LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Poe was one of the first American authors of the 19th century to become more popular in Europe than in the United States;
Dark Romanticism in Poe’s writing:
- He introduced the British horror story (Gothic genre) to American literature;
- Poe’s take on Gothic literature takes it outside the realm of romantic novels, such as Hawthorne’s, as his stories contain graphic violence and disturbing scenarios;
- He created the detective story (interested in puzzles and cryptography), and the science fiction story;
- Poe’s short stories present bizarre incidents, exotic elements, characters living at the fringes of society, and flashes of narrative chaos.
THE TELL-TALE HEART (published 1843)
Genre: Gothic fiction
- Horror elements: dead bodies, strange noises, screams.
- Supernatural elements (the strange occurrences can be attributed to strange supernatural happenings.
- A house, few descriptive details are given. The purpose is to make the story scarier, as it lacks a true physical representation;
- The mood and atmosphere in the setting are more important than the time and place details.
Main theme: love and hate
The similarity of the two feelings is explored in many of Poe’s short stories. This story implies that the two feelings blend into each other. The Gothic terror results from the dual feeling of the narrator, who both loves and hates the old man. The narrator’s madness (another theme) lies in his attempt to separate the old man (whom he loves) from his blue eye (which is supposedly evil and triggers his hatred). The narrator remains unaware of the paradox of claiming to have loved his victim.
- Versions of reality
- Cunning and cleverness
The narrator explains that he is very nervous, but not insane. He claims to be super sensitive to noises. In the past, he was deeply disturbed by an old man who lived in the same house as he did. He claims to love the old man, but also that he is creeped out by the man’s “evil eye”. For this, he decides to kill the old man. For seven days, the narrator goes to the old man’s room at midnight. Because the old man doesn’t open his “evil eye”, the narrator doesn’t kill him. But on the eighth night, the old man wakes up and screams. The narrator kills him, dismembers him, and hides the body under the floor. The police show up, having been called by another man who lives in the house and who heard the old man’s screams. The narrator acts innocent and even takes the policeman into the old man’s room. There, he starts to hear a ticking noise and is convinced that the old man’s heart is still ticking under the floor. He confesses to the murder.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- The narrator – claims to be mentally stable, but uses the story of the murder as an argument for his sanity. He is nervous, paranoid, physically and mentally ill. He can’t perceive the difference between the real and the unreal and seems to be completely alone in the world. He doesn’t share his name or any identifying characteristics.
- The old man – a trusting victim of the murderous narrator. He suspects nothing, as the narrator is nice to him. He is afraid of robbers, but still leaves his door open, as he trusts the narrator. He cannot defend himself in front of his killer.
- The neighbour – he is suspicious of what goes on in the house and calls the policemen when hearing a scream. The reader doesn’t know if the neighbour’s suspicion is directed to the narrator or the old man.
POINT OF VIEW
- First-person, central narrator;
- He tries to prove his sanity and dissimulates his true intentions both towards the old man and towards the reader.
- The tale is told in retrospect, but the narrator preserves the nervousness of the moment. The story also has a sad tone, as the narrator is pathetic and ill. The sadness and the nervousness both define the mental state of the narrator, who is constantly on the verge of a breakdown.
- Short sentences with a high degree of ambiguity:
“Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man.”
- Longer sentences deliver a clearer message than the short ones;
- The sentences are constructed as miniature word puzzles in which each piece reflects an angle of the narrator’s chaotic mind.