Poe's Stories

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Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) Character Analysis

A man who declares himself of sound mind before telling his story, yet that story seems to refute his original assertion. His hatred of the old man’s evil eye consumes him to such a degree that he spends every night waiting for it to open so that he can feel sufficient rage to kill the old man. But though he calculates and waits, his guilt and paranoia after the crime, which he has hidden perfectly, become too much for him in front of the police and he confesses.

Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) Quotes in Poe's Stories

The Poe's Stories quotes below are all either spoken by Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) or refer to Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Poe's Stories published in 2006.
The Tell-Tale Heart Quotes

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) (speaker), The Old Man
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story tries to explain why he killed an old man. The narrator's explanation is that he didn't like the man's eye--which, according to the narrator, resembles the eye of a vulture.

For Poe, the eye is the ultimate symbol of man's irrationality and unpredictability. The eyes are the window to the soul, and thus for the narrator to be repelled by an eye is for him to be frightened by an inexplicable, irrational fear of another person's soul. Put another way, there is no rational motive for the narrator's act of murder--as he makes very clear, he doesn't kill the old man because he hates him, or to get his gold. As with so many of the bizarre and frightening things in Poe's stories, there is no real reason for them to happen; and yet they happen all the same, making them all the more uncanny.

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And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? – now, I say, 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. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator of the story has now murdered the old man and buried his body underneath the floorboards. As he sits in the old man's room, talking to the police, he begins to hear a strange ticking sound--a sound which he believes to be the beating of the old man's heart.

As we can guess, there is probably no actual heartbeat in the room. One could argue that the narrator, full of repressed guilt for his actions, has projected the sound of the heartbeat, undermining his own carefully planned murder. It's also possible that Poe intends the heartbeat to be a supernatural event--the old man is haunting his murderer from the grave, forcing him to divulge his secret to the police. In either case, though, the narrator's greatest enemy is his own irrational mind and his "over-acute" senses. Try as he might to get away with a crime, the narrator's own fear and anxiety destroy his chances of getting off scot-free.

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Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) Character Timeline in Poe's Stories

The timeline below shows where the character Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) appears in Poe's Stories. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Tell-Tale Heart
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" defends his sanity – he says he is nervous, but that he can not be... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" thinks we must suspect him of madness again, but we will be dissuaded when we... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
On the eighth night, the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" is particularly gleeful about his sneakiness. He marvels at how the old man knows nothing... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
For an hour, the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" keeps very still and can sense the old man is awake, listening for intruders. The... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
After a while, without any change to the old man’s obvious alertness, the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" opens the shutter a tiny bit and emits a ray upon the man, and sees... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
As the power of the heart and the eye cease, the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" ’s calm patience return and he says that if there was any doubt that he... (full context)
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
When the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" is finished, it is four o’clock, and he hears the chime of the clock but... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The calm manner of the narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" puts the policemen at ease, and they sit and talk, and the narrator talks animatedly... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Tell-Tale Heart" talks faster and louder to try to cover it up and now, panicked, paces the... (full context)