EDGAR ALLAN POE "THE TELL-TALE HEART"

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True!nervousvery, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses not destroyednot dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthilyhow calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulturea pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degreesvery graduallyI made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

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 proceededwith what cautionwith what foresightwith what dissimulation I went to work!

I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened itoh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowlyvery, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiouslyoh, so cautiouslycautiously (for the hinges creaked)I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nightsevery night just at midnightbut I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

. Answer the questions.

  1. Why is the narrator's attitude towards the old man?
  2. Why does the narrator decide to kill the old man?
  3. What does the narrator do every night?
  4. How many nights does the narrator do it?
  5. Why doesn't the narrator kill the old man?
  6. How does the narrator treat the old man in the day time?
  7. How does the narrator try to convince his audience that he is not really mad? Find examples in the text.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powersof my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts.

I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew backbut no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out"Who's there?"

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of griefoh, no!it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. 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 terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself"It is nothing but the wind in the chimneyit is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he has been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions; but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him, had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feelalthough he neither saw nor heardto feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a littlea very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened ityou cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthilyuntil, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and full upon the vulture eye.

It was openwide, wide openand I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctnessall a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized methe sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked onceonce only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

B. Answer the questions.

  1. What are the narrator's feelings on the eighth night?
  2. Why does the old man wake up?
  3. Why is the old mans room so dark?
  4. What does the narrator think about the old man's feelings?
  5. What does the narrator feel as he sees the eye?
  6. What finally agitates the narrator so much that he kills the old man?

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eyenot even hiscould have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash outno stain of any kindno blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught allha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clockstill dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them searchsearch well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears; but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling; but it continued and gained definitiveness until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale;but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increasedand what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick soundmuch such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breathand yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quicklymore vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations, but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observation of the menbut the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamedI ravedI swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louderlouderlouder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! no, no! They heard!they suspected!they knew!they were making a mockery of my horror!this I thought, and this I think. But any thing was better than this agony! Any thing was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die!and now again!hark! 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 hideous heart!"

C. Answer the questions.

  1. What does the narrator do with the old man's body?
  2. Why is he convinced that there are no clues left?
  3. Why do the police officers arrive?
  4. How does the narrator explain to the police the shriek heard by the neighbors?
  5. Where does he tell the police the old man is?
  6. What does the narrator do to prove his innocence to the police?
  7. How does he behave while talking to the police?
  8. What makes the narrator confess?
  9. Were the police really fooled or did they realize that he was deranged and that he would eventually tell them what they wanted to know? Find sentences in the text to prove your point of view.

D. Answer the questions.

  1. What type of stories does "The Tell-Tale Heart" belong to?
  2. From what point of view is it told?
  3. Are the events described in the order they happened or is there a flashback? How does the story begin? Who do you think the narrator is speaking to?
  4. What is the setting of the story?
  5. Who are the major characters? What can you say about them?
  6. How does the writer appeal to the reader's senses of sight and hearing?
  7. How does the writer build suspense?
  8. What are the conflicts in the story? How are they resolved?
  9. What feelings does the narrator experience throughout the story?
  10. What mood does the writer create?
  11. What is the meaning of the title of the story?

E. Compare and contrast Poe's stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado".

F. Read another story by Edgar Allan Poe and analyze it. What type of story is it? What makes you think so? Tell briefly about its setting and plot, characterize the people in the story, explain their feelings and behaviour. What mood does the writer create? How does he do it? What features of Poes literary method do you see in the story? What did you feel while reading the story? What is your opinion of the story?


Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809. Poe's father and mother, both professional actors, died before the poet was three and John and Frances Allan raised him as a foster child in Richmond, Virginia. John Allan, a prosperous merchant, sent Poe to the best boarding schools and later to the University of Virginia. After less than one year of studying, however, he was forced to leave the University when Allan refused to pay his gambling debts.

In 1827, Poe moved to Boston and enlisted in the United States Army. His first collection of poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems, was published that year. In 1829, he published a second collection entitled Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. Neither volume received significant critical or public attention. Following his Army service, Poe was admitted to the United States Military Academy, but he was again forced to leave for lack of financial support. He then moved into the home of his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Poe began to sell short stories to magazines at around this time, and, in 1835, he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He married Virginia in 1836. Over the next ten years, Poe would edit a number of literary journals including the Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia and the Broadway Journal in New York City. It was during these years that he established himself as a poet, a short-story writer, and an editor. He published some of his best-known stories and poems including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and "The Raven." After Virginia's death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe's life-long struggle with depression and alcoholism worsened. On October 3, 1849, he was found in a state of semi-consciousness. Poe died four days later of "acute congestion of the brain."

Poe's work as an editor, a poet, and a critic had a profound impact on American and international literature. His stories mark him as one of the originators of both horror and detective fiction. Many anthologies credit him as the "architect" of the modern short story. He was also one of the first critics to focus primarily on the effect of the style and of the structure in a literary work; as such, he has been seen as a forerunner to the "art for art's sake" movement. Today, Poe is remembered as one of the first American writers to become a major figure in world literature.

G. Answer the questions.

  1. What kind of family did Edgar Poe come from?
  2. Why is the surname Allan added to his name?
  3. What sort of education did Edgar Poe get? Why didn't he finish his studies?
  4. When was his first book published? How old was he at that time?
  5. Were his first literary works successful?
  6. What occupations did he have during his life?
  7. How old was he when he died? What problems led to his death?
  8. What literary genres is he considered to be the originator of?
  9. What is the significance of Poe's literary works?