#LitLove: Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart

The #LitLove series is a bimonthly collaborative blog event with Topaz, AnQi, Christina, Taylor, (nicknamed ATTAC by Christina) wherein we each express our literary love for different books under the same overarching theme/topic/author. For a more detailed backstory, take a look at the first #LitLove post. This month, we're delving into the darker writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

Pssst, thank you to all the amazing grasshoppers who filled in my commenting system survey! If you haven't yet, mind taking like 1.4 minutes to fill in a 3-question survey? Takeout all around!

Who is Edgar Allan Poe, really?

In Wikipedia's words: Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction.

In my words: Guy with terrible hair who writes dark horror short stories or poems normally fixated around an unattainable/dead woman. Beautiful words, terrifying imagery.
With such a delightfully morbid author, I had no trouble picking out one of the creepiest short stories he wrote, The Tell-Tale Heart.

It's a short story about a person who is trying to convince you he's not mad while at the same time telling you how he brutally murdered someone. Extremely convincing.

The Tell-Tale Heart in a nutshell:

"I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?"

"Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing."
I love how intimately the narrator speaks to the readers. The most dangerous (and hence the best) villains are the ones who don't see their actions as wrong, their mindsets as warped. Our main character starts of telling us how he is not mad, but in such an unsettling manner that we can't help but doubt him.

His sweeping generalisations just seem to hook themselves in your mind. I heard many things in hell. Madmen know nothing. Poe is a master of manipulating fear, and pathetic as the narrator soon becomes, you can't help but cower a little at the force of his conviction.
"Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim."

"But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall."
Poe being Poe, of course, death is prominent throughout this story. Our narrator murders an old man with an "evil eye", but continues to hear his victim's heartbeats. Undermines the "I'm not mad" routine a little.

But see how beautifully death is portrayed. Death stalks, he envelops. The heart beats on, muffled. The visceral images reel you into the story, slowly, until you live the story right by our not-quite-right-in-the-head MC.
"Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder!"

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! --here, here! --it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
The police come around to investigate the murder. Our dear friend holds up for a little while, but soon cracks under guilt. We're never really told that's the case, but the repeated emphasis on how the victim's heart beats on, the increasingly shrill tone of the narrator (yes, it gets shriller, just read those quotes out loud) — it's all too clear our narrator isn't half as composed as he claims to be.

The Tell-Tale Heart is a heartrendingly beautiful story of madness and murder. (Two of the three in my motto, what more can you ask?) It's a story that taught me so much about the unreliable narrator, the way guilt creeps up on even the most unrepentant villains, and how easy it is to break a person. An evil eye. A beating heart. Au revoir.
And don't forget to check out the others' posts:

Topaz Winters: The Bells
AnQi Yu: Annabel Lee
Christina Im: The Masque of the Red Death
Taylor Lynn: The Raven

What's your fav Edgar Allan Poe story/poem? Thoughts on Tell-Tale Heart?

Twitter-sized takeout:
Read more murder and madness in my monthly musings to you! (Also, bonus alliteration.)


  1. I first read the Tell-Tale Heart in eighth grade for my class; I don't think it sunk into me then as it did when I later read a graphic novelization... That was creepifying. Annabel Lee is probably my favorite Poe work that I'm familiar with (I have a recording of my Grandpa singing it on my computer) but the Tell-Tale Heart is also a big one that is important. I should read it again. Except my collection of all of Poe's works is not at my house. Blah.

    1. Oh wow, there's a graphic novel. That would definitely be creepy. AnQi's doing Annabel Lee this time round, and it's actually my fav Poe poem as well. (Poe poem, hehe.) You should absolutely read it again. And I'm pretty sure the Poe works are online somewhere, so have fun reading!

  2. I've only read a couple of Poe's poems, and that was a long time ago. What I'm really interested in reading are his short stories. And The Tell-Tale Heart sounds so delightfully morbid that I'll have to give it a try.

    1. His poetry is great too, but he's more famous for his horror/gothic short stories. Tell-Tale Heart is definitely worth a try!

  3. "The Tell-Tale Heart" was the first Poe work I ever read—our sixth grade lit/history teacher had us read it for Halloween. I remember being seriously unsettled by it (pro tip: it's not a great idea to give Poe's horror work to an easily frightened eleven-year-old), but I was also fascinated by how well-executed the story was. You bring up some of my favorite things about the piece—the unreliable but very intimate narration, the building tension, the seriously disconcerting imagery. Oh man, such a great story.

    It was great collabing with you + the gang as always, Alyssa!

    (Also, I see you have made your blockquotes pretty. Props to you.)

    1. I think The Tell-Tale Heart was also my first Poe work -- I do believe I read it without any clue who the author was, so it's not specifically logged there in my brain. And wow, eleven? I must have been thirteen at least, so that is hardcore. And yes, just rereading it for this post elicited so many squees.

      (Thank you! Fiddling with CSS is my favourite procrastination pastime.)

  4. I've never read any Edgar Allan Poe, although I've been meaning to for a while. Tell-Tale Heart sounds really interesting :)

  5. Oh, wow, this is the first of Poe's works that I read, and probably one of my favourite short stories (though his poetry will always hold the biggest place in my heart!). The imagery is gut-wrenching and the narration is delightfully capricious - I think Poe is a master of the shadow just behind the curtain. The unsaid things add more to the story than the words on the paper, and that's something not a lot of authors can do.

    Lovely post, Alyssa - and now I'm off to reread The Telltale Heart again, just for a trip down memory lane!

    1. Ooh, looks like The Tell-Tale Heart is the first of a few ATTAC members' Poe works. And yes, Poe's writing is very capricious, and of course that description is THE BEST. Subtext is so hard to pull off!

      Great to work with you and everyone again!

  6. I've heard of Edgar Allen Poe (who hasn't?), and my favourite POEm of his is a beautiful, sad thing called Annabel Lee. This made me want to read his story now, the passage you included have powerful imagery and I'd love to feel the anticipation of the ending. Also, dark horror is the bomb. >:)

    1. Poe really does open up a lot of possibility for puns XD I do love Annabel Lee as well! I didn't have a lot to say about it, though, so I chose Tell-Tale Heart for this round. Do read this, the imagery and dark horror are to die for :D

  7. I've always loved Poe's works! I studied his poem in 7th grade, which is called Annabel Lee. It's about a man who fell in love with Annabel and visited her grave everyday, even if she'd died. You're right, Poe likes to make his poems depressing and incredibly dark, usually about a woman he loved or the pessimistic feeling. It's his thing ^_^"

    But I like it. And I like this poem too! It's my first time hearing about the poem! I'm going to go Google the entire poem now and read it. It just sounds so intriguing and mysterious! :D

    Jillian @ Jillian's Books

    1. Mmm, looks like Annabel Lee is fairly popular amongst the comments! I did love that poem, especially the lines about the kingdom beyond the sea. I think Poe practically popularised the Lost Lenore trope.

      It's actually a short story! But I'm glad you found it interesting -- that is the point of #LitLove :D

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  9. I've got to admit that most of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories aren't my favorites, but I do love his poetry, especially "Alone" and "A Dream Within a Dream". He also apparently invented the modern detective story. I think that, whether you like Poe or not, the style and the "feel" of his stories are very powerful...his stories sort of creep into your head and infuse everything you're thinking about.

    1. Mmm, yes, his poetry is definitely fabulous. His writing style is so distinctive and definitely creepy. *shivers* Oh yes, it's interesting because he seems to write a lot of gothic and horror stuff, but apparently mystery was started by him too! A wonderful person, if slightly out-of-control hair. XD


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