Edgar Allan Poe, an author of the 19th century, was famous for his short stories and poems. His works often included a dark, gothic theme. People often questioned Poe’s sanity because most of his work featured characters who struggled with their mental states. In Poe’s short story “A Tell-Tale Heart,” he depicts the narrator with an insane mentality by the use of his repetition, erratic punctuation, and the length of his sentences.
The repetition in this passage highlights the narrator’s mental state.
Throughout the passage, Poe repeats the word ‘very’ multiple times. The repetition of the word ‘very’ indicates that the narrator is conscious of his surroundings and responds with a heightened sense of alertness . “I moved it slowly—very, very slowly..’’ Poe reveals that the cautious, alert nature of the narrator ultimately caused him to murder the old man. He is aware of trivial things, such as the old man’s eye. Rather than being able to ignore the eye.
he cannot help but notice and feel threatened by it. Not only does Poe repeat words, but he also includes parallel structure with many of his sentences. The usage of parallel structure is a technique Poe uses to explore the narrator’s sanity. Poe uses parallel structure to show when the narrator defends his sanity. ‘‘The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed—not dulled them.” Ultimately, the narrator is saying the same thing, but by repealing it and adding emphasis with the dashes, Poe is able to exemplify that the narrator is trying to rationalize his behavior to convince himself of his saneness.
Punctuation is another technique Poe uses to indicate the narrator’s insanity. Poe uses a myriad of dashes, exclamation points, and question marks to emphasize this. The exclamation points illustrate the narrator’s revelation as to why he is not insane, for example, “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!” The usage of these exclamation points show that narrator has a burst of emotion while rationalizing the murder, believing that disliking the man’s eye is a good enough reason for why he committed the murder. Having the narrator use question marks shows that he is directly addressing those who are listening to his story, asking “would a madman have been as wise as this?” This shows that he believe his actions are wise, and therefore he simply cannot be mad. Poe uses dashes to connect ideas and show relation between them. He incorporates a sentence, “And observe how healthily-how calmly I can tell you the whole story,” which demonstrates that the narrator believes that recounting a story in a calm manner is parallel with being healthy. Showing that the narrator thinks in such a way, despite committing a murder, truly shows his madness.
The length of Poe’s sentences vary throughout the passage. Poe begins by including sentences such as, “I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult.” These are short and very straightforward. However, Poe gradually introduces sentences with great length when describing the murder and the process behind it. The sentences describing the love of the old man are short and devoid of detail. Describing the reasoning behind the murder in longer, more drawn out detail shows that the narrator inadvertently illustrates that it was reasonable for him to murder the old man. Had he not been insane, he would explain more in depth about the old man and his love for him, however he focuses on explaining the lengthy murder process in detail. This shows that the narrator is proud of what he has done because he holds himself to be so wise and sane, while he questions whether “a madman would have been as wise as this?”
Being questioned often about his sanity did not stop Poe from writing about mentally unstable characters. The sanity of Poe’s narrator in “A Tell-Tale Heart” was easily determined from this passage. Through the use of repetition, punctuation, and the lengdh of his sentences, Poe was able to express his character’s insane mentality.