Literary Analysis -Tell Tale Heart

An Exploratory Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell Tale Heart

Literary works derive from influences such as diversity, poetic, and literary elements. Sometimes the influence of the author’s lifestyle, and environment, affects ones literary  work. In Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” this literary work conveys figurative, poetic, devices depicting cultural, and literary elements. “Tell-Tale Heart” is a dark, dramatic, presentation of a narrator from an omniscient point of view.  Tell-Tale Heart, as told by a nervous narrator (presumably a male), tells the story of an old man with a creepy eye. The eye has film over it, and the narrator states the eye reminds him of a vulture’s eye. The eye is so creepy- the narrator plots to kill the old man.

The story continues as the narrator tells how he goes to the old man room around midnight while the old man sleeps, and he watches the old man, and his creepy eye. The old man awakens to sounds and becomes sleepless. Eventually, the narrator kills the old man, calls the police, nervously tells them his story, becomes paranoid after believing the heart is beating loudly, tears up the floor board, thinks he hears the  beating of the old man’s heart. He inevitably exposes his guilt.

There are different accounts of this tale. From my perspective, in “Tell-Tale Heart”, the protagonist in the story is the narrator. The narrator is telling the story as a confession but from a third person point of view. The old man’s characterization is one of a static character. His role does not change, so he is also a flat character while the narrator is a dynamic character.

The narrator’s role changes from telling his account of events as a protagonist to an unstable one. He tells of an account as the caretaker of the old man, to the old man’s murderer, for this reason, he is also a round character. Poe skillfully shows the narrator’s instability by using the wording and action of the narrator to show the character’s range of emotions.

The narrator goes from possessing composure to unrevealing. While the narrator believes he is calm, the audience sees otherwise. For example, the narrator invites the police over to the house where the body. He practically leads them to the body. He volunteers information with confidence and arrogance. The narrator’s paranoia causes him to believe the heart of the dead man is beating loud enough for everyone to hear.

The narrator makes statements like,  “You should have seen how wisely I proceeded with what caution-with what foresight” (Poe  303). However, in the end, he cannot accept that he gets away with the deed. Perhaps his confession represents a sadomasochist’s “return to reality after this excursion into the fantastic” (Pritchard, p. 144).

The largest class of rhetorical terms in Poe’s works is indeed that of repetition-the duplication of letters, syllables, sounds, words, clauses, phrases, and ideas (several of which are examined, below), what Lanham calls techniques of argument also abound; “Poe is, after all, an eminently rhetorical writer not only in his literary criticism, where we would expect attempts at persuasion, but in his fiction as well” (Zimmerman, p. 637).

The stereotypical element of “Tell Tale Heart” is age. The class and ethnicity of the old man is not known. Normally when one is of age, one is in need of a caretaker. In the story, the narrator tells of his role as the roommate, therefore, culturally the expectations are for one to care for someone who is of age. In this story,  one relates to the role of the narrator, and in children’ literature, a child can connect to the initial role of the narrator.

Finally, the story of “Tell Tale Heart” is not one that requires emphasis on the diversity of culture because the story line fits any culture. Although the diversity in a culture affects the story line and roles others relate to in literature. Literary works have many elements. Some are  directives of cultural diversity, poetic, structural, or literary. However, the influence of literature is prevalent in literary work, and it affects the way others view their environment.  On-the-other hand the diverse cultural environment affects the way others view literary work.

~Yvonne L



Poe, Edgar Allan. The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Poe. New York: Random House, 1992.

Pritchard, H. (2003). Poe’s the tell-tale heart. The Explicator, 61(3), 144-147. Retrieved from

Zimmerman, B. (1999). A catalogue of selected rhetorical devices used in the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Style, 33  (4), 637-657. Retrieved from


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9 thoughts on “Literary Analysis -Tell Tale Heart

  1. Don Massenzio

    Great analysis. I use this story on my kids all the time as I think it is a great way to depict guilt for something you’ve done wrong. Of course, I’m Italian and Catholic so I have the double whammy of guilt in my DNA.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yvonne Lott Post author

      Hi Don thanks for visiting, reading, and responding. I appreciate the follow as well. Although Tell Tale Heart is one of the literary works children may find intriguing, your way of teaching accountability to your children to depict guilt is quite clever and on point.

      Liked by 1 person


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