Sunday, April 26, 2015

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe


Title: "The Tell-Tale Heart"
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Published:  1843
Challenges: Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Romanticism) 


Originally I was reading The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, for my Romanticism choice; however, after dragging myself through 50% of the book, I couldn't anymore!  

The biggest problem was that I had an expectation about the story from the movie, which is one of my favorites of all-time.  Unfortunately, in this case, the story in the book is not at all like the story from the movie - at least not the first half of the book.  I also found the dialogue long, tedious, and not believable, while the overall plot did not keep my interest.  I could not appreciate it as I had hoped to; therefore, I put it back on my shelf for another day, or year.

In the meantime, I still wanted to read something for Romanticism, but most of my choices would have been too long - except for Edgar Allan Poe's short stories.  So I choose my very favorite: "The Tell-Tale Heart."  


When I read this story, I have to read it aloud, with expression!  I just cannot read it quietly to myself.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is about the narrator, the main character, who tries to convince the reader that he is not mad or insane; he recounts how he committed a wretched deed, as we will find out, with such caution and premeditation, which should be evidence enough for his rationality.  However, as he reveals his wicked plan to murder an old man, whom he says he loved, the reader is more assured that the narrator is obsessed, irrational, and heartless.  


[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The narrator planned for an entire week to murder the old man because, he says, he hated his "evil eye."  There was nothing else about the old man that disturbed him other than the presence of his eye. Every night, for one week, the narrator opened the door of the bedroom where the old man slept, and "thrust in his head" into the darkness; but on the eighth night, the narrator opened the door to the old man's room and shone the light of his lantern on the old man, as a beam of light fell directly upon the "vulture eye."  The old man, who may have been blind, though the story does not reveal, knew someone was in his bedroom.  The narrator imagined that he could hear the old man's heartbeat growing louder and louder, and that even the neighbors may hear it.  In anxiety, he murdered the old man.

Still intent on convincing the reader of his sanity, he told how he carefully dismembered the body and stuffed the parts under the floorboards.  When police arrived a few hours later, the narrator was calm and collected that even they were convinced of the story he told them about the missing old man and the scream the neighbor's must have heard.  However, he imagined he could hear the heartbeat of the old man beneath the floor, and he believed the police could hear it, too.  They were mocking him, he was certain.  In his irrationality, he called them "Villains!" for pretending not to hear the heart, and desperately disclosed the crime and made his confession.

[END SPOILERS]


I used to think that the beating heart was his own guilty conscience, but I wonder if the narrator even had a conscience.  If he had a conscience, or a "heart," he would have had compassion to guide him. Instead he was heartless and committed a wicked, evil crime.  

In addition, all of the main character's feelings and thoughts are senseless.  For example, he believed the old man's eye was evil.  There was no other reason given about the old man that proved he was wicked, only the condition of his eye made him evil, which did not make sense.  Secondly, the attempt to prove his sanity did not work because with every step he demonstrated to the reader that he was crazy.  And finally, when he believed the police officers were mocking him, he thought he was more clever by revealing his very own evil deed to them; but instead he lead to his own demise and conviction.

One last note: another great way to read through The Tell-Tale Heart is to listen to it performed by Vincent Price:

16 comments:

  1. Wow, it's been ages since I've read Poe. I really should try some of his short stories ..... perhaps in the oh, so appropriate month of October. :-)

    That's disappointing that you couldn't get into The Last of the Mohicans. I've avoided Cooper because I had a feeling that his books would be a struggle. Or perhaps someone warned me off them ...... I can't really remember. I've put Ulysses down for the moment and feel the same as you ....... I have enough time invested in it that I plan to finish it one day, but not now. For now, there are too many other good reads going on which are taking up my attention.

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    1. You're braver than me to even start Ulysses. I don't even think about it.

      I'd like to read more Poe, too. October sounds like the perfect time to do so. Last Halloween, I took my kids to see this actor who plays Poe. He performed "The Tell-Tale Heart" and a few others. He's really good.

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  2. I believe The Tell-Tale Heart was the first Poe I ever read, probably around age 10. In the words of Bob Hope...thanks for the memories.

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    1. It was mine, too. : ) You're welcome!

