Unreliable Narrators in Poe's Stories

Topics: Annabel Lee

As literature has been around from the beginning of time, many people like to find a deeper meaning in the text. When one reads the text but does not “read” the text, he/she is looking at the subtext. The subtext is essentially the deeper, but the less obvious meaning of a text. When looking at the subtextual level of a literary pie manytimeliness, one finds hints of unreliability, which people find and look for through age and experience. When a narrator of a story is unreliable, he/she usually does not make sense or talks as if they have gone through troublesome times.

For example, one can be unreliable when talking about his/her spouse and constantly praising them about how much love was a thing between them both, but the other spouse is long dead. Time also plays a part for a narrator to be unreliable, as memory gets hazy as time passes by. Two of Edgar Allen Poe’s works are famous for having unreliable narrators; “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee.

” In both works, the narrators are deemed unreliable for different reasons; one is insane, while the other talks about a time long ago. While looking deeper at the characters, one can assume the characters reflect Edgar Allen Poe as a person. It is no doubt that Poe put unreliable characters in both of his works, “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee,” as a way for the audience to read and interpret the works in a different narrative.

“Tell-Tale Heart” is a story where an unnamed narrator tells a story about something that happened in the past, presumably in a mental asylum.

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He begins the story by reassuring the audience that he is not mad, and when he is called mad, he becomes paranoid. He goes on to tell the story where he takes a life of an old man, buries him under the wooden floor of the house, and yet still hears his heart beating. The narrator claims, “I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.” (Poe 2). Hearing a dead man’s heart beating is a sign of insanity. It is just not possible to hear a dead person’s heart beating in any case. Going on from how he began his story, even though he says not to be called a mad man, he is. As the story progresses, neighbors heard a shriek in the night and decided to call the police. When the police arrived, he thought he had nothing to worry about; “I smiled, — for what had I now to fear?” (Poe 3). Being a mad man is one thing, but being a mad man who’s arrogant and proud is another thing. Both of these qualities are of an unreliable narrator as one cannot trust what neither a mad man nor a proud person says. Proud people tend to think they have o mistakes and are on the top of the world. Mostly every person in history and literature who has hubris is known to have an eventual downfall, which is what happens to the narrator in this story. As the police search his house, the narrator begins to hear his this heart beat faster and faster. He tries to act as if nothing is happening on the outside, but cannot let go of the sound of the heart. Towards the end of the short novel, as the police officers were still at his house, he claimed that they knew he sinned, but were mocking him by smiling, laughing, and talking as if nothing has happened. The narrator states “They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror!” (Poe 4). The police were not mocking him in any way, he was the one being paranoid all along of the heartbeat and eventually gave in, and told the police to tear up the planks as to where he hid the body. The narrator is unreliable because since he was the only one who heard the heartbeat, that means that he was imagining things, which takes the reader to take on a whole different perspective of the story.

Seeing that the narrator in “Tell-Tale Heart” is unreliable on multiple occasions, one begins to read the story from a different perspective, which is perhaps what Mr. Poe wanted.

Throughout the story we see the narrator being paranoid and arrogant at the same time, which led to his downfall at the end of the story. In the middle of the story, we see that the narrator chops up the old man’s body and says that there was no blood whatsoever. Maybe something happened in the narrator’s past that has caused him to go insane. Since the narrator talked about the old man’s “eye” a lot, and how it bothered him, he might have been referring to himself, and how he hates himself. One cannot trust the narrator’s words in “Tell-Tale Heart” because his mind is all over the place. However, one can assume that since the death of the old man and the beating of his “heart” was making him mad, this whole story is a reflection of Poe in real wife, and how he became after his closest and dearest passedawayt. At Ate beginning of the novel, Poe also mentioned a disease that he never mentioned again. This may be an indication of the disease that struck his family but did not delve further into it because it gives him horrible memories.

This leads to “Annabel Lee,” as the poem deals with the main character, again, unnamed dealing with the loss of his wife.

“Annabel Lee” is a short, romantic poem about the main character dealing with the loss of his wife. The very first line shows that the narrator is unreliable because he’s talking about his distant past. The narrator says, “It was many and many a year ago, in the kingdom by the sea” (Poe 1-2). There are two things wrong with these lines. One, he’s talking about a time that was long ago. One cannot remember something very clear about something that happened a long time ago. As time passes by, memory gets hazy. Two, the narrator is saying his story takes place in a “kingdom by the sea.” Right off the bat, it sounds like a children’s fairy-tale. The narrator continues to be unreliable at the beginning of the poem as the very next stanza states “But we loved with a love that was more than love – I and my Annabel Lee.” (9-10). One cannot simply state that the love between them and their lover is problem-free. In a normal world, some problems arise from time to time, and then the fact that he’s talking for his dead wife just implies that he’s not to be trusted. If his wife was alive, and she agreed with what he was saying, then fine, but since she is dead, one cannot blindly agree with what the narrator says. Towards the end of the poem, the narrator says, “… And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side” (Poe 38). This is perhaps the most astonishing part of the poem. The narrator is now claiming that he lies down next to the corpse every night. A mentally sane person knows that sleeping in a graveyard is not a good idea.

In “Annabel Lee,” the narrator has portrayed many signs of unreliability. The notion of his unreliability is more astonishing than the unreliability in “Tell-Tale Heart.” One’s view of the narrator in the poem changes drastically. The first and foremost view that changes the most is about the man himself. He talks about his lover from a long time ago. The fact that he has not moved on is just a sign he has gotten nowhere in life. Life is about moving on, and if one does not do so, he can get left back in time, as shown in the narrator. Second, talking about his lover from years back is a sign he also may be a pedophile. An old man talking about a girl in her teens just proves that he has an urge toward young females. The last view that changes on the narrator are the fact that he sleeps with his long-lost lover. Sleeping with the dead is a practice known as necrophilia. If you put the different aspects of the old man together, one can see he is a sick person, mentally and physically. On the outside, “Annabel Lee” may seem like an innocent poem about love, but once one delves deeper, he/she can see the wrongdoings of the narrator.

“Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee” both portray the narrators as unreliable in different ways. In “Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator is seen as a crazy person. While in “Annabel Lee,” the old man is perceived as a sick person. When reading the texts, they seem as if they are normal and nothing is out of the norm. But when one looks at the subtextual level, then only can he/she see the abnormalities. Edgar Allan Poe perhaps writes his works like that for people to interpret his works in different ways, as was done for “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Annabel Lee.” Perhaps also, Mr. Poe’s works reflect his own life. Either way, Edgar Allan Poe’s works are considered one of the greatest in history, as the works reflect the writing inside the work as well, along with the works reflecting his own life.

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Unreliable Narrators in Poe's Stories. (2022, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/the-unreliable-narrators-in-the-tell-tale-heart-and-annabel-lee-by-edgar-allan-poe/

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