“Tell Tale Heart” Presentation


Edgar Allan Poe wrote the “Tell Tale Heart” in the mid 19th century just a few years before his death. In this gothic short story, a nameless narrator, who is in fact very “nervous” but not “mad” and claims to have a disease that heightens his senses. This disease proves to be very problematic because his heightened senses become fixated on an “old man.” This old man’s pale blue eye drives the narrator crazy. He starts referring to this eye as his “evil eye.” On the night in question, he notes that never before had he felt the extent of his powers. Prior to this night, the narrator goes to the old man’s room every night at midnight and watches him sleep. During each visitation, he considers killing the old man, but he cannot see his eyes so he can’t justify murdering an innocent man. However, on the eighth night the old man wakes up and the narrator sees the eye, growing “furious as [he] glazed upon it.” He then attacks him and places the bed on top of the old man so that his eye would trouble him no longer. After, he dismembers the corpse and puts the pieces under the floorboard. Policemen arrive to question our narrator because they heard screaming. The sly narrator explains that was his own screams in his sleep and that the old man is out of town. However, he begins to grow pale and worried and cannot escape a beating noise. He jumps up and confesses to the murder and that the ticking noise is the old man’s heart.

“Unnatural Narrative, Unnatural Narratology: Beyond Mimetic Models” by Jan Alber (et al):

According to Jan Alber, narratives “do not only mimetically reproduce the world as we know it. Many narratives confront us with bizarre storyworlds which are governed by principals that have very little to do with the world around us” (115). Therefore, characters can do things beyond possibility in the physical world. According to the Theory of Mind (ToM), we can understand other people because we construct their minds on the basis of our own. This is reminiscent of our readings that dealt with autism (neurotypicals). Unnatural minds often obstruct this process through narrative features in the text because the narrator’s values do not necessarily match up with the reader’s values. It’s important to note that in Unnatural narrations, the Narrator does not have to predominantly be the ‘I’ voice in the texts.

Unnatural narration often takes place in an unnatural storyworld. Unnatural storyworlds contain physically or logically impossible scenarios and events, along with the aforementioned unnatural minds, which force the reader to construct consciousness that defies the continued conscious frame.

In “The Tell Tale Heart” the narrative challenges the distinction between narrator and narrative. Firstly, the title suggests that the heart can “tell” on someone. The TELL tale heart. So, the heart reveals our first person narrator as the murderer, however, in order for this to work we need to trust that our narrator is actually hearing the heart beating. Or, the heart can be telling the reader a tale. Look at the last passage of the text- it alternates between tenses. There is narration, ongoing and narrated, as well as past narration, which are merging together. The narrator prefaces and says he will be calm in his story telling. The exposure and repetition converge and become indistinguishable. Therefore, it’s impossible to tell which words belong to the supposedly calm narrating ‘I’ and which come from the actual event itself. The end of the passage speaks of the heart. The heartbeat tells a silent story that we cannot find (and neither can the police). As the two converge, we see the unsteadiness of the narrative ‘I.’ This creates an unnatural and slightly confusing narrative. The article quotes James Phelan, a professor at Ohio University to summarize the argument: “the story seems to give us a character so overcome by guilt that he imagines the heart beating so loudly as to be heard, that when he becomes narrator his guilt remains so strong that he loses the calm and retrospection…and his narration is influenced by his once again hearing of the heart as he heard it before”(128). Further, the text has an obsession with eyes. It is not the old man who the I wishes to kill rather his vulture like eye. The old man’s evil eye.

In his 1994 book, In the Metases of Enjoment Slavoj Zizek defines the phrase Ego-Evil. For practicality, I’m using Magdalen Wing-chi Ki’s essay, “The Ego-Evil and The Tell Tale Heart” to define this phrase because can Zizek get kind of dense and hard to follow. The Ego-Evil is about the elevation of self-love. The overidentification with the self’s views and interests, which can lead to a narcissistic denigration of an other. According to Zizek, it’s the most common form of evil. This is something were all fairly guilty of. Hopefully we don’t act out to the extent that our narrator does; however, many times we do things that our good for us instead of good for others. Therefore, The evil-I and the evil-eye both bring about the Narrator’s demise. The Ego-evil blinds (eye) the narrator who judges the old man based on his eye, which mirrors the narrator’s blindness (to his wrongdoings and to the lack of a police investigation). The evil-I becomes synonymous with the evil-eye because they cause one another. (Which comes first?) The evil-I makes the narrator obsessed with the evil eye- or does the evil eye create and evil I? At the end, both eye/I are conquered because the character becomes so overcome by guilt that he looses touch with reality creating an unnatural storyworld and narration.