“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, which follows a narrator who has murdered an old man but claims that he is innocent. The character has been taking care of an elderly individual and, eventually, started to fear his eye, which “resembled that of a vulture” (Poe, 1843, p. 1). The narrator’s obsession with this specific physical characteristic has pushed him to commit a serious crime – kill the old man. Therefore, this short story’s central theme is innocence versus guilt which teaches readers to act morally because shame will always expose the truth.
The most obvious example of a literary technique that highlights the theme is symbolism. The man’s eye is a physical feature; however, the narrator feels like it is a representation of his evil soul, and this idea should justify his behavior. He describes the eye as scary: “Whenever it fell upon me by blood run cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man” (Poe, 1843, p. 1).
Moreover, the author uses imagery to emphasize the moral of the story and show how guilt overwhelms the main character. The sound of the old man’s heart is described to provoke the reader’s emotion – “it was a low, dull, quick sound”; the reader could not stand it and confessed to the crime (Poe, 1843, p. 4). Poe also uses metaphor to indicate how the narrator perceives the murder. He repeatedly mentions a watch and, finally, takes control of the other character’s life by saying that “the old man’s hour has come” (Poe, 1843, p. 3). Thus, he becomes a representation of the watch which determines people’s period of existence.
Overall, throughout the reading Edgar Allan Poe uses various literary techniques in order to indicate the main theme and moral of the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Some of them are symbolism, imagery, and metaphor. These interpretive tools help the reader to become emotionally connected to the writing and understand the main theme – innocence versus guilt.
Poe, E. A. (1843). The Tell-Tale Heart. The Pioneer.