Summary Of The Tell-Tale Heart By Edgar Allen Poe : An Insanity Plea
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“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe: An Insanity Plea
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” tells of a murderer who kills a man because he is vexed by his eye. Throughout the story, the narrator continuously assures the listener of his sanity, while ironically indicating through an account of his actions that he is in fact not sane at all. The narrator’s state of mind is generally accepted as not a sound one. However, in looking more deeply into what the character says and who he may be saying it to, his true level of madness cannot necessarily be assumed. In fact, there is evidence that the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is not truly mad. Rather, the story he tells is an insanity plea carefully disguised as the testimony of a madman.
The narrator does not clearly specify who his speech is intended to appeal to, but it can be ascertained that it is likely spoken and meant for an audience, considering his use of the word “you” (“You fancy me mad” (Kennedy and Gioia 36)) and his clipped, inelegant tone. It is likely that he is presenting to a judge or jury, prison authorities, or even spectators gathered for his execution (“Is the Narrator of Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ Actually Insane or Is He Faking It for an Insanity Defense?”). The only people one can reasonably assume are not directed in this speech are the police, as the narrator mentions them at the end of the story using third person. Knowing that the person or persons being addressed likely hold his fate in their hands, the narrator must be careful in recounting the events leading up to the murder.
In recalling the details of the crime, the narrator provides no defense of his innocence—only his sanity. Presuming that his confession to the police and his revealing of the evidence was true, the character’s guilt at this point is indisputable, and he has only his own defense. He accounts the homicide in detail, describing how he expertly crafted and executed his plan, while constantly assuring that he is not mad. The assertion that he makes, however, is a method of reverse psychology. By insisting that he is not mad, he manages to thoroughly convince the judges and jury, and by extension the reader, of his