Point of View in "The Tell-Tale Heart." -- Do you deem me mad?

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[Madness is often influenced by point-of-view and Edgar Allan Poe uses this to instill fear and suspsene into the minds of his readers.  In his piece, "The Tell-Tale Heart" he twists the story into making the reader think that they are the narrators, and this is part of what makes the story so chilling.]

I think that the point-of-view is what drives the plot in this particular piece, and while the reader normally envisions the narrator as being Poe, one doesn’t know who the speaker is, let alone if it is male or female.  I know that I personally always thought the speaker to be male (by instinct?) but when I went and saw this piece performed, it was a woman playing the part.  Now when I read it, it’s almost as if I can see a more feminine touch the words and actions of the character, and I think that also helps with the tone of the story as well, in regards to the pace of the story and the pauses of the linguistics.  For example, the narrator takes a very calm and collected approach when planning the murder of the old man, and does so with extreme patience and subtlety.  [Her] speech is accelerated and sporadic, and I feel like I can see the tenderness of a woman’s hand when [she] peaks through the door and watches him sleep.  So not only does the point-of-view matter, but also the way you envision the character itself.  I’m sure that it is different for everyone that reads it, and it certainly was for me for some time, but after seeing it performed, I’m stuck with the picture of a murderess in mind.

I personally don’t think that the story would have as much of an impact if it was told in second or third person, based on the fact that we are supposedly getting a firsthand account of what happened that night, when the urge and passion from the killer [herself].  To me, first person point-of-you allows you to connect with the narrator on a deeper level, and when the story is a psychological piece, it is important to be able to jump into the mind of the deranged.  It helps understand their motive and way of thinking, and in some cases, justify whether or not they were right in the actions.  For instance, it allows the reader to put themselves in the narrator’s place, and therefore, make their own judgments on the situation at hand.  If the eye was haunting your dreams, causing you to obsess night and day over it to the point of paranoia....to where you were hearing the voices of the heights of heaven and the depths of hell…would you kill the old man? 

 On that note, I also wanted to talk about the reliability of the narrator.  I don’t know if I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the character is very reliable in [her] account of the murder.  I know that there are issues of sanity vs. insanity when dealings with our protagonist, but I think that are leaning towards [her] own views of herself.  Sure, we think [her] mad because [she] killed the old man, planned out the entire murder, and then hears voices that beat obsession and paranoia into her head.  But I’m going to argue that the character is sane for the purpose of reliability in this story.  Honestly, you can tell that [she] is not all there…but hey, everyone has a couple screws loose right?  I think that these voices of heaven and hell [she] was hearing was [her] conscious trying to bribe her one way or the other. [She] knew what [she] was doing, [she] knew how [she] was going to do it, and [she] practiced it several times before hand with the steadiness and tenacity of a calm and sane person.  Sure, in the end her conscious caught up with her, but if you just killed someone, dismembered him, and shoved him under the floorboards because of a weird eye, you probably would feel guilty too…especially with the cops in your house.  Everyone has their cracking point, but [hers] wasn’t on the point of madness. I don’t think that [she] was mad… I think that [she] was intelligent, and threatening with the mind of a maniac….but not mad.  [She] was very sane indeed and very reliable in her telling of the story.  That is what makes the piece so horrifying.    She isn’t afraid to retell every horrid detail of that night, and is proud of what she has done.  So why deem her mad?  Does that make you sleep better at night?

1 Comments

Mike Arnzen said:

Intriguing gender observation here, among other things, Steph. Very creative, too. I commented on a similar subject in Christian Marcus' blog, if you haven't dropped by that one yet. Keep up the great work on your weblog -- it's coming along well.

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