The Ambiguity of Guilt and Pride of the Main Character in “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Po

The short stories created by Edgar Allan Poe commonly present outstanding and complex characters whose feelings and actions captivate readers’ attention and analytical thinking. The short story under the title “The Tell-Tale Heart” presents such a character. The person who committed a seemingly perfect crime is subject to the ambiguity of feelings of pride for the planned murder and guilt, which ultimately leads to the confession.

The main character of the story is the narrator, whose name and gender are not explicitly revealed. However, there is one mentioning of madmen in the story, which implies that a narrator is a man. Given the circumstances in which the reader encounters the narrator, the readers are introduced to a disturbed and unstable character, whose logic, however, attracts and encourages understanding of the reasons why he committed murder. It is the first-person narration that allows the writer to create depth and complexity to the character. Since the description of the events is delivered through the lens of feelings that overflow the narrator’s mind, his features are presented in a full range of attempts to reason and unreasonable explanations. Such a perspective allows the readers to see the events with the eyes of a man expressing the traits of insanity.

The opening paragraph sets the overall characteristics of the narrator. The main character expresses his feelings of nervousness and admits some “disease” that “had sharpened” his senses (Poe 622). The narrator uses the sharpness of hearing as a validation of his sound mind. However, instantly after that, he claims that he heard the sounds on earth, in heaven, and in hell (Poe 622). This strikes the reader with the idea that this person might be an unreliable storyteller whose perspective is not necessarily objective. The narrator is a complex character, whose insanity provides him with a strong belief in his superiority in planning and committing a murder, but whose acute feeling of guilt causes him to collapse and confess.

The main character of the story is passionate about his actions, eager to find an explanation, and proud of the well-planned murder he committed. The narrator seems to be eager to find the reason for the killing of the old man himself. Indeed, when describing the idea of the murder, he explains that he “loved the old man” who “had never wronged me, had never given me insults” (Poe 622). His rational side tends to necessitate the explanation, but the madness in him finds it in the old man’s eye. Importantly, the narrator does not acknowledge his madness throughout the story. In fact, he uses multiple attempts to prove that he is in sound mind because of the precautions he took to cover his crime. Indeed, the narrator argues that an insane person would not so cautiously “dismember the corpse” (Poe, 624). Such an idea validates the disturbance of the man’s mind that finds pride in immoral and unlawful actions. Ultimately, the guilt overflows the narrator, whose mind creates the illusion of hearing the old man’s heartbeat that makes the narrator confess to the police.

In conclusion, the narrator, as the main character in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” is a mentally unstable person who commits a crime but fails to acknowledge the wrongdoing due to madness. On the one hand, the man is proud of his wit and acute senses that allowed him to plan and commit the murder so smoothly. On the other hand, he is very nervous, anxious, and guilty of the committed crime. Nonetheless, the reasons for the ambiguous feelings are mental illness, the perspective of which helps the writer to create a complex and captivating character.

Work Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Compact Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, edited by Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, Cengage, 2016, pp. 622-625.