“Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! --do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst.”
This passage appears at a key moment in the story, just before the unnamed narrator kills his victim, the old man who lives with him, and whose blue “vulture-like” eye makes the narrator nervous to the point of wanting to kill him. No one other than the old man and the narrator is present in the room at the time. The narrator has, by his own admission earlier in the story, meticulously planned to kill the old man. This passage describes the narrator’s building excitement and nervousness as the moment he has been waiting for approaches. The repetition of the word ‘louder’ is used very effectively to make the reader feel what the narrator is experiencing.
The narrator of the story has been observing the old man for seven nights and waiting for an opportunity to kill him. In the above passage, the old man senses the presence of the narrator in his room and is terrified. His fear causes the narrator, who has convinced himself that he is not mad but suffers from ‘over-acuteness of the sense’, to become more and more excited. He hears the beating of the old man’s heart getting louder and louder as the old man becomes more and more fearful. It grows so loud that the narrator concludes that the old man’s fear must be extreme. It finally grows so loud that it seems to the narrator that the heart is going to burst.
This is the most important part of the story because the old man’s fear has peaked and that in turn has excited the narrator to a point of insanity. Even though the narrator thinks he is not mad, just nervous, it becomes clear to the reader at this point that he is obsessive and unstable. As the narrator describes how the beating of the heart “grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant” until “It grew louder, I say, louder every moment”, his own excitement grows and this excitement is what leads him to actually carry out his murderous intentions. This passage describes the building up of rage, excitement and nervousness inside the mind of a psychopath who derives pleasure from watching his victim in a state of terror.
The narrator begins his story by denying his madness and insisting that he is just nervous and that his senses have been heightened by the ‘disease’. Even though the disease is not named, this bit of information lets the reader interpret the narrator’s actions later in the story in a more rational manner. Neither the narrator, nor his victim is named in the story, allowing the reader to focus only on the narrator’s actions and its consequences. As the old man becomes fearful of the man present in his room, the narrator feels his heart beating quicker and louder. At the end of the passage, the narrator thinks ‘the heart must burst’. Even though the narrator is referring to the old man’s heart, it could very well be his own heart he feels bursting with rising excitement. Later in the story, the narrator hears the heart beating again, even though the old man is dead. At this point, it becomes clear that it is the narrator’s own heart beating because he is nervous of the policemen discovering the corpse. It was therefore, his own heart he heard even earlier in the story, and a clear indication of his insanity.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” 1843. Retrieved from “http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/POE/telltale.html”