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The Tell Tale Heart

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It is related by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of the narrator's sanity while simultaneously describing a murder the narrator committed. The victim was an old man with a filmy pale blue "vulture-eye", as the narrator calls it. The narrator emphasizes the careful calculation of the murder, attempting the perfect crime, complete with dismembering the body in the bathtub and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately, the narrator's actions result in hearing a thumping sound, which the narrator interprets as the dead man's beating heart.

the tell tale heart

On the eighth night, the old man awakens after the narrator's hand slips and makes a noise, interrupting the narrator's nightly ritual. The narrator does not draw back and after some time, decides to open the lantern. A single thin ray of light shines out and lands precisely on the "evil eye," revealing that it is wide open. The narrator hears the old man's heart beating, which only gets louder and louder. This increases the narrator's anxiety to the point where they decide to strike. They jump into the room and the old man shrieks once before he is killed. The narrator then dismembers the body and conceals the pieces under the floorboards, ensuring the concealment of all signs of the crime. Even so, the old man's scream during the night causes a neighbor to report to the police, who the narrator invites in to look around. The narrator claims that the scream heard was their own in a nightmare and that the old man is absent in the country. Confident that they will not find any evidence of the murder, the narrator brings chairs for them and they sit in the old man's room. The chairs are placed on the very spot where the body is concealed; the police suspect nothing, and the narrator has a pleasant and easy manner.

The narrator begins to feel uncomfortable and notices a ringing in their ears. As the ringing grows louder, the narrator concludes that it is the heartbeat of the old man coming from under the floorboards. The sound increases steadily to the narrator, though the officers do not seem to hear it. Terrified by the violent beating of the heart and convinced that the officers are aware of not only the heartbeat but also the narrator's guilt, the narrator breaks down and confesses. The narrator tells them to tear up the floorboards to reveal the remains of the old man's body.

The narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is generally assumed to be a male. However, some critics have suggested a woman may be narrating; no pronouns are used to clarify one way or the other.[6] The story starts in medias res, opening with a conversation already in progress between the narrator and another person who is not identified in any way. It has been speculated that the narrator is confessing to a prison warden, a judge, a reporter, a doctor, or (anachronistically) a psychiatrist.[7] In any case, the narrator tells the story in great detail.[8] What follows is a study of terror but, more specifically, the memory of terror as the narrator is retelling events from the past.[9] The first word of the story, "True!", is an admission of their guilt, as well as an assurance of reliability.[7] This introduction also serves to gain the reader's attention.[10] Every word contributes to the purpose of moving the story forward, exemplifying Poe's theories about the writing of short stories.[11]

Richard Wilbur suggested that the tale is an allegorical representation of Poe's poem "To Science", which depicts a struggle between imagination and science. In "The Tell-Tale Heart", the old man may thus represent the scientific and rational mind, while the narrator may stand for the imaginative.[25]

TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am;but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened mysenses --not destroyed --not dulled them. Above all was the sense ofhearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. Iheard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observehow healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story. It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; butonce conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none.Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wrongedme. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. Ithink it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, myblood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mindto take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eyeforever. Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing.But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely Iproceeded --with what caution --with what foresight --with whatdissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man thanduring the whole week before I killed him. And every night, aboutmidnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it --oh so gently!And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I putin a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, andthen I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see howcunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly --very, very slowly, sothat I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour toplace my whole head within the opening so far that I could see himas he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise asthis, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lanterncautiously-oh, so cautiously --cautiously (for the hinges creaked) --Iundid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vultureeye. And this I did for seven long nights --every night just atmidnight --but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossibleto do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but hisEvil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly intothe chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in ahearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you seehe would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect thatevery night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept. Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious inopening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than didmine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers--of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph.To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, andhe not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckledat the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bedsuddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back --but no.His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for theshutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so Iknew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushingit on steadily, steadily. I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumbslipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed,crying out --"Who's there?" I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did notmove a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He wasstill sitting up in the bed listening; --just as I have done, nightafter night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall. Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan ofmortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief --oh, no! --itwas the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul whenovercharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just atmidnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my ownbosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors thatdistracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, andpitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had beenlying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned inthe bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had beentrying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying tohimself --"It is nothing but the wind in the chimney --it is only amouse crossing the floor," or "It is merely a cricket which has made asingle chirp." Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with thesesuppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; becauseDeath, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow beforehim, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence ofthe unperceived shadow that caused him to feel --although he neithersaw nor heard --to feel the presence of my head within the room. When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing himlie down, I resolved to open a little --a very, very little crevice inthe lantern. So I opened it --you cannot imagine how stealthily,stealthily --until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of thespider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye. It was open --wide, wide open --and I grew furious as I gazed uponit. I saw it with perfect distinctness --all a dull blue, with ahideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but Icould see nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I haddirected the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot. And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is butover-acuteness of the sense? --now, I say, there came to my ears alow, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped incotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the oldman's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulatesthe soldier into courage. But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. Iheld the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain theray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heartincreased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder everyinstant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grewlouder, I say, louder every moment! --do you mark me well I havetold you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of thenight, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noiseas this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minuteslonger I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder,louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seizedme --the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour hadcome! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into theroom. He shrieked once --once only. In an instant I dragged him to thefloor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to findthe deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on witha muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not beheard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. Iremoved the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stonedead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there manyminutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve wouldtrouble me no more. If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when Idescribe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of thebody. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. Firstof all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms andthe legs. I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber,and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boardsso cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye --not even his --couldhave detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out --nostain of any kind --no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary forthat. A tub had caught all --ha! ha! When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock--still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came aknocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a lightheart, --for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, whointroduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of thepolice. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night;suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodgedat the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed tosearch the premises. I smiled, --for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemenwelcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, Imentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all overthe house. I bade them search --search well. I led them, at length, tohis chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. Inthe enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, anddesired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, inthe wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon thevery spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim. The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I wassingularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, theychatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself gettingpale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing inmy ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became moredistinct: --It continued and became more distinct: I talked morefreely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gaineddefiniteness --until, at length, I found that the noise was not withinmy ears. No doubt I now grew very pale; --but I talked more fluently, andwith a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased --and what could Ido? It was a low, dull, quick sound --much such a sound as a watchmakes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath --and yet theofficers heard it not. I talked more quickly --more vehemently; butthe noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in ahigh key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadilyincreased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and frowith heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of themen --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? Ifoamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had beensitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over alland continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder! And stillthe men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heardnot? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --theyknew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, andthis I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything wasmore tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocriticalsmiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again!--hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!--tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideousheart!" -THE END- 041b061a72


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