"The Tell-Tale Heart" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous short stories.
The story has the ability to create an illusion of reality by enhancing the
reader's senses and therefore allowing them to further enter into the story.
Poe emphasizes themes such as insanity, hideous murders and death to entice readers
and reach into their fears. Time is slowed down to intensify events in the story.
To add to the effect, Poe writes the story in the first-person narrative because
it effectively conveys the narrator's fears, feelings and growing tension in the story.
Edgar Allan Poe uses the element of time and the first person narrative style to
emphasize the theme of death.
The use of time in this story enhances the events that occur in it.
Poe slows down time through the narrator's description of the story time line.
Although, the story is only four pages long, the reader feels as though it is
prolonged as intensity of the story is driven by time. Majority of the story takes
place in one night but the story's tension goes back years. This gives the reader
the sense that they have been involved in the narrator's dilemma for a long time.
"Although the action in this narrative occurs mainly during one night,
the numerous references the narrator makes to time show that the horror
he experiences has been building over time... he explains that his obsessions with
ridding the curse of the eye has "haunted [him] day and night"."
(Short Stories for Students 346)
The suspense in the story is increased by the effect of slowing down time.
The reader is able to follow the plot sequence and get involved. This fact
is highlighted when the narrator is in the midst of eliminating the evil eye
and has to spend an hour standing still: "I kept quite still and said nothing.
For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear
him lie down" (Poe 35). Everything in this story makes some type of reference
to time. The Death Watches on the wall of old man's room is a type of beetle
that emits a ticking sound similar to a watch (Poe 35). The average heart beats
60 beats a minute, there are 60 seconds in a minute and a dying or dead person
has all the time in the world. Death is a very slow and agonizing process.
It has been said that, to a dying person, every second seems like eternity.
Poe is able to relay that thought through the narrator's actions.
Similarly, first-person narrative style creates a channel between the author
and reader giving the author the ability to get personal and intimate with
the reader. The author then can relay his thoughts more effectively because
the reader is totally involved in the story. "The first-person point of view
draws the reader into the mind of the insane narrator, enabling one to ironically
sympathize with his wretched state of mind" (Short Stories for Students 347).
Poe uses this method to captivate the readers as demonstrated by the following
quote: "I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that
of a vulture-a pale blue eye, with a film over it. When it fell upon me, my blood
ran cold; and so by degrees-very gradually-I made up my mind to take the life of
an old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever." (Poe 34). The narrator
sets out the setting and the story line by describing what he is feeling.
Poe uses the image of a vulture to effectively set a tone of death.
Typically if vultures are seen circling in the sky it is a sure sign that they
are waiting to move in on a dead or dying animal. The story bears a similar
setting except that in this case the narrator is waiting to move in on the
old man. Therefore one may conclude that the vulture like description of the
old man's eye is a reflection of the narrator's character.
Poe uses these two techniques to put forward his thoughts and experiences with
death. He wrote about death because he had seen too much of it. He also witnessed
several deaths that had a profound effect on him such as the death of his mother
when he was just three years old and also the death of Jane Stanard:
"At the age of fourteen he became infatuated with Mrs. Jane Stanard, the
mother of one of his classmates. He came to her when he felt unhappy at
home and she somewhat resembled both Fanny Allan Edgar had only known her for
about a year when she died at the age of 31, probably insane. Edgar suffered
from her death and his behavior changed."
(Christoffer Nilsson, www.poedecoder.com/qrisse/teens.html,)
Suffering and pain go hand in hand with death. Poe also witnessed several key
people in his life suffer from debilitating diseases such as his wife:
Virginia Clemm. He saw her suffer from Tuberculoses and die a very slow agonizing
death. "Virginia's illness took Poe very hard and he made everything he could to
help her. Every cough from her made him shudder."
(Christoffer Nilsson, www.poedecorder.com/qrisse/ratio.html). Combination of
death and disease had overwhelming effect on him. He suffered serious bouts of
depression and his only means of expressing his feelings were his stories and
poems. Every living thing experiences death and it is an event that most people
fear. By focusing on the theme of death, Poe is able to invoke raw emotions that
are fueled by fear of death. "Poe effectively creates a gothic tale full of
horror and psychological torment " (Short Stories for Students 345).
Poe uses the element of time and first person narrative style to emphasize the
theme of death. He uses these two techniques to put forward his thoughts and
feelings. His obsession with death stems from witnessing the loss of several
loved ones. By putting forward intense personal emotions into these stories he
is able to move the reader. "Poe believed that all good literature must create
a unity of effect on the reader and this effect must reveal the truth or evoke
emotions" (Short Stories for Students 343).