‘The Tell Tale Heart’ : Is He Truly Insane Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 March 2016

‘The Tell Tale Heart’ : Is He Truly Insane

“The man denies that he is insane. He offers proof. Can you believe him?” (Poe, 22) This is one of the most intriguing lines in the short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ written by Edgar Allan Poe. This quote defines the whole purpose of the short story in fewer than two sentences. The whole story is dedicated to proving that the narrator in the short story is actually, sane. Due to many pieces of evidence, one can have various opinions in debating whether the narrator is insane or sane. For instance, the narrator in the story watched the old man sleep for countless days, cut up the corps of the old man and placed in under the boards, and claimed he heard the heartbeat of the old man once he was dead. Therefore it is unmistakeable that the narrator in the short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ is in fact, insane. In the short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ there is many pieces of evidence to prove that the narrator is insane. One piece of evidence can be that the narrator in the short story watched the old man sleep for countless days. At about midnight for seven nights the narrator watched the old man sleep, and during the period of time he did not move a muscle.

The narrator would open the door, oh so gently, and placed the thin ray of the lantern above the eye of the old man, finding it closed every single time. This tells readers that the narrator was clever and acted cunningly before killing the old man. “And this I did for seven long nights – every night just at midnight – but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.”(Poe, 23) This quote tells readers that the narrator in the story did not have anything against the old man, but it was his eye that vexed him. This is an obvious example of how the narrator was insane. If the narrator had no problem with old man, why would he want to take his life?

Although the narrator was clever enough to plan out his evil plot, it was the night of the old man’s murder that changed everything. As always, the narrator was watching the old man sleep, however this time he woke up the old man. Startled, the old man did not go back to sleep, because of the fear of someone breaking in. At this point the narrator finally got a look of the vultures, pale, blue eye (the evil eye) that vexed him. “It was open – wide, wide open – and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctiveness – all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person; for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.” (Poe, 24)

Before the narrator took the life of the old man, he heard his steady heartbeat that grew louder, and louder, and that was when he decided to take away the life of the old man, once and for all. Although the narrator did not leave any evidence behind when he killed the old man, he did cut up the old man’s corps and placed them under the floor boards in the old man’s chamber, which is insane. Before killing the old man, he stood there waiting beside the door listening to the heartbeat of the old man. “I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me – the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come!” (Poe, 25) In a blink of an eye, the narrator dragged the old man, and threw the bed over him. “Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.” (Poe, 25) This last quote tells readers that the old man’s time had come, and he would be ride of the old man’s eye forever. Once the old man was dead, the narrator cut up the old man’s body. First he cut off the head, legs, and then the arms, and placed the body under the planks of the flooring. Although the plan of the narrator was crafty, the thought of killing someone for the colour of an eye, is what makes it so insane.

Although the narrator’s plan was so cunning, three police officers came knocking on the narrator’s door to investigate, stating that there was a complaint of a shriek the previous night. The narrator acted calmly. “I took my visitors all over the house. I blade them search – search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber.” (Poe, 25) This quote from the story tells us that the narrator showed courage, giving the impression that he had ‘nothing’ to hide (which he did). After the police officers started to believe the narrator, the narrator started to hear a sound. It was the heartbeat of the old man. He then spoke louder, so loud so that the police officers wouldn’t be able to hear the “sound.” “The ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct- it continued and became more distinct; I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling; but it continued and gained definiteness- until, at length, I found that the noise was not within his ears.” (Poe, 26)

This lets readers know that the sound of the old man’s heartbeat, the same heartbeat that he heard before he killed him, was getting louder and louder. “Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! – They suspected! – They knew! – They were making a mockery of my horror! – this I thought, and this I think.” (Poe, 26) This means that the narrator thought that the police officers were able to hear the heartbeat and were just mocking him, so that he would turn himself in. After a while the narrators face grew paler, his voice grew louder, and in the end, turned himself in. “Villains!” I shrieked, “Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! Here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!”(Poe, 26) This final quote tells us that after a while of planning the murder of the old man, and after the countless nights of watching him sleep, were all thrown away because of the guilt that they narrator had felt. The heartbeat that he claimed “everyone heard” was the same heartbeat that he heard before he killed the old man. If he was sane, why would he turn himself in? Only to be punished afterwards.

Due to many pieces of evidence, it is highly evident that the narrator in the short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ is in fact, insane. It is clear that he insane because he watched the old man sleep for countless days, cut up the corps of the old man and placed it underneath the boards of the floor, and claimed he heard the heartbeat of the old man once he was dead. All these opinions that are stated above are very stimulating points, which all prove that the narrator is insane. The short story’s message is all about guilt. Since the narrator killed the old man for no reason, the heartbeat that he heard once he was with the police officers, was just his conscience reminding himself about the heartbeat that he had heard before taking the life of the old man. This tells readers that even the cleverest plans, can back fire in the end, since the narrator did, in fact, turn himself in. It is clear to say that the narrator is insane, since he killed the old man for no reason, thus ridding himself from the old man’s vulture’s eye forever. If one goes back to the first question: “The man denies that he is insane. He offers proof. Can you believe him?” Would one say that he was sane or insane?

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  • Date: 22 March 2016

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