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Insane Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart by Poe

Short stories written by Edgar Allan Poe always provoke several unpredictable and spooky emotions. If the reader wants to find a story with a strange plot and the most irrational characters, it is high time to pay attention to Poe’s works. This author was never ordinary, and his words usually revealed the scariest horrors in human life and human behavior. After reading The Tell-Tale Heart, the first thought that comes to my mind is that the narrator is insane. This story begins with a description of the relationships between the narrator and the old man, whose eye “resembled that of a vulture” (Poe, 1843, p. 3). The desire to take someone’s life because of an eye sounds crazy, and a person has to be mad to think about it wisely and cautiously. It is evident that the character has a personality disorder, and the goal of this paper is to analyze the symptoms and prove the offered diagnosis. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator is insane due to his paranoid personality disorder confirmed by hearing sounds, developing a plan for murder, and being obsessed with a single subject.

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Firstly, it is correct to say that the narrator’s mind is disturbed because of the sounds he hears. A healthy person may consider these voices as the individual’s conscience about the recently taken action. A religious man should interpret the same sounds as the message from hell and the necessity to confess the sin. The reaction of the main character to that “low, dull, quick sound – much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton” is a sign of an unstable person (Poe, 1843, p. 8). He does not share his doubts with other people and tries to figure out what is happening to him at the moment, believing that an evil spirit is going to take over his body, and nothing can help him. According to Cherry (2020), the symptoms of paranoid personality disorder include the intention to look for hidden meanings and the necessity to stay secretive, isolated, and cold. Being paranoid means being insane; so, it is appropriate to conclude that the narrator is insane because of the impossibility to get rid of the sound in his head, the sound of his victim’s heart.

Secondly, the insanity of the narrator may be explained through the prism of his actions and the justification of a murder plan. It is expected of people to plan their day, a working schedule, shopping activities, or parties. However, to plan a murder is never normal but inherent to psycho killers or paranoid individuals. The character’s attention to the details and the desire to share his maturity and caution frighten him. He seems to be proud of his week-long preparation when “every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it – oh, so gently” (Poe, 1843, p. 3). The narrator thinks about the killing process with precise details. According to Amir (2018), the anaphoric use of words in the story helps to intensify the description that is inherent to an insane person. It is necessary to take enough time and make sure that no single drop of blood to be on the floor, as well as no single person, hears his manipulations with a floorboard. It was not a cold murder but a well-thoughtful plan on how to reach the target, take action and hide the body.

Thirdly, it is necessary to admit that the narrator is very obsessed with one particular object, the vulture’s eye, as he claims the old man has. When he feels the look from “a pale blue eye, with a film over it,” his “blood ran cold” (Poe, 1843, p. 3). This feeling is enough for the man to kill a person who offers the place to live. Obsession is a dangerous and unpredictable condition, and it turns out to be one of the signs of insane behavior. According to Merriam-Webster (n.d.), an obsessed person is preoccupied with irrational thoughts. In Poe’s work, there are many good examples of the main character’s obsession. For example, in the beginning, his obsession is directed to the eye of the victim. During the development of the story, obsession is observed in his repetitive actions and the intention to disprove his madness. Finally, his mental breakdown is provoked by a paranoid obsession with sounds. He uses nervousness as the disease that “had sharpened my senses – not destroyed” (Poe, 1843, p. 3). However, any mental health change needs to be treated, and its progress must be assessed.

To conclude the story of a one-night murder, enough evidence has been gathered to prove that the narrator is insane. Such signs as hallucinations, the disturbed mind, and obsessive thinking cannot be ignored to confirm the diagnosis of paranoid personality disorder. This condition is characterized by the inability to understand that something wrong happens. The narrator’s behavior is out of the ordinary, and the reader sees the proof in his actions, thoughts, and the necessity to explain every decision and step. His paranoid obsession with the old man’s eye is evident and makes him insane. The inability to cope with the multiple symptoms of a mental health disorder has a tremendous impact on the narrator. His confession is a matter of time but not because of his feeling of guilt but because of confusion and his weakness. The story shows that it may be easy to take someone’s life and develop a perfect murder plan. However, it is always hard to live with the consequences and negative emotions that absorb the best qualities of a morally stable person after committing a crime that cannot be justified.


Amir, S. (2018). Stylistic analysis of the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. Angloamericanae Journal, 3(1), 18-28. Web.

Cherry, K. (2020). Paranoid personality disorder. Verywell Mind. Web.

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Merriam-Webster. (n.d). Obsess. In Merriam-Webster dictionary. Web.

Poe, E. A. (1843). The tell-tale heart [eBook edition]. Online Books Page. Web.

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