John De Cleene English Harris Due: December 2, 2010 Horror and Tension Within The Tell Tale Heart Edgar Allen Poe is most famous for his remarkable gothic fiction stories. In fact, some would almost consider him to be the father of them. One of his most recognized pieces is The Tell Tale Heart. This particular tale tells the story of a man who in the end turns out to be insane when he hears the beating of a dead man’s heart. The narrator kills an old man who did nothing wrong. The only thing that made the narrator kill the old man was the old man’s “vulture eye. If it weren’t for the literary devices used by Poe the tale would not be what it has become. He creates an atmosphere of horror and tension by focusing greatly on the different elements of stories and using them in the specific ways to toy with the reader’s mind. Poe’s descriptions, style of language, and other elements used in The Tell Tale Heart help to create the atmosphere of horror and tension that make this tale so bone-chilling. One thing that truly makes a story what it is would be the story’s setting.
The Tell Tale Heart is set in a mansion, it seems, by the descriptions that Poe uses, “And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him…” When one thinks of chambers it is usually linked back to mansions. Mansions are thought of as enormous and spacious places that seem to continue on forever. A mansion with only two people in it, the narrator and old man, would feel very empty and bare. While reading the tale one would also feel very empty and bare because that is the kind of sense the setting gives them.
Another way Poe uses the setting to create his atmosphere is while the narrator is spying on the old man through the door, “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened…” The words he uses generate a feeling of claustrophobia. “Thick darkness” and “shutters were closed fastened” both make the reader feel cramped and agitated, as if there is nowhere to escape. There is a feeling that it is too late to turn back and you are trapped with no way out. Even in such a spacious mansion, you are trapped for good.
Another element that Poe uses to create such a horrific atmosphere is the point of view from which the tale is told. Throughout the tale we only get one person’s point of view because it is told in a first-person narrative. This allows the reader to get inside the narrator’s mind and truly understand what he is thinking. In the beginning the unnamed man introduces himself. He tries to convince the reader that he is sane, “TRUE! -nervous -very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? ” Though over time as we get to know the man better he starts to show signs of being insane, “I knew that sound well, too.
It was the beating of the old man’s heart. ” It is not possible for the narrator to hear the old man’s heart because he had just killed him. He killed the old man, cut him up, and buried him under the floorboards. It is impossible for the heart to still be beating, and any man who would believe so is insane. The narrator hallucinates the sound of the beating heart. Listening to a man who has proven to be insane makes the reader unsure of what is going to happen next. Anything can happen with the man and you do not know exactly what is going to next. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because at any moment he could lash out and go crazy.
If the tale was told by the policeman, for example, the reader could not come to the conclusion that the narrator is insane and the reader could not get into the narrators mind. Another thing that the first-person point of view does is that is can drag the reader into the tale. Throughout the tale the narrator keeps referring to the reader as “you”, “TRUE! -nervous -very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? ” By addressing the reader as “you” it drags the reader into the tale. They aren’t just reading the tale anymore; they are now a part of it.
They get sucked in and now feel what the narrator feels. They now experience what the narrator experiences. Style and language in The Tell Tale Heart is another story element that Poe uses to create his atmosphere of horror and tension. His use of metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, punctuation and dictation help make the story so spine-chilling and blood-curdling. Without theses story elements Poe’s tale would not be what it has come to be. Metaphors are used to help people understand something by comparing it to something else that is more understandable, “He had the eye of a vulture -a pale blue eye, with a film over it. This metaphor shows how the narrator saw the eye. He didn’t just see it as any other eye; he saw it as more. He thought of it as a piercing eye from a vulture. In the tale the narrator tells the reader that the reason he wants to kill the old man is because of the old man’s eye. This metaphor helps the reader understand truly how much the narrator didn’t like the old man’s eye. The reader starts to understand the narrator more and more and can now begin to truly understand the narrator’s insanity. In addition to metaphors there are similes.
Similes are similar to metaphors because they are also used to compare and contrast objects or ideas. They are formed when words are put together that almost create an image in your mind. Poe’s use of similes also helps contribute to his atmosphere of horror and tension, “black as pitch. ” This simile gives the reader an idea of exactly how dark it is. It is impossible to see, no light at all. Since this simile is used the reader now has a true understanding of what the narrator sees and they now almost feel as if they are in the story themselves. Personification is another story element that Poe uses in his tale.
Personification is used to bring objects or anything abstract to life and give it human-like qualities, “Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. ” With this use of personification is Poe’s tale death is now brought to life and has now become part of the story. Since death now has human-like qualities it can do things that contribute to the tales in ways that it could not before. The personification of death makes death a reality to the reader, which creates a feeling of horror. Another story element along with personification is alliteration.
Alliteration is the repetition of certain syllables or sounds in a group of words one after the other, “It is the beating of his hideous heart! ” In Poe’s tale the use of this alliteration gives the reader a sense of anxiety because the narrator is starting to become very nervous. This is the very last line in the tale and it leaves the reader with a feeling of uneasiness. That is because the narrator is starting to become very edgy and skittish. Poe also uses specific punctuation to make the narrator seem very tense and jittery, “Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -no, no! They heard! -they suspected! they knew! -they were making a mockery of my horror! ” Here Poe uses a hyphen to create a sense of anxiety by making the narrator talk in a skittish way. The narrator is starting to become uneasy and the reader can tell he is starting to go crazy. It is uncertain what is going to happen next. Lastly, the specific dictation Poe uses is another story element that contributes to his atmosphere of horror and tension. Repetition is common in The Tell Tale Heart, ”It grew louder -louder -louder! ” Here the narrator repeats himself while describing a constant sound that he hears that will not disappear.
His repetition creates a feeling of agony for the reader because the narrator is becoming very nervous and jittery. The narrator is starting to go crazy at this point and what is about to happen next is uncertain. The atmosphere of a story makes a story what it is. Different atmospheres can make two stories completely different. To create his atmosphere of horror and tension Poe created a very suspenseful ambience, “And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously -cautiously (for the hinges creaked)… ” At this moment the reader is on the edge of their seat, not wanting to move a muscle.
Throughout the whole time while the narrator is trying to open the door the reader is still, as still as the narrator, “Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. ” The reader is sucked into the story and cannot move, fearing that the old man might wake up. The reader acts as the narrator does, barely moving their hands. Poe’s atmosphere in The Tell Tale Heart is thought to be bone-chilling, and that it definitely is. Edgar Allen Poe’s tale, The Tell Tale Heart, is one of the most famous gothic fiction short stories ever written.
His use of different literary devices create an atmosphere of horror and tension, and without them the tale would not be what it has become. In the beginning of the tale the narrator tries to convince the reader that he is perfectly sane. Though throughout the story the reader is proven otherwise. He starts to become insane and go crazy. All throughout the story the reader is on the edge of their seat, unsure of what is going to happen next. Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic fiction tale undoubtedly has an atmosphere of great horror and tension.