Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart can be described as a short story that hovers around the theme of crime and murder, and the short movie also justifies the duration of the story. The movie is more of a narrative; the protagonist is seen continuously describing his mind and moves directly to the camera. The movie can be categorized as being quantitative because of the attitude of the protagonist right through the movie. He says that he has no personal hatred for the old man, but it’s his vulture’s eyes that seem to make him go cold inside. This instigates him to kill the old man so that that piercing eyes don’t look at him anymore. Not much is told about the old man except that he likes to live in the lodge. Therefore, the focus of the study can only examine the components of the behaviour of the murderer. The story, because it transpires through the eyes of the murderer alone, is short of suspense and limited in scope.
Edgar Allen Poe can best be described as a writer who was seriously influenced by neo-Gothic interests. A great American writer, Poe was attracted and influenced by the eighteenth and nineteenth century horror writers, and it’s no surprise that most of his work was based on horror. In viewing Poe’s short movie, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart, it is evident that the plot was influenced by neo-Gothic practices where, horror, supernatural, darkness, death, madness, mystery and deceit featured prominently. The whole movie is shot inside the lodge and in near total darkness. In addition to this, we see the fall of the protagonist; a theme that reverberates Gothic parody. These characteristics therefore, collaborate with the settings of gothic writers who, “not only evoked the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrayed the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world” (De Vore et al., n.d).
The protagonist’s characterization harbours on insanity and instability. Poe lived in a time when such display of mental instability rocked trials, where, the guilty could escape death by declaring him/her to be insane. Nowhere was the controversy hotter than in the legal arena, where defences on the grounds of "moral insanity" began leading to acquittals of violent criminals who seemed in perfect possession of their senses. “Public suspicion of deception in such insanity pleas became widespread, and by 1840 trials featuring such defences were major events, their proceedings splashed in detail across the front pages of the nation's daily newspapers. In the highly publicized trial of Singleton Mercer in Philadelphia in March, 1843, two months after Poe's story, "The Tell Tale Heart," appeared, the defence attorney himself acknowledged in his opening statement that the insanity defence had become "an object of ridicule," for having been used where no insanity existed” (Amper, 2005).
Poe worked and lived in Philadelphia at a time when issues of insanity echoed through the halls of the judiciary. This can be seen by further reading the publication of James Cowles Prichard’s book on moral insanity. “Prichard, in his book said that a person who was insane, while retaining his intellectual faculties, was considered incapable of conducting himself with decency or propriety. This seemed a suitable alibi for those who committed heinous crimes” (Amper, 2005). Not surprisingly, public suspicion of deceit became widespread, and trials featuring such defences hit the headlines in national newspapers.
In order to create an atmosphere juxtaposing the gothic era, the movie shows an old dilapidated building which houses the lodge where the story is played out. Its dark and raining and not many lights can be seen from adjacent buildings. Right through the movie, the protagonist speaks in deafening silence until he finally declares his guilt to the murder of the old man to the detective and policeman. Speaking in the first person, the protagonist uses a number of rhetoric to diligently to convince the audience about his justification to act the way he did. The movie begins by showing the protagonist in isolation in a cell. He begins by saying, “I can’t recall how the idea gets in my mind.” He then goes on to say that, “I loved the old man; he never robbed me or insulted me.” When he asked the old man whether he slept well, and got an answer, the protagonist, while closing the door behind him said, with a smile on his face, “He expected nothing.” What really triggered his mind to do the inevitable was the old man’s ‘vulture’ eyes, which he says, seemed to make him go cold inside. He had therefore, to kill the man to stop the eye from looking at him.
According to Pritchard, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" provokes his audiences by engaging them on the premise of, ‘why was the beloved old man murdered by his housemate?” Pritchard continues by observing that “the actions of the narrator, combined with his insistence that he is not mad, lead readers to determine that he must suffer from some psychological disorder.” Upon close examination, a sadomasochistic element does emerge, ends Pritchard (2003). However, “it has been suggested that it is not the idea but the form of his madness that is of importance to the story,” cites, Quinn (1957)
Poe worked and lived in Philadelphia at a time when issues of insanity echoed through the halls of the judiciary. The period between 1838 and 1844 was notorious for the many cases, where criminals were acquitted despite committing major crimes including murder after pleading to be insane. Much before things like this happened, insanity pleas were heard only in the defence of idiots or raving maniacs, and this trend was carried forward and used to good effect later on by defences on the grounds of moral insanity. In the characterization of the lodge mate, Poe was able to portray the qualities that dominated the walls of the judiciary during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Amper S, (2005), Why Will You Say That He Is Mad? Re-examining "The Tell-Tale Heart," Bronx Community College, CUNY retrieved February 23, 2014, from http://www2.lv.psu.edu/PSA/2005MLA.html