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Telltale Heart and Madness

The Tell-Tale Heart and Madness

One of the main themes of Edgar Allen Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart is madness. The main evidence of the characters madness is found in the sixteenth paragraph, the paragraph that begins, "No doubt I now grew very pale". This paragraph shows the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart, a man clearly insane but one claiming that he is not, attempting to function in the real world when he has lost the ability to do so. He is, at the point in time at which the paragraph begins, fully in command of the situation. A hundred words or so later he is a broken man, babbling his confession to the police. Nothing of an objective nature has caused this transformation; it stems solely from his extreme (to the point of insanity) hypersensitivity. Literature term papers show that in this passage Poe employs irony and exaggeration to rather cruelly mock his character's decent into sanity.

The word "mad" does not occur in this passage, but it is found at other places in The Tell-Tale Heart and usually in a sentence that denies that the narrator is mad, e.g. "How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily-how calmly I can tell you the whole story." More importantly, the first sentences in The Tell-Tale Heart show us the narrator admitting to being "dreadfully nervous," but denying that that makes him insane. Clearly, the narrator has thought a great about this issue and, by mentioning it in the way that he does, has revealed to the reader one of the important dimensions of his insanity: an inability to recognize it. He wrongfully equates sanity with the ability to appear calm and the ability to make and execute plans. He believes that he is merely suffering over-acuteness of the senses.

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