In the short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe creates a unique image of the main character, a nameless narrator, who commits a crime and kills an old ma. Although this narrator claims to be totally sane, he admits that there never existed a real motive for murder. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the murderer is eventually stalked by images of time as he, in turn, stalks his victim. The nameless narrator drives the plot of the story and creates a story conflict.
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Without this character, it would be impossible to proceed and understand the events and their consequences. The first half of the story details the narrator’s nightly ritual of spying upon the old man sleeping. “There came a knocking at the street door…. There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police” (Poe). At first, the murderer is confident that he has done his work well; he even goes so far as to invite the police to sit in the room where the body is buried, “while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim” (559). These events help readers to understand the conflict and follow storyline.
It is possible to say that the main character is flat because readers know only some basic facts but guess his inner intensions and feelings. The narrator in this story makes the claim so strongly for his sanity—“why will you say that I am mad?” (Poe)—that the reader is immediately suspicious. His attempts to distance himself from insanity, to prove himself sane, succeed only in focusing the reader’s attention upon his unstable mental condition. From the opening lines to the end, the narrator demonstrates that he is meticulous, obsessed, a fetishist, and quite out of his mind. How else to explain the post-operative resonance of a heart that refuses to die and his rationale for murder: a vulture like eye. The narrator’s truest fascination for the reader is to be found in his duplicity. He can boast of his preparations to make sure that the blood does not splatter when dismembering the corpse and smile charmingly as he reports to the police that it was his own screams at midnight that awakened the neighbor. On the other hand, his excitement is so profound that he can barely hide the old man’s body. “All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim” (Poe). The narrator is pursued by the violence and anguish of his own actions, and ultimately fails in his efforts to project it outward away from himself. The character does not change till the end of the story but keeps the same qualities and motivations.
The revelation of this crime may come as little surprise to a reader who has watched the slow splintering of the narrator’s mind, but one can presume that the police are utterly shocked. Indeed, the identities of the old man and narrator run together in the act of murder itself: the killer’s yell is amplified by the old man’s simultaneous shriek. This condition is psychological—brought on by the murderer’s inability to separate himself from the person he has murdered. Lacking any clear sense of inner vision, the murderer learns about himself only by living through the old man. By killing the old man, in other words, the narrator is attempting to kill a part of himself. After the crime, the sound of the old man’s heart grows in intensity and volume, and both increase as a direct response to the narrator’s efforts at distancing himself from the old man by first burying him under the floor and then lying to the police that his victim is “absent in the country” (Poe).
While the narrator initially experienced a sense of triumph in the act of killing, immediately afterwards this euphoria is transformed into horror as it becomes impossible for narrator and reader alike to distinguish whose heart is actually beating—the old man’s or the narrator’s. No sooner does an individual consciousness reach this state of moral suspension than his own self-punishment commences. Just as the upraised hands of the clock signaling the midnight hour must eventually separate, the murderer feels compelled to undermine his own efforts. “But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer!” (Poe). Thus, this story revolves around a narrator who initially manipulates time imagery as a means for torturing his victim and even manages to regulate time itself (at least in his own head). By the conclusion of the tale, however, he has lost control over these images as they are turned against him and used to suggest the clock’s remorseless progress and its ruinous effects upon the individual will.
In sum, in this story the main character plays a unique role: he drives ploy development and creates a story conflict thus he remains stable and flat. the change is emotional rather than psychological because the narrator is assailed by the infernal pulsations of the old man’s body clock—measuring the time the narrator has left before he must confess, the time he has left before being taken to jail, the time he has left inhabiting the world of the sane. The inability to make this distinction emphasizes both the extent that the old man is a mirror for the narrator and the level of madness that contributes to the murderer’s self-destruction.
Poe, E. The Tell-Tale Heart. Web.
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