The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe, is one of his most famous stories. This story is told from the point of view of the narrator who also happens to be the main character. The story is a personal struggle between the narrator’s thought and his actions. The question that the reader ponders until about two-thirds into the story is whether or not the narrator will physically control his hatred of the old man. The reader then bluntly learns the answer to this question and watches the rapid deterioration of the narrator’s state of mind.
Although the narrator tells the reader in the beginning of The Tell-Tale Heart that he is afraid of the old man’s “vulture” eye, the eye really acts as a shadow to his real hatred. He hates the fact that he sees some of his own qualities in the old man; this eventually turns him into a crazed murderer. It becomes evident as early as the second paragraph of the story that the narrator is afraid of the old man’s eye. He says that he can’t remember what made him want to kill the old man, but then he remembers the eye, the “pale blue eye, with a film over it.
This quote seems quite unbelievable because no rational man could kill another man over his eye. This is the exact point in the story where it became evident to me that the “eye” was really just a mask used to hide a deeper reason (series of reasons). One of the guidelines given to us for this assignment was to “trace the theme of fear throughout the story. ” When I tried to use fear as the organizing concept for my paper I realized that it was far too broad.
I began to read the story again and again to find a better framework when I realized that the idea of fear was in fact a good organizing theme, although in a rather indirect way. The “quality” that the man sees in the old man is one that he himself has and it is fear. Those seven previous nights that the narrator had spent watching the man sleep may have been a subconscious attempt on the part of the narrator to have the man wake up so that he could see his “eye. ” The narrator’s need to see the old man’s eye was actually a need to see the fear in the old man’s eyes.
The fear that naturally occurs when one is awakened in the middle of the night in his own house by a stranger. Poe may also be trying to convey to the reader that the narrator needs (although eventually proves unable to be) in absolute control of every situation. This becomes evident when he is peeking in on the old man at night without ever getting caught; when he is actually murdering the old man, and assuring both himself and the reader that he is doing a perfect job of disposing of the man and of not leaving any evidence at the crime scene; and when he is speaking to the police calmly and even cockily.
This generalized fear that the narrator has in his life is of the same order as that of the old man when he heard the narrator in his room. When the narrator went into the old man’s room on the eighth night, it was different. This time, he actually made a noise. The story describes it as a slight slip of his hand on the lantern that disturbs the old man and awakens him from his slumber. What I think really happened is that the killer wanted to wake the man up so that he could see his eye and feel, and rejoice, in his victim’s terror. The killer needed to have the old man wake up for his control over him to be complete.
This was the reason behind the narrator’s “slip up. ” The old man’s eye seems to have been both a mirror of and a window into the narrator’s own irrational rage that had been building up for so long. Killing the old man was in a way an act of liberating himself from something that he truly hated, something that he saw in himself, a man with true and totally irrational fear. In conclusion I believe that Poe did in fact use the narrator’s obvious hatred of the “eye” as a metaphor for many deep and subtle ways of a sick mind’s self hate.
The killer’s cracking up before the detectives shows that his conscience still worked despite the depth of his self-destructiveness and madness. The detectives are almost like props in his own “game” with himself. ) This story is relevant even today, showing how people try to push away people who have the same negative traits that they have but try to suppress. Most of the time people use reasonable measures to stay away from these “doubles” of themselves, but in some very extreme cases, as seen here, murder may even come into play.