E. A. Poe – “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)

The Tell-Tale Heart or The Unseen Visions

One might wonder, when reading Poe’s story, what makes this text so effective in creating tension and unease. A possible answer could be the use of an exaggerated sense of hearing as a symbol for imagination.

If we take the eye/the sense of seeing as symbolizing the (real) knowledge, then the sense of hearing, in this tale, could be interpreted as another kind of knowledge – the unseen one, the type of knowledge that may or may not exist, the knowledge that can be distorted or even manufactured by imagination. This imagination is also used when we read, this making our reading experience be similar to the hearing experience narrated in the story. Its effectiveness is increased by using a very rational, detailed and meticulous description of a profoundly irrational act/behavior, the narrator inviting us to “observe how healthily—how calmly [he] can tell (…) the whole story” (p. 187).

The imagination is mistaken by the murderer/narrator to be a case of “over acuteness of the senses” (p. 189) and a sign of sanity. The narrator “[fancies] a ringing in [his] ears” (p. 191), which became “more distinct” and “gained definitiveness,” as, maybe, the guilt settles in, to finally realizing that “the noise was not within [his] ears” (p. 191).

The subconscious guilt, amplified by a mad imagination makes the killer hear things. “The noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder— louder—louder!” (p. 191), and the madness finally overwhelms the malefactor, making him confess to his crime.

The unseen visions created by Poe’s (and our) imagination are what makes us feel the events described in this tale so vividly, thus making it an immortal story.

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 Works cited:

 The Portable Edgar Allan Poe (http://mikicafilolosko.pbworks.com/f/The+Portable+Edgar+Allan+Poe.pdf)

The Tell-Tale Heart – 1953 animation, narrated by James Mason:


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