The Tell-Tale Heart - Summary | The Heritage of Words

Edger Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart - Summary | The Heritage of Words

The Tell-Tale Heart

The narrator claims that he is not mad as he could hear things in heaven, earth, and hell. To justify himself a saint, he confesses a dangerous crime he has committed. The narrator and the old man used to reside together; they had a very good relationship. The man used to love the old man very much. The old man also used to treat him well. The only thing that irritated the narrator was the eyes of him which were pale and vulture-like. To end the consequences, he went to the old man’s room continuously for seven days. But returned, as he could not see the eyes of the man.

In the morning he spoke politely and behaved as if nothing had happened. On the eighth nights, he, as usual, went there with torchlight. He did everything stealthy and cautiously. Despite it, he happened to touch tin fastening, which dropped and disturbed the sleep of the man. In desperation, he asked who it was. The narrator remained speechless and motionless. A little later his sense brought him the reason that the old man was asleep again, he aimed the beam towards the old man’s eyes. As he saw them, he grew angry. He then jumped towards the man, dragged the man and pressed his neck with the bed. At last, he dismembered the old man’s dead body and put it under the plank. After it, he cleaned the place spotlessly clean. It was already four when he finished the task. At four, the three policemen came because someone had heard a shriek and informed them to investigate. The narrator lied to them that the shriek was his own in a dream and the old man was absent for some days. He welcomed them, brought them to his room and took to every nook and corner of his house. The policemen didn’t suspect any wrong there.

The narrator took them to the spot where he had hidden the corpse of the old man. He cordially asked them to sit on the chair, which he had kept there. He sat there just over the plank whereas policeman continued talking with a smiling face. The narrator, in the meantime, heard the tick-tick sound of a watch coming from beneath. He mistook it as the heartbeat of the old man. He desired to reduce the loudness of the sound. For this purpose, he spoke louder; though it didn’t do any good. He felt the sound growing; he felt the policemen’s smile as the smile of mockery. It became unbearable for him to keep the real secret. He thought it better to confess than to hide. Eventually, he confessed the crime.

Important Questions:

1. Justify the title, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’.
Ans. The narrator is the victim of the nervous disease and over sensitive to hearing. He wants to kill the old man to get rid of the vulture-like eyes of the old man. After entering into the room of the old man with an aim to kill him, the narrator starts hearing a strange, dull sound as if being made by a watch which he believes to be the heartbeat of the old man. After killing the old man, he cuts the body into pieces and hides them under the wooden floor. In the morning, when three police officers arrived there, he starts talking with them sitting in the old man’s room as the police officers don’t find anything unusual. However, while being there, the narrator starts hearing a strange sound which he believes to be the heartbeat of the old man. As he couldn’t stand the sound of the said heartbeat, he confesses his crime and reveals the entire story before the police. Since the supposed heart discloses the secret of the murder, the title The Tale-Tale Heart is therefore justifiable and appropriate to the text.

2. Was the narrator mad?
Ans. Though sanity and insanity is a matter of debate, there are various indications in the story that suggest his madness. The narrator killed an old and innocent man without any concrete reason. He did not hesitate to cut the body of the old man into pieces. Though the man loved him, he did not understand the value of love. Rather he mercilessly killed him. Even after killing and dismembering the body of the old man, he suspected that the old man’s heart was beating. He had no idea that after a man is killed his heart stops beating. The narrator has revealed himself that he is suffering from a disease which causes ‘over-acuteness of the senses’. Over-acuteness of senses is also one sign of madness. He was overcome by homicidal mania. Madmen never repent their wrongdoing. In this story also instead of repenting for his wrongful act, the narrator has tried to prove his sanity. Thus his abnormal behavior suggests that he was truly mad.

Questions for Practice :

  1. Why does the narrator develop intense hatred against the old man? Would you call the narrator mad? Give reasons for your answer.
  2. What made the narrator confess his crime?
  3. Describe the scene when the narrator killed the old man.
  4. What made the narrator confess his crime?

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