Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe

It's quickly shaping up to be 'one of those weeks', so here is my Tuesday version of Short Story Monday. Yesterday was a gorgeous day - birds chirping, bright sunshine, record heat - and, for some reason, it was Edgar Allen Poe that caught my eye as I was leafing through the Norton Book of American Short Stories. I must have read The Tell-Tale Heart in high school, but decided to revisit it anyway.

Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) wrote The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843.
It was originally published in The Pioneer, a Boston-based magazine. This Gothic classic is one of Poe's most famous stories.
It is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator who lives with an old man. The narrator is insistent upon convincing the reader of his sanity. The story begins:

"TRUE!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I have been and am. The disease has sharpened my senses-not destroyed-not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I have heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily how calmly I can tell you the whole story. "

The old man has an eye that distresses the narrator:

"One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture - a pale, blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees - very gradually - I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever."

The narrator then carefully details his account of of killing the man and offers up the eight-day, time consuming ritual as proof-positive against his insanity. A scream heard during the night by a neighbor prompts the police to investigate. The narrator has meticulously cleaned the crime scene (the chopped up body has been hidden beneath the floor boards) and is happy to invite the police in to look around. He hears a faint noise, which becomes increasingly louder, and is convinced it's the dead man's beating heart. Sure that the officers also hear and suspect his crime, he confesses and instructs them to pull up the floor boards.

There was an "Oh, yes, I remember now!" moment when I'd finished. The Tell-Tale Heart is a great story, but probably better suited to a dark and stormy night. You can read it here.
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9 comments:

  1. I read this in high school and wondered why we couldn't read more stuff that was this good. So many misses and so little hits in my high school reading. Good thing I supplemented with books of my own choosing. I agree...a perfect one for a stomy night.

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  2. I have a horrible confession to make: I have never read a single work by Edgar Allen Poe :(

    I know he is a masterful writer and I even have a collection of his short stories, but I just haven't made the time to read them.

    Is there one (or two or three) that you would suggest I read first?

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  3. I think I probably first read this in school, as well. But, I've reread it many times since. I really like Poe's short stores. They're disturbing in a fun sort of way.

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  4. BookPsmith -
    From what I've seen, some of the tired old stuff is still being taught. Thankfully, newer titles that appeal more to the kids have been added. Senior year in high school I took a 'novels' elective that was great, but before that the books were pretty painful.

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  5. Molly,
    The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven are two I read in school. I will search for more when the mood strikes - Poe is a very good writer!

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  6. Lisa -
    I like how you put that -
    'disturbing in a fun sort of way'!
    Halloween, or a dark and stormy night, would be a good time to read more of his stories.

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  7. The allure of the story will for sure make it sooner for me to re-visit, as I tend to read the anthology around October. I feel my heart ticking away too reading this! :)

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  8. Matt - I will definitely be reading more of Poe's stories in October, too!

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  9. Ah Classic! The only author I've read the complete works of.

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