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The Tell-Tale Heart

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Essay title: The Tell-Tale Heart

Every night at exactly midnight, the narrator, who remains nameless and sexless, snuck into the old man's room without making a sound in order to view the sleeping man’s eye. The mere sight of it made the narrator’s “blood run cold.” The old man knew nothing of this. During the day, the narrator continued to go about his daily routine, and even went as far as to ask the old man every morning if he slept well the night before.

Upon the eighth midnight of this nightly ritual, the narrator proceeded to the old man's room as usual; however, this night was different. As he ventured into the room, the old man sat up suddenly in his bed, crying out “Who's there?” The narrator stood there silently for over an hour, and the old man sat there frozen. Finally the narrator opened the lantern ever so slightly, allowing only a single dim ray of light to escape, enough to see that the old man’s eye was wide open. “It was wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness— all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones.” Then suddenly he heard “a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” This drove the narrator to leap into the room, drag the old man off the bed, and pull the heavy bed over him.

After carefully checking to make sure that the man was dead, he choped the body and buried the pieces under the wooden planks of the floor. Not long after, the police came because of a shriek reported by a neighbor. The narrator invited the officers in and sat them right on the spot where he hid the pieces of the old man’s body. Everything was fine; he was calm and at ease as the officers chatted away. He soon wished they would leave, for the “low, dull, quick sound— the sound a watch makes when enveloped in cotton,” became louder and louder, until he could not bare it any longer. He finally shrieked, “Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- It is the beating of his hideous heart.”

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story, with every word contributing to the central issue, which combines the narrator's previous terrors, the old man's current terrors, and the terrors for the narrator yet to come. The setting and characters are not the main focus of the story. The setting is basically irrelevant; all that is known is that it is the home of an elderly man in which the narrator is his caretaker, and most of the action occurs each night around midnight. Poe has chosen to be vague with these characters. They remain nameless throughout the story, being given only the titles of “the narrator” and “the old man.” Poe does not even provide the gender of the narrator. The author uses “I” and “me” in reference to the character, which makes the reader feel as if they play the part of the narrator. Since the story is written in first person point of view, the hero is indirectly characterized. One must assume what he is like by what he says and does. The narrator insists that he is not insane. “Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded— with what caution, with what foresight, with what dissimulation I went to work!” Yet it is obvious by his actions, the fact that he murdered an innocent old man because of his “evil eye,” he is obsessed and insane. “It is impossible to say how the first idea entered my brain... Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the man. He had never wronged me. He had never

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