The Tell-Tale Heart Insanity Through The Story

Many people assume that the guilty pay in some way for their misdeeds even if it is not how they would expect. This can be looked at as either being true or false. Many times, when a guilty party is not caught, they have an experience that may make them regret what they did. For example, looking at the story written by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” is an example of the guilty paying for his misdeed in some form.

This story is about the narrator who is the main character trying to convince himself and readers that he is perfectly sane even though his actions prove otherwise. As Shen states, “It is significant that, in this fictional world, the over acuteness of the senses, which is a typical symptom of insanity, in reality, is made to appear as a characteristic of sanity.” This characteristic of sanity is contradicting because it has one meaning in reality but has a different meaning in this story.

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The story starts with the narrator trying to convince that he is still in his right mind and gives examples of his senses being stronger to prove his sanity. This leads to the murder of the old man due to what he believes is an evil eye or what he refers to as the “vulture eye.” Although he does not even know where the idea came from to kill the old man which further displays his insanity. “It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my head.

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' He also does not have a justifiable reason for killing the old man. As Witherington states, “Most readers would agree, not only because the murder of an old man seems motiveless, but also because the narrator's confession comes across as calculated and heartless.”

This story has one innocent victim who was surprisingly well-loved by the offender who had no legit reason to kill him. The offender who is also the narrator even makes a statement that there was no reason for this behavior, nor does he have any ill hatred towards the old man. As Poe states, 'There was no reason for what I did.' He then proceeds to contradict himself and he gives his reason for killing the old man by blaming his eye as he compares it to the eye of a vulture. The narrator takes it upon himself to kill the old man to get rid of the “vulture eye” that gives him a strange feeling. The narrator does not feel that he has to kill the old man and is more focused on killing the “vulture eye.” The villain in this story is the narrator as he is responsible for the death of the old man. It is completely unclear if he will receive punishment or not due to the cliffhanger at the end of the story which leaves readers to guess and make assumptions based on what previously happened. But it is safe to say that the narrator will receive some form of punishment due to his eruption during the conversation with the police.

There is one character in this story that can be looked at and considered to be both innocent and guilty depending on who is doing the judgment This character is the narrator and can be considered to be both innocent and guilty at the same time. This is because it is clear that there is a mental illness with the narrator that causes him to believe that the old man's eye is the problem which gives him the idea to get rid of the “vulture eye” by killing the old man. As the National Institutes of Health states, “A mental illness can be defined as a health condition that changes a person's thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.” This mental illness can be seen in the narrator throughout the story as he shares his feelings and thoughts with the readers. This can be potentially looked at as innocence as throughout the story readers can see that the narrator is not 100 percent mentally stable. It is through the mental instability that causes him to kill the old man. Although at the same time his actions can be looked at to determine him as being guilty because not only does he kill the old man but he took it a step further to dismember his body and hide the body parts under the floorboards. In this action, he displayed his intentionality as he tried to keep the old man's blood from getting on the floor. As Poe states, 'I was careful not to let a single drop of blood fall on the floor.” He also watches him for a week straight while plotting his death.

Potentially the narrator could have avoided getting caught if he had continued to keep it to himself but his guilty conscious would not allow. While talking to the police officers and covering up his story he begins to feel aware of what he did and starts to feel guilty which results in him telling on himself after what he perceives to be the old man's heartbeat. As Poe states, 'It was a low, dull, quick sound much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in the cotton address for breath and yet the officers heard it.” A character's motives can excuse them from a crime depending on the crime and their motive. In reference to the story, the narrator's motives are not justifiable to excuse him from this crime as he is guilty of murder. The motive of this character in the story is to kill the man to get rid of the 'vulture eye' which is still considered murder. There is not a justifiable reason for the narrator to kill the man as his eye is not evil and is only based on the narrator's perception. There is no direct harm that the narrator could have faced had he not plotted on killing the old man. Although this character can be looked at from an innocent and guilty standpoint, he is still guilty of murder as he knew what he was doing and even premeditated the plot to kill him. Towards the end of the story, the narrator comes to the conclusion that what he did was wrong and starts to feel guilty for it and even turns himself in to the police during their visit to the home.

In conclusion, although a guilty person does not always get caught or convicted for their crime it is assumed that they will pay for their misdeeds in some way further down the line. This can be seen throughout the story of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the narrator is guilty of murdering the old man due to the perception of his eye being evil. He even almost gets away with his crime until the end of the story when he begins to feel guilty and his conscious is preventing him from staying calm which results in an outburst that leads to the confession of his crime. Although the narrator is blatantly guilty, he can also be looked at as innocent according to his mental instability which is proven throughout the story of The Tell-Tale Heart insanity which could possibly be used to get a reduced punishment. This is because mental instability can cause a person to suffer from anxiety or create false perceptions in their head which leads them to act in behaviors that are not normal to them if they were mentally stable.

Works Cited

  1. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Poe. 1992.
  2. Shen, Dan. “Edgar Allan Poe's Aesthetic Theory, the Insanity Debate, and the Ethically Oriented Dynamics of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 63, no. 3, 2008, pp. 321–345. JSTOR,
  3. Quinn, Patrick F. The French Face of Edgar Poe /. Southern Illinois University Press, 1957.
  4. (US), National Institutes of Health. “Information about Mental Illness and the Brain.” NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970,
  5. Witherington, Paul. “The Accomplice in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 22, no. 4, Fall 1985, p. 471. EBSCOhost,,shib&db=a9h&AN=893551 9&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Updated: Feb 28, 2024
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The Tell-Tale Heart Insanity Through The Story. (2024, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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