Monday, September 17, 2007

Summary - The Tell-Tale Heart

Less of a summary and more of a tragically underdeveloped treatise on the inherent power in the effective manipulation of rhetoric, this week I write about Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.


The art of the narrative opens the door to limitless possibilities for style. The development of this style is absolutely imperative in creating the ideal environment in which the story will take place. Equally important, however, is perspective, for it is perspective that is responsible for the way in which the reader relates to the material. Horror writers in particular rely on the manipulation of perspective to evoke reader response. The tales of Edgar Allan Poe, the heralded master of macabre, are fine examples of the effectiveness of well-developed style and perspective, as the majority of his works place the reader inside the mind of the main character, or else as a sort of confidante. Poe's short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, is no exception to this rule.

The Tell-Tale Heart tells the story of a man's deadly obsession with a physical imperfection which drives him to murder. The tale is often told in short, exclamatory bursts, which become more frequent as the plot progresses. This fragmented style helps to give an already-bizarre story a surreal, disjointed edge. The story is presented from the first-person perspective of the culprit, who continually asserts his sanity to the reader. The narrator attempts to support his suspicious claims by recounting the increasingly bizarre measures that he took in the plotting and execution of the murder, his increasingly fervent and repetitious words confirming the extent of his madness as he finally cries out in an imagined agony a confession of guilt.

There is certainly more than rhetoric to be held accountable for the success of a tale, but it's important to note that the story would not have been as effective had it been written from a more detached point of view. Edgar Allan Poe weaves a careful tapestry of the bizarre and grotesque, mingled with the unsettling paranoia of a stark madman; these elements combine with frightening efficacy to make The Tell-Tale Heart a truly harrowing read.


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Nick Woll grew up in the Florida Keys, and is furthering himself in the fields of writing, software development, and web design. You can contact him at nwoll27 at gmail dot com.