

In fact, it is the opinion of this paper that the narrator is insane and this aural hallucination is merely a fact in support of this claim. Firstly, the narrator commits the murder because he cannot stand to be gazed upon by the old man’s “blue”, “eagle” eye. Secondly the narrator gives away his guilt to the policemen who are investigating the murder because the narrator believes that the old man’s heart is still beating beneath the floor boards.

Some scholars believe it is guilt which drives the old man to give away his identity as the murder, but the fact is that the narrator gives away his identity because he is insane. He believes the heart is really still beating (this subjective reality for the narrator is not an aural hallucination); therefore the reason for his committing the murder and giving away his identity are tied into the same psychological causes. The narrator attributes human qualities to inanimate objects.

Prior to the act of murder the reader is witness to the narrator’s increasing madness. When the narrator enters into the old man’s room, he stays silent for an indescribable amount of time, an ‘insane’ amount of time (meaning only someone out of their sensible mind could fathom staying put for so long in order to further their obsession about someone). It is a type of standoff between the narrator and the old man who is sitting up in bed waiting, as Pritchard states,

Since cruelty requires “the consciousness of cruelty, joy in another’s hurt, delight in a sense of power over another’s life” (1:27), it is not surprising that the narrator admits that he “could scarcely contain [his] feelings of triumph” (Poe 304), and although he “knew what the old man felt,” he “chuckled at heart” (304). He further admits that the night of the murder led him to, for the first time, feel the “extent of [his] own powers” (304).

The narrator not only receives pleasure from the act of murder itself, but also from the obsessive ritual that precedes the murder (Pritchard 145) The narrator finally decides to shed some light in the room and a ‘spider’ ray dawns on the old man’s eagle eye thereby infuriorating the narrator to no end, “…for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot. ” (Poe). The narrator reveals himself not only to be obsessive, but insane. This insanity only increases as the story proceeds.

The obsessive nature of the narrator is a symptom of the man’s insanity. The old man does assuredly incite the narrator (the old man’s unearthly ability to have his eye open for as long as the narrator stayed in his room borders on the fantastical if we are to believe the narrator’s story), but the insanity was there from the beginning of the story and only grows stronger throughout the tale. What is interesting to note is that the old man’s qualities of a human reach somewhat superhuman feats as the story is re-told.

Thus, the reader must certainly question the validity of the accounts being relayed to us from the perspective of an insane man. Although the narrator is insane, his omission of killing the man and trying to give a reason behind his murder are what give the story an added edge of believability. For even though the narrator is insane, he wants the truth to be told (even this subjective truth), and it is in the nature of the insane to want people to empathize with their reality.

The narrator certainly manages to give no shadow of a doubt as to why he killed the old man. It is of further interest to bring up this point; can an insane man tell the truth? Is the story fact? It is a fact that the old man was murdered, but perhaps the narrator gave the old man such a fright that he had a heart attack and in order to prove to himself the old man was dead, the narrator took the old man’s heart out.

The police further give rise to questions of the narrator’s state of mind because they believe him; but how can the testimony of an insane person hold any weight? What must be delved into is the psychosis of the narrator and the reasons behind his actions. The narrator is a classic example of a macabre story in a bizarre situation that only gets more and more horrific as the tale proceeds. There is no doubt that the narrator is insane through his own omission by laying out the facts through his own perception.

It is the perception of a mad person to believe an eye has such overwhelming powers, and that a dead heart can beat through the floorboards, as Pritchard states, “Certainly, as “every delight craves eternity” (1:4), it makes perfect sense that the narrator would speak his deeds–he must tell his tale so that it can be immortalized in ink (in support of this, it is common knowledge that most serial killers will tease FBI agents with clues as to who they are and where their victim’s body can be found because they enjoy the thrill of the hunt and because they psychologically want to be caught – the narrator is no different in his psychological make-up as these serial killers, he wants to be caught because his crime was perfect and he has to tell someone). Knowing that his story will live on is the final step that the narrator must take to receive pleasure from his cruelty” (Pritchard 146). Thus, the narrator, through omission of presenting his own perception as facts, is indeed insane.

Cite this essay

Poe’s Narcissistic Narrator: The Real Vs. The Insane. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/poes-narcissistic-narrator-real-vs-insane-new-essay

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