The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
About the Author
Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809, but both his parents died before Poe turned three years old. He was raised by John Allan, a rich businessman, in Richmond, Virginia. Allan never legally adopted Poe, but their relationship became difficult after Poe reached his teenage years. Poe was well aware that he would never inherit much from his rich foster father, so he embarked on a literary career at the age of twenty-one.
In 1835, Poe secretly married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. For the next two years, he worked as an assistant editor, but he was ill-suited for editorial work. However, he published several works, including ‘‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’’ in 1838, ‘‘The Fall of the House of Usher’’ in 1839, and ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ in 1843. While his writings were well regarded, his financial position was constantly insecure. Like his natural father, Poe was an alcoholic and this alcoholism and contentious temper continued to plague him. In 1845 Poe published ‘‘The Raven,’’ his most famous poem. Celebrated as a gifted poet, he failed to win many friends due to his unpleasant temperament.
After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe became involved in a number of romances. When he was due to be married, Poe arrived in Baltimore in late September of 1849. On October 3, he was discovered in a state of semi-consciousness. He died on October 7 without being able to explain what had happened during the last days of his life.
The Tell-Tale Heart and many of his other short stories were not critically acclaimed during his lifetime. Many critics faulted his obsession with dark and depraved themes. Some critics considered The Tell-Tale Heart merely a tale of conscience. However, this simplistic view has changed over the years as more complex views of Poe and his works have emerged. Poe is now considered a forefather of two literary genres, detective stories and science fiction, and is regarded as an important writer of psychological thrillers.
About the Story
One of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous short stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, was first published in the January, 1843 edition of James Russell Lowell’s The Pioneer and was reprinted in the August 23, 1845 issue of The Broadway Journal. ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart was first published in 1843 in the Boston Pioneer, and revised into its current form for an 1845 edition of The Broadway Journal. The story is a psychological portrait of a mad narrator who kills a man and afterward hears his victim’s relentless heartbeat. Like The Black Cat, it is a murder story told by the acknowledged killer himself. Here, however, the narrator’s stated purpose is not confession but the desire to prove his sanity. The Tell-Tale Heart is simultaneously a horror story and psychological thriller told from a first-person perspective. It is admired as an excellent example of how a short story can produce an effect on the reader. Poe believed that all good literature must create a unity of effect on the reader and this effect must reveal truth or evoke emotions. The Tell-Tale Heart exemplifies Poe’s ability to expose the dark side of humankind. Poe’s work has influenced genres as diverse as French symbolist poetry and Hollywood horror films, and writers as diverse as Ambrose Bierce and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In 1953 Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart was made into an animated short film, which is narrated in the first-person by the actor James Mason. This animation was the first cartoon ever to be x-rated (adults only) in Great Britain under the British Board of Film Censors classification system. This widely discussed cartoon tells the story of the mad boarder who had to kill his landlord because he possessed an "evil eye".
Watch the following clip of The Tell-Tale Heart cartoon.
Now listen to the song The Tell-Tale Heart by The Alan Parsons Project, a British rock group. Inspired by Poe’s horror stories and poetry they released an album Tales of Mystery and Imagination in 1976.
Here are the lyrics:
You should have seen him
Lying alone in helpless silence in the night
You should have seen him
You would have seen his eye reflecting in the light
So for the old man
Ashes to ashes, earth to earth and dust to dust
No one will see me
No one with guilt to share, no secret soul to trust
And he won’t be found at all
Not a trace to mark his fall
Nor a stain upon the wall
Louder and louder
Till I could tell the sound was not within my ears
You should have seen me
You would have seen my eyes grow white and cold with fear
Heard all the things in heaven and earth
I’ve seen many things in hell
But his vulture’s eye of a cold pale blue
Is the eye if the devil himself
Take me away now
But let the silence drown the beating of his heart
I can’t go on
Let me be free from wretched sea that I can not see
Please let me be free
Please answer the following questions about Poe's short story.
1. What had the madness done for the narrator’s senses?
a. sharpened them
b. destroyed them
c. dulled them
d. nothing of the above
2. What was the reason that the narrator killed the old man?
a. his house
b. his gold
c. his eye
d. he insulted the narrator
3. During the week before the narrator killed the old man, how did he act towards him?
a. it never says
4. How long id it take the narrator to place his head into the door so that he could see the old man?
a. a half hour
b. an hour and a half
c. 45 minutes
d. an hour
5. For how many nights did the narrator look in upon the old man?
6. Why couldn’t the narrator kill the old man on the first night?
a. there was someone else in the house
b. the old man wasn’t asleep by midnight on the first night
c. he didn’t have the courage on the first night
d. the eye was closed
7. What did the narrator do by accident thus waking the old man?
a. he sneezed
b. his thumb slipped on the lantern
c. he slipped and fell
d. he coughed
8. What did the old man cry out when awaked?
a. "What was that?"
b. "Who is it?
c. "Is anyone there?"
d. "Who’s there?"
9. What was the low, dull, quick sound that the narrator heard?
a. his own heartbeat
b. the clock
c. his watch
d. the old man’s heartbeat
10. The beating grew louder - what was the new anxiety that seized the narrator at this point?
a. someone coming in the house to investigate the noise
b. there was no anxiety at this time
c. the noise waking up the old man
d. the sound being heard by the neighbours
11. How many times did the old man shriek?
d. three times
12. After the old man was dead, what was the first thing the narrator did to conceal the body?
a. dismembered it
b. hid it in the closed
c. buried it beneath the floor
d. threw it out
13. What was the next thing he did to conceal the body?
a. burned it
b. threw it out
c. buried it beneath the floor
d. buried it outside
14. Why were the police sent to the house?
a. a gunshot was heard
b. someone had seen the narrator
c. a shriek was heard
d. an argument was heard
15. Finally, what was it that made the narrator confess to the crime?
a. the police suspected him
b. his own heartbeat
c. the old man’s heartbeat
d. his ears began to ring
16. Give a description of the two characters (i.e. the narrator and the old man) that are featured in the story.
17. Pick out five phrases, which you think are especially important to the story. Briefly describe why you chose each one.