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  3. I love this story! The first time I read it was as an audiobook, so that was pretty awesome. I think the beating heart is what's left of his conscience - some underlying knowledge that what he did was wrong and some hint of punishment and the fear of that punishment. Obviously his conscience isn't even partially intact, but there is a certain fear of discovery that sits in the beating heart. This is a fascinating character. I love it!

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    1. Right, he has some conscience, as he tries to justify his deed; but what an awful excuse for a conscience it is.

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  4. I love this story, I must read a bit more Poe.

    I had problems with this month as well - read Wordsworth's The Prelude and had just a hard time with it - just couldn't think of a single thing to write!

    As for The Last of the Mohicans - definitely one of the most boring books I have ever read. Don't blame you for not getting through it. I only skimmed it, though I got to page 100 or so reading properly.

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    1. Whew, I'm not alone.

      My friend made her son (high school age) read it, and he begged her to let him stop. But I thought it was due to his age that he couldn't get through it. Now I know why. It was really, really dragging on.

      I wonder if my problem is w/ Romanticism. After reading Rousseau (who was more of a Romantic writer than Enlightenment), I thought I would like that literary period; but now I'm not so sure. Guess I need to read more variety of that period to know better.

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  5. Let me see: Cooper or Poe? Yes, Cooper can be a torturous grind, but Poe -- not only because of the short story form -- can be an easy-to-read and enjoy dark, gothic treat. As for the Romanticism angle, I wouldn't worry too much about that as the lens through which to read Poe. It is fair enough to read for pure entertainment.

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    1. This is true.

      It was also interesting, anyway, to learn the Romanticism angle of this short story: focused on the individual's inner thoughts and portraying vague details about the other particulars of the setting or characters. Nonetheless, still very entertaining, yes.

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  6. I had to laugh when you got stumped by Cooper. I think he's a crummy writer. They way he describes women with their heaving bosoms and dramatically burying their beautiful faces in the bosoms of an aunt to hide their bashfulness from the man who's in love with them...insert a major eye roll here...you should read Mark Twain's comments about Cooper's writing skills in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" plenty of biting humor.
    I do love Poe, though, although sometimes he gets a little to gothic for me, his writing is superb. I think his stories are the product of a tormented mind.

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    1. It is surprising to me to learn this about Cooper now that I tried to read something from him. Is Mark Twain the only one who wrote negatively about him? I will want to read his comments. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I don't want to totally give up on Cooper, and I may try a different title from him some day. We'll see.

      As for Poe, his personal story is one of heartbreak, poverty, and misfortune. Even after his death, a rival author wrote up a scathing obituary about him that tainted his character for a long time. But Poe was truly a talented writer, and how amazing that people are still enjoying his works today!

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  7. The Prairie (another novel from Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales) was a better read than The Last of the Mohicans. You might want to try that if you ever return to Cooper's work.

    Poe really plumbs the dark side of human nature. He is willing to dispense with the typical sympathetic characters and explore the sorts of crazies that other writers wouldn't go near.

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    1. I will look into The Prairie, but first I think I may try The Pioneers b/c I already have that. I won't give up on him just yet. And sometimes it is the timing of my reading that affects my feelings about it. Maybe it just wasn't a good time to read the Mohicans.

      Great point about Poe. This is certainly interesting about his works. Makes people wonder about him; but I have heard that he really was not "mad" at all, but brilliant.

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  8. I read "The Tell-Tale Heart" a long time ago but I don't think I appreciated it then the way you do. Such a good review - and what a great idea to read it aloud. Thanks for sharing the Vincent Price clip. What a creepy story! A few months ago I read Hawthorne's "The House of the Seven Gables", which is supposed to be in the same category as Poe: Dark Romanticism. Despite having an English degree, my research after reading that book was the first I really knew of Dark Romanticism, a sub-category of the Romantic movement. I thought is was interesting that this term seems to have been invented mainly for a trio of Americans: Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe . My literary journey seems to be getting longer and longer, in fact never ending but I love deepening and expanding my education book by book.

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    1. I saw that (The House of Seven Gables) on the Romanticism list, but I have been reluctant to read it b/c I had a bad experience w/ it in college. (I didn't read it truly b/c I didn't know how.) But I hope to attempt it in the future.

      I think that is interesting about the Dark Romanticism, especially that it was reserved for Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe. The whole literary movement idea is challenging b/c it is not so simple to put an author or book into a group, especially with these sub-categories. It's like classification of living things.

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