The Tell-Tale Heart Book summary

Edgar Allan Poe

Overview

About

The Tell-Tale Heart is a short story written by the famed American gothic writer, Edgar Allan Poe. The story was published in The Pioneer in 1843 after it had been rejected by Boston Miscellany, and Edgar Allan Poe was paid 10 dollars for the story. The Tell-Tale Heart can be categorized under Gothic Literature, a genre of writing that emerged in the 18th century after the publication of Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, an English writer.

Gothic literature was one of the facets of the Gothic movement that also influenced art and architecture. The genre gained popularity very quickly and was characterized by its focus on the past, irrational behavior, and intense emotions. Before Poe, most Gothic literature had the setting of medieval castles or other kinds of old buildings, and their stories generally focussed on the supernatural. Edgar Allan Poe had urban settings for his stories, and they were more focused on psychological states rather than supernatural phenomena like ghosts and spirits. Gothic literature with the influence of Poe led to the formation of other literary genres like science fiction, detective fiction, and Horror.

Plot Summary

The short story follows the account of a man who claims to be nervous but not mad. He claims to be sane due to the manner in which he set about planning to murder an old man he loved. The old man loved him and had never offended him, but the Narrator was deathly afraid of one of the man’s eyes, which resembled a vulture’s eye. For seven nights, the Narrator goes into the Old man’s chambers in the middle of the night with a covered lamp. Each night he attempts to discover the vulture’s eye but finds it always closed, and so chooses not to kill the man each night. On the eighth night, the old man hears something as the Narrator enters the room, and he sits up in his bed.

The Narrator remains securely hidden in the shadows and slowly opens the lantern cover so that a single ray of light falls on the old man’s clouded eye. As he watches the eye with fear and dread, he begins to hear the old man’s heartbeat which speeds up continually, until the Narrator becomes worried that the neighbors would hear it. He kills the old man quickly and thoroughly erases all traces of the crime.

He hides the man’s body behind wooden floorboards and hears a knock on the door at 4 in the morning. He finds three police officers at the door, who have been sent to search the premises on account of a shriek that was heard by the neighbors. The Narrator is confident in the measures he has taken to hide his crime, and so freely invites the officers into the house, and later into the room of the murdered man. The Narrator soon begins to hear a ringing and thinks that the officers can hear it as well.

He begins to believe that the police are aware of his crime, and are merely toying with him. The anxiety becomes too much for him, and he loudly confesses his crime. He points to the point where the corpse lies, which is the source of the ringing heartbeat the Narrator hears.

  • Author(s)

    Edgar Allan Poe
  • Publication date

    1843

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Horror, Gothic Literature 

  • Pages

    68

Keywords

Literature

Publisher

 James Russell Lowell