?The Tell-Tale Heart? by Edgar Allen Poe deals with a man’s mental deterioration and his descent into madness. The story focuses on the narrator and his obsessions. It is told from a first person point of view by the protagonist himself. The point of view of the story is important because the reader only has one side of the story to work with. Therefore, the reader only knows what the narrator thinks and sees. This complicates things in deciding why the narrator goes insane. However, the narrator does reveal his insanity, and he reveals it through his obsessions. The narrator’s obsessions include; his obsessions with his own sanity, the old man’s evil eye, and the old man’s beating heart.
?The Tell-Tale Heart? is a story about a man, in this case the narrator, who for eight consecutive nights goes to the bedroom of another man. He stands at the door watching the man sleep with a single ray of light pointing directly at the sleeping man’s eye, an evil eye according to the narrator. On the eighth night, the man is sitting up in bed with his eye open, and the narrator, consumed by the ?evil eye? and the sound of the man’s beating heart races into the room and kills the man in his bed. After the murder, the narrator dismembers the body, and buries the old man under his floor. As the story progresses, the narrator continually expresses that he is not mad. The way that he says this leads the reader to believe that the narrator is trying to convince him or her that he is not insane. However, he is really trying to convince himself that he is ?not mad.? For instance, the narrator, at one point simply says, ?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. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.? The narrator is obviously under some deranged notion that it’s normal to kill someone and hide the body. Aside from that, he is actually proud of his method for disposal of the ?corpse? as he puts it. At this point, it is safe to say that the narrator is definitely insane.
The narrator also has an unusual obsession with the old man’s eye. The idea of the ?evil eye? carries on throughout the story, until finally the narrator snaps, and does something about it. It takes the narrator seven days of watching the man sleep to finally act upon his instincts. He finally catches a glance at the old man’s eye on the eighth night, and he is so enraged by this that he is forced to kill him. This isn’t exactly something that can be considered normal. It can’t even be considered normal excluding the murder for that matter. For a person to be obsessed with something as simple as the color of an eye doesn’t exactly fall into the category of someone who is ?all there.? On top of this, he had no real motive for committing the murder. He even states this at the beginning saying, ?Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!? It’s almost as if the narrator, as he is retelling the story, attempts to make up a motive for the murder. This seems like something childish. The way the narrator says the above line, it almost seems as though he is trying to make his story better. Without a motive, his story might be considered dull, and the reader may lose interest. An ?evil eye? livens the story up, and makes it more appealing to the reader. The way he expresses it however makes it sound as if the eye really wasn’t his motive, and the only thing the narrator could remember about the old man was that the old man had ?a pale blue eye, with a film over it.? On the other hand, it is possible that the narrator really is obsessed with the old man’s eye. It’s possible that he is so consumed with the eye, that he feels that he has to do something about it, and that’s why he murders the man. Regardless, the narrator can be considered insane as a result of both. On the one hand, if the evil eye wasn’t his motive, then he could be considered insane for committing an act such as murder for no absolute reason. On the other hand, if the evil eye was his motive, then his obsession with something as insignificant as an eye makes him insane as well. For example, the narrator goes to such extreme measures to conceal the eye after he kills the old man. He says at one point, ?I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye, not even his, could have detected anything wrong.? The narrator is deranged in fearing the eye of this old man. He describes the old man’s eye in such a way that leads one to believe that the eye is possessed. Obviously, this is an extremely deranged way in describing a body part that almost everyone has. With this in mind, it seems difficult for one to think of the narrator as normal by any definition. He is quite the contrary for that matter.
The beating heart of the old man takes hold of the narrator as well. The narrator feeds on the terror of the old man through the old man’s beating heart. As the narrator ?hears? the beating of the heart grow quicker and louder, he reaches the point where he can’t take it any longer, and lunges into the bedroom and kills the man. More importantly, at the end of the story when the police come to investigate, the narrator has trouble with the sounds of the beating heart again. This is probably the truest indication of his insanity. He even says at one point, ?It grew louder, louder, louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not?? At this point of the story, the narrator ceases to try and convince the reader of his sanity, as if he may be having second thoughts himself. The above line affirms the idea that the narrator can’t really hear the beating of the old man’s heart, and that it’s not simply an ?over-acuteness of the senses.? It shows that the narrator is mad, and questions the credibility of everything he says prior to this. With this in mind, the reader has no choice but to declare the narrator insane.
The narrator struggles to cope with his insanity throughout the story. His obsessions are what truly reveal his insanity. Obsessions affect people in different ways. Some obsessions are healthy. Others can cause a person to do some pretty crazy things much like the narrator. Either way, an obsession isn’t something that merely goes in and out of a person’s mind. This is obvious in the obsessions that the narrator has in Poe’s short story. Whether it was the disbelief in his own madness, the ?evil eye,? or the beating heart, none of these things would merely fade away from his mind. They were at the root of his insanity.