This study guide will help you analyse the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will summarise the text and focus on structure, themes, setting, narration, and characterisation.
Presentation of the text
Title: “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Genre: Short story
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American writer. His poems and short stories deal with macabre themes, horror, thriller, and mystery. The short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was first published in 1843 in The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine.
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The title of the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe has both a literal and a symbolic meaning.
In the literal sense, the title reflects how the sound of a beating heart makes the narrator confess his crime. “Tell-tale” as an adjective means something that indicates or gives evidence of a certain thing. Therefore, the beating heart indicates the murder of the old man and drives the narrator to provide evidence of his guilt.
In the symbolic sense, the tell-tale heart reflects the guilty conscience of the narrator. The narrator begins hearing the sound of a beating heart right before he commits the murder: “there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart”. The narrator gets infuriated and scared by hearing this sound, as his fixation with the man’s eye makes him overlook his guilt.
The fact that the narrator worries that neighbours will hear the man’s loud heartbeat suggests that the narrator tries to hide his guilt. However, the guilt returns when the narrator is directly confronted with the consequences of his actions, in the form of the police showing up at the narrator’s door.