Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart": A Literary Analysis

Updated on November 15, 2019
Rhylee Suyom profile image

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

Schizophrenia or Two Different Men in a Macabre Scene
Schizophrenia or Two Different Men in a Macabre Scene | Source

An Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart"

All short stories have several elements. In the Tell-Tale Heart, five elements show a literature learner a more profound understanding of not only the essence of the story but also of Edgar Allan Poe’s reason for creating the said story. By spending time and effort in digging deeper into the details, the milieu, the relevant historical backdrop, and the biography of the writer, one begins to see the beginning, the true motive, and the purpose of prose or poem. It is only in doing these things with the elements that a person may unlock the why's and how’s of literary pieces such as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

The Tale That Is “The Tell-Tale Heart”

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of the creations of Edgar Allan Poe, known as the man who pioneered detective and solve-a-crime stories (Meyers 1992). The said short story is about an anonymous narrator who seems to prove that he is sane yet exhibits a rather contrasting behavior for having confessed the murder of an old man with an ‘evil vulture blue eye.’ The story progressed with the narrator spending seven nights plotting the crime against the old man yet he professes to love the man except for his ’eye’ (May 2009) On the eighth night when he startled the old man from his sleep and fearing the neighbors would hear the man’s shriek and heavily pounding heartbeat, the narrator succeeded in killing, dismembering, and hiding the man’s body under the floorboards. A neighbor who heard of the shriek reported the event to the police who quickly visited and investigated the said report the following morning. In the very room where the body is buried, the narrator calmly entertained the police who never suspected ill-will from the former. However, a ringing and increasing pounding heartbeat terrorized the narrator that he had no choice but to confess his crime to the authorities. This concludes the story, which is set in the 19th century Boston house, where the main characters, the old man and the narrator lived.

Character Analysis

The characters are fascinating because of the absence of clear-cut descriptions. There was no sure definition of their gender, occupation, or motive. Lines such as the narrator’s statements throw little light on him and other characters. Notice how he described himself with "True! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" (May 2009). In fact, this line is repeated several times in the story as if consoling himself or stressing his sanity to anyone, yet there was no sure audience for his statements. At the beginning of the story alone, the narrator described the old man with the lines:

“True, I'm nervous. Very, very dreadfully nervous. But why would you say that I'm mad? See how calmly, how precisely I can tell the story to you. Listen. It starts with the old man. And old man in an old house. A good man, I suppose. He didn't harm me, I didn't want his gold, if gold there was. Then what was it? I think... I think it was... his eye. Yes, that eye, the eye. That. His eye staring. Milky white film. The eye, everywhere, in everything! Of course, I had to get rid of the eye.” (May, 2009, 118).

Notice how he seems to revere the old man by calling him ‘good’, yet he seems obsessed with getting rid of his eye. He also described him with:

“I loved the old man! He had never wronged me! He had never given me insult!' and yet he would resort to killing him later the eighth day. After finally being bothered by the heartbeat of the old man’s heart, the narrator confessed his deed to the police of which he described with the lines "'Villains!' I shrieked, 'dissemble no more! I admit the deed! - tear up the planks! - here, here! - it is the beating of his hideous heart!'" (May, 2009, 121).

These lines show the description of the characters through the eyes of the narrator. By also referring to these lines which are sometimes repeated in the story, other details of the remaining elements are revealed.

The Conflict in the Story

The conflict element of the story is the narrator’s obsessed anger with the old man’s eye, as earlier presented in the description of the old man. He also had problems with his true interpretations of what is happening around him as referenced in his line “'Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening with its dreadful echo, the terror that distracted me” (May 2009) referring to the groans of the old man while asleep. This pretense of being in control of the situation and of his psychological stability has been overshadowed by other lines supporting hi insanity. As a matter of fact, the compounding factor of the old man’s nightly moans and the narrator’s insane desire to peek through the old man’s room is already a conflict of interest. Why would he want to see the old man’s evil eye at night unless he is enticed or obsessed with it? In any case, this leads to the climax which painted his evil deed of the eventual killing of the old man.

The climax is shown when the narrator killed the old man as he stated in the lines:

“For an hour I did not move a muscle. I could feel the earth turn... The eye... Hear the spiders spinning. In the house, the grinding grumble of decay. And then, something else. Dull and muffled, and yet... Of course! It was the beating of the old man's heart. He knew! So strong for such an old man. Louder then, and still louder, for all the world to hear, I know! I had to stop it! [Narrator screams as he strangles the old man] Then it was over. The heart was still. The eye was dead. I was free!” (May, 2009, 131).

Again, this more leads to the theme of insanity simply due to the disparity of love and goodness for the old man versus his hatred for his moans and evil eye. Following this deed, the narrator had no choice but to redeem himself from utter darkness; this leads us to the resolution of the case.

The resolution is presented with the words of the narrator saying:

“Then I heard it. It might have been an ant, a clock. But no. Louder, and still louder. They must hear it, and yet they sit and talk and talk. Of course, they must! They know, they do! They're torturing me, watching me, letting it beat so that I... That I... Stop it! Stop it, you devils! Yes, yes, I did it! It's there, under the floor! Oh, stop it! It is the beating of his hideous heart!” (May, 2009, 135).

Obviously, there is something psychologically very wrong with the narrator for stating such lines.

Owing to these many elements, the theme presented in the story is that of insanity. The repetitive lines of the narrator stating that he is clarifying his emotion of nervousness, not madness; his seemingly reverence towards the old man yet a plot and an act taking his life; plus his calm acceptance of the police yet eventual addressing them as ‘villains; plus his fear of the moans and evil eye yet nightly peeking at the old man during midnight are all but total signs of insanity (Meyers 1992). All of these constitute the grand imagery of mystery and illusion leading to insanity. The components show that there was much more than the mere play on words and the deliberate use of vagueness in order to distill a shroud of doubt among the readers. This enables the story to become unclear, leaving the reader on the edge of his/her seat looking for solid evidence to understand what “The Tell-Tale Heart” truly means or suggests. Whether it pertains to a single persona trapped in a schizophrenic dilemma or two people living together under a macabre condition is but a facade.


The real essence of the story is all about the facility of the elements to create mystery; mystery which makes not only marketing and promotion achieve their respective objectives but also instilling a name and brand recall that is signature of Edgar Allan Poe


May, C. E. (2009). “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults. USA: Gale Group, Inc. pp. 112 – 136.

Meyers, Jeffrey (1992). Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy (Paperback ed.). New York: Cooper Square Press. Pp. 12 -1 5.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)