Edgar Allan Poe is valued in the literary circles as one of the greatest masters of fiction and poetry who dealt with the psychological spheres of human life and his celebrated fictional works represent the best psychological studies of human beings in their life circumstances. This has been well recognized in the literary criticisms that there are not many writers to challenge the genius of Poe in the analysis of human mind. It is evident that Poe, in his best literature, achieves sharp insights into the mysteries, processes, and terrors of the human character without exhausting our shared inner life of its basic mystery. “
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After all the attacks and denigration, after all the emphasis on his dubious metaphysics or even more unfortunate personal pathology, we can still go to Poe’s fiction for illumination that writers of a more psychologically sophisticated era are oddly handicapped from providing.” (Shulman 245-262). Therefore, one of the most important research areas concerning the fictions of Poe’s fictions involves the questions such as how the author uses the psychology of the characters in his fiction and what makes them most relevant in literary circles. In this paper, this significant theme is analyzed in one of the most celebrated fictions of Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and it is most relevant to regard the story as the best illustration to the psychological concerns of this master craftsman in the American literary history.
The merit of the short stories of Poe in the psychological analysis of the human mind has been ever recognized. In fact, “few literary topics seem more conducive to psychological analysis than the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Throughout many of his stories appear the same irregular and fascinating themes: morbidity, powerful yet inexplicable anxiety, reanimation, and “over acuteness of the senses.” (Thorn). There have been large volumes of criticism written on the psychological interests of Poe as they are reflected in his fictions. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is considered to be one astonishing piece of art dealing with the inner spheres of human mind as replicated through the experience of the protagonist. And, therefore, the short story deeply involves the questions of human life and it, most significantly, treats “the unconscious as a perpetual and powerful threat to the conscious.” (Thorn). It is significantly the working of the inner self or the perpetual threat of the unconscious to the conscious that leads the protagonist to the ultimate confession of the crime even when he is not literally haunted by the police officers. The psychological interpretation of the mental process in the character reveals the fact that he, on the other hand, is haunted by his own conscious and the very presence of the officers.
“No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound … the noise steadily increased… Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! … Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! … I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!.” (Poe).
Thus, the unconscious mind reminds the character of the murder that he committed and haunts him when he is in the presence of the officers. All these inner workings of the mind of the character have been most skillfully reflected by the author as if they were felt in his own mind or conscience. The general success of the Poe’s fiction in dealing with the conscious of the characters is evidently reflected in this piece as well. Poe’s most forceful fictions symbolize varied and often pathological characters. “Yet if we suspect that consciousness, in literature, is “a fictive appearance generated by language, rather than something language describes or reflects,” then we must attend to the devices by which fiction creates the illusion of representing a consciousness.” (Bloom 135).
In an analysis of the short story by Poe, it is crucial to consider the underlining theme of the story and evidently it is the nature of human beings in relation to their actions. The nature of every man is a subtle balancing between dark and light or good or evil. When one is able to keep the balance the life runs smoothly. However, there are moments when this balance is lost and this gives opportunity to the dark to prevail over the light or the evil to overpower the forces of good. In a person who is controlled by the forces of darkness begins to act in the ways the mind does not wish. There is always the tendency in the human mind to be controlled by the power of the evil forces. The story gives evidence to one of the ways how the mind of the humans is controlled by the powers of the evil. The reason behind the emergence of the “dark side” varies from individual to individual.
When we push one individual “over the edge” it will only result in a raised eyebrow in the other. In the story, “vulture eye” of the old man makes the protagonist’s blood run cold. “It is this irrational fear which evokes the dark side, and eventually leads to murder… The narrator repeatedly insists that he(she) is not mad; however the reader soon realizes that the fear of the vulture eye has consumed the narrator, who has now become a victim to the madness which he had hoped to elude.” (Womack). The earnest renderings of the character against his own madness can be taken too factual. However, the conscience of the character questions the normal behavior of the character at a time when he is faced with the problem of revealing the truth of the murder he committed. The contribution of the author to the reader’s psychological understanding of character’s mind also is worth mentioning. The author works as a masterly figure in the development of the psychological interpretation of the character’s mental activity in the reader. Thus, the character fails, at the hands of the author, to hide the psychological spheres of his mind from the readers. It is, therefore, true that “[w]hat has been hidden within the self will not stay concealed….” (Silverman 208).
To engage in a more reflective analysis of the story, the central character of the story murders an old man just because there was something in him that the former could not bear. When the policemen comes for investigation and he welcomes them and offers them practically complete admission to his house, and recommends them to “search well,” while the incriminating object is hidden underneath the ground. In the same way, Poe offers the reader apparently unlimited access to his mind, and invites the reader to investigate his mental setting, and the incriminating or hazardous thoughts or desires lie underneath consciousness within the subtext. The heart beating that appears to climb above the floor emerges as “the unconscious subtext that continually threatens to penetrate the text, to become explicit; and just as the discovery of the beating of the heart would inculpate the story’s narrator would the emergence of the unconscious subtext expose the author.” (Thorn). Thus, the author seemingly renders the maximum opportunity to the readers to go into the depths of the character and investigate the invading realms of his mind.
In this psychological reflection of the main themes of the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” it is of paramount importance to make clear that the very development of the story needs to be comprehended in the psychological analysis of the author’s skill in dealing with the particular theme. Most significantly, the story involves a psychological interpretation in more than one way. It is commonly agreed that two primary motifs are evident in the story and they are the recognition of the speaker with the man murdered and the psychological treatment of time. The narrator explains that he understands his victim’s horror just as he is about to kill him, and the beating heart he mistakes for the old man’s must have been his own. “Throughout the story the narrator is obsessed with time: the central image of the heart is associated with the ticking of a watch, the nightly visits take place precisely at midnight, and time seems to slow and almost stop as the murderer enters the old man’s chamber.” (Major Themes). This is the main theme of the story and as we understand this is concerned with the psychological skill of the author.
There are also several other ways of interpreting the story. In one interesting analysis of the other themes of the story, we recognize the psychology of the character is revealed through the various themes that are developed through the narration. The theme of the eye, which is considered to have a twofold connotation, just like the external “eye” of the old man is seen in contrast to the narrator’s internal “I”. Many have indicated that “the symbolism in the work is highly structured and intertwined, so that the various themes—of death, time, nature, inner versus outer reality, the dream, the heart, and the eye—work together for accumulated effect. Other concerns by critics analyzing the story include Poe’s influences in writing the story, the nature of the narrator’s psychological disturbance, and the relationship between the narrator and the reader of the tale.” (Major Themes). In this regard, we may very well consider the story as providing the most relevant interpretation of the author’s power of treating the mental aspects of the characters.
In conclusion, it is important to state that the story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by E A Poe provides us with the tool to measure the author’s ability of treating the inner spheres of human mind through the characters. Therefore, we rightly recognize that the author, in the most effective way, uses the psychology of the characters. The story deals with the internal struggles of the narrator’s mind and reveals how the conscious is perpetually haunted by the unconscious.
Bloom, Harold (ed). The Tales of Poe. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1987.
Major Themes: The Tell-Tale Heart” Edgar Allan Poe. Enotes.com. 2008. Web.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale Heart. 1843. Web.
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Shulman, Robert. Poe and the Powers of the Mind. Stor. 1970. Vol.37. No.2. Web.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.
Thorn, John. The Tell-Tale Art: A Psychoanalytic Study of Poe’s Short Stories. Thorn Pricks. 2007. Web.
Womack, Martha. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The Poe Decoder. 1997. Web.