The narrator in this tale internalizes "elements of anxiety and fear pushed to an unrelenting extreme" (269). We can see this extreme in the narrator's thought processes as he continues to watch the old man's eye. For instance, he says:
It was open -- wide, wide open -- and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all 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. (Poe 2)
Here we see how the narrator's anxiety has pushed him to an extreme in this scene, a prelude to the old man's murder. The anxiety is produced by the eye and only intensifies as the narrator thinks of it.
This form of fear is transferred to us as we become involved in the story and realize the dreadfulness of the narrator's state of being. Michael Burduck believes that Poe delves into the realm of "pain, decay, and terror" to "enlighten the dark tunnels of human life" (Burduck 102). Madness is never a path that is filled with light and our narrator illustrates this perfectly as he moves closer and closer to the dark side of reason. Nothing illustrates this more than when the narrator decides to kill the old man and does so, neatly cleaning up the mess and successfully hiding the corpse. He admits, "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 search -- search well" (Poe 3). The narrator not only murders the old man but also is proud of the fact and his pride spills over into his conversation with the policemen. Poe demonstrates that fear works best when it is confronted with the painful reality. We are never more frightened than when we face the truth of reality. Poe's narrator is a man just like any other man and that is whey we should be afraid. His steady decline is an illustration of man's delicate frame of mind and it should serve as a warning.
The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story that works from the inside out. We are terrified because we see a trace of realism in the character of the narrator. It is through the narrator's madness that we become afraid - it is difficult to look at this man and not consider the fact that we may know someone like this, or worse, be someone like this. Poe engages us with this kind of fear because we want to know what happens - we want to know how things work out for this madman. The narrator's inner dialogue is the most important aspect of the story because it takes us into the mind of this crazy man. We see how his madness unfolds and that is terrifying. Poe weaves this story around a man that claims to be sane, and is sane enough to write the story and record facts. The narrator's denial is a crucial factor in this tale because he never considers that he is mad. He is driven by his madness and he thinks he is perfectly justified in his actions. His mind has left him and this is frightening because he continues to carry on the most "normal" of ways. In doing so, Poe terrifies us because he knows that nothing g is more frightening than fiction peppered with truth.
Burduck, Michael. "Fear as a Theme in Poe's Work." Readings on Edgar Allan Poe. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 1998.
Parini, Jay. et al. American Writers. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 2003.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Tell-Tale Heart." The Complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Minnesota: Amaranth Press: 1984.
Sullivan, Jack, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc. 1986.
Thompson, G.R. "Edgar Allan Poe." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 3.…