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37 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1843

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Themes

The Line Between Madness and Rationality

The work’s main theme is that of madness, specifically the denial of madness. The story’s premise focuses on the narrator denying and attempting to prove that they are not mad. Ironically, the criminal’s attempts to convince the audience that they are sane have the exact opposite effect, as it becomes clear that while they display patience and forethought, their decisions and actions are not based on rational thought.

The narrator attempts to convince their interlocutor that they are not mad by recounting how carefully they planned and executed the crime. However, this only exposes that there is absolutely no logical explanation behind any of their actions. When the narrator admits to “smil[ing] gaily, to find the deed so far done” (Paragraph 11), he does not realize that this reaction is abnormal and indicative of a disturbed mind. One of the story’s most chilling aspects is that the narrator cannot tell whether or not they have lost their ability to reason. The narrator is convinced of their sanity, suggesting that the same could happen to any of the story’s readers. Everyone believes in their own reasonable and logical behavior, which means that only an external observer could discern the presence of madness.

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