The Tell Tale Heart Summary and Analysis

Read our complete notes on the short story The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Our notes cover The Tell Tale Heart summary, themes, characters, and analysis.

The Tell Tale Heart Introduction:

Author                      :    Edgar Allan Poe

Publishing date       :    January, 1843

Published in             :    James Russell Lowell`s ‘The Pioneer’

Genre                        :   Gothic Fiction

The Tell Tale Heart is a short story of an unknown narrator trying to convince the reader and an unknown listener about his sanity. The narrator lives with an old man. The narrator thinks that the old man will cause harm to him because he is vulture-eyed. The unknown narrator kills an old man living with him in the house for this quite strange and obsessive reason. The process of killing is done after the struggle of seven deadly nights and, then, the unknown narrator is caught by the police because of his own obsession. Throughout the story the narrator tries to justify that he is not a mad man and that he has done the act very rationally but he proves to be more than mad. The story unveils that wrong deed can never be hidden.

The Tell Tale Heart Summary:

The story opens in a media-res. The story starts with an un-named narrator trying to convince the readers that he is a normal person. Afterwards he narrates a story to prove himself sane. The narrator tells that he lives with an old man and that he loves the old man because the old man has never done anything wrong to him. But he feels irritated with the eyes of the old man. The narrator thinks that the old man has a “vulture-eye.” The narrator gets into a sort insecurity because of the eyes of old man. The narrator admits that he does not feel jealous of the gold of old man but the ‘vulture-eye’ is causing him pain.

For seven nights, at midnight, the unknown narrator enters the room of the old man trying to kill him but he couldn’t accomplish his deed. Every night he goes into his room with a very dim ray of light just to see his eyes or comforting himself that the old man is not going to cause him any trouble. On the eighth night he again intrudes into the old man`s room while entering a sound is produced which awakens the old man. For one long hour, the narrator sits quietly in old man`s room. During this one hour, the old man tries to comfort himself that nobody has entered in his room. When the narrator gets assured that the old man is sitting silent he kills him. The old man utters a loud shriek pf pain and gets dead. After the killing he dismembers the body into pieces and buries the pieces under the earth. Meanwhile, the neighbors have heard the shriek of the old man and called the police. The police knocks at door of the unknown narrator and enters the house. The narrator convinces them that the shriek was his own in dream and tells them that the old was out. The police seems get convinced but continues talking to him. Suddenly he starts listing to the sounds of the old man which are his own obsessions. The sounds increase with every passing second. His situation gets worsen with the echoes and his face starts changing colors. He thinks that the voices are the heart beats of the old man. In the end, he admits in front of the police that he has killed the old man and buried him underneath. This way, he gets caught.

The Tell Tale Heart Themes:

The Voice of Conscious:

The guilt of the narrator is a major theme in ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’’ The story is about a mad person who, after killing a companion for no apparent reason, hears an interminable heartbeat and releases his overwhelming sense of guilt by shouting his confession to the police. Indeed, some early critics saw the story as a straightforward parable about self-betrayal by the criminal’s conscience.

Gothic:

Gothic mixed with mystery is one of the major themes of Edgar Allan Poe. This story carries both of them in a parallel direction. The story is a total mystery. The narrator is unknown, the old and his relation is unknown, the setting of the story is unknown, the reason of murder is unknown and the reality of vulture eye, too, is mystery.  All these mysterious parts combine together to give a brilliant gothic story.

Wrong deed is always doomed:

The story develops the sense that whatever is done to hide a wrong deed, it will always come to surface. Whenever an innocent person is suffered, it is always avenged by nature. The narrator does everything to hide is cruelty and up to an extent he gets succeeded as well but his conscience traps him in the end and he admits his fault. It clearly gives the message that the wrong deeds will always be reckoned.

The Tell Tale Heart Characters:

The story, basically, has 4 characters: unknown narrator, old man, neighbor, and three police men.

The unknown narrator is the protagonist of the story. He is a totally mad man. His actions, his way of speaking and his way of tackling the situation clearly shows that he is a mad man. He lives with an old man. The identity of the narrator and the relationship of the narrator to the old man is unknown. The narrator has no issues with the old but the eyes of the old man. According to the unknown narrator, the old man has a vulture eye which causes him trouble. The trouble is unknown. Why the eye causes the trouble that is unknown. The old man really had a vulture eye, was again something lacking the definite proofs. The narrator us unreliable because of psychological conditions and ambivalent nature about the old man.

The old is a silent character in the story and is the one who suffers and gets killed in the end. The old lives with the unknown narrator of the story. His relation with the narrator is unknown. What is real personality is, something which is unknown. But the way the narrator has described him is a man with a vulture eye. For seven nights the narrator goes into his room in order to kill him and he gets succeeded on the eighth night. After being killed, he is torn into pieces and buried under the flashboard.

The Tell Tale Heart Analysis:

The story is of very mysterious nature: nothing in the story is clear that could bring the readers to the logical conclusions and sum up of the course of action,

Paranoia:

If the stories is analyzed thoroughly, it could be seen that the narrator suffers from paranoia. What is paranoia?

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there), they might have what is called a delusional disorder.

Some of the symptoms of paranoia are:

  • believing that others have hidden motives or are out to harm them
  • doubting the loyalty of others
  • being hypersensitive to criticism
  • having trouble working with others
  • being quick to become angry and hostile
  • becoming detached or socially isolated
  • being argumentative and defensive
  • having trouble seeing their own problems
  • having trouble relaxing

If a close look to the story is given, it can be seen very easily that all these symptoms can be seen in the unknown character.  He suspects that old man with the vulture eye wants to harm him and he plans to kill him. On the basis of this. It can be said easily that the unknown narrator suffers from paranoia.

Id:

To analyze, the character more particularly, it can be said that the unknown narrator of the story is an Id governed person. An id governed person always strive for pleasure principle. What is Id?

“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality… It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle”

This definition is the face to the unknown narrator and when analyzed, he comes out to be governed by the dark instinct getting rid of the old man because it is just to satisfy his thirst killing the old man.

Shadow:

The third perspective to the story could be that the unknown narrator sees his shadow in the old man that’s why he kills him. What is shadow?

“The shadow goes by many familiar names: the disowned self, the lower self, the dark twin or brother in bible and myth, the double, repressed self, alter ego, id. When we come face-to-face with our darker side, we use metaphors to describe these shadow encounters: meeting our demons, wrestling with the devil, descent to the underworld, dark night of the soul, midlife crisis.” (Connie Zweig, Meeting the Shadow)

Whatever happens to the unknown narrator is exactly what described in the above definition. On this basis , we can easily say that this narrator sees his shadow in then old man and to suppress his shadow, he kills it.

Plot Development:

Exposition:

The story starts with the unknown narrator trying to convince the reader about himself that he is not mad. He then tells about the old whom the narrator loves.

Rising Action:

The conflict of the story comes when the unknown narrator says that the old man has a vulture-eye. This sets the tone of the story and it is revealed that the unknown narrator has fear of the vulture-eye because of his own insanity or hypersensitivity.

Climax:

The climax of the story comes when the readers get to know that the unknown narrator out fear of that vulture-eye, wants to kill the old man. For this reason, he goes into hiss room for seven nights and on the eighth night he kills the old man.

Falling action:

Falling action of the story comes when the Unknown narrator starts listening to the sounds of the old man after the old man is dead. Due to this, his condition gets worsen and the police starts suspecting him.

Resolution:

The resolution of the story is that the unknown narrator admits his wrong deed by telling police the whole deed and get caught.