Ol’ Evil Eye and the Theme of Madness

“”Research ; Writing Analytical Paper
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
November 19, 2003
Among others, the theme of madness can be seen throughout this entire
story. It is even revealed in the very first paragraph. Who begins telling
a story by screaming a single word then spitting out fragments and
rhetorical questions? Edgar Allan Poe uses strategies such as these to show
his readers just how crazy the main character is. As the story progresses,
this madness only increases as the main character reaches his final
breakdown.

Going back to the opening of the piece, there are numerous hints of
madness throughout this paragraph. As far as punctuation goes, there is
excessive use of hyphens and exclamation points. Poe also uses certain
words to hint at his theme of insanity. In this paragraph, a few examples
are “nervous, mad, disease, destroyed, and hell.” He also utilizes
repetition in this paragraph to mirror the way a madman’s mind might work,
saying over and over again “Am I mad?” This use of rhetorical questions
makes the reader wonder whether the main character is asking the reader or
himself if he is mad.

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The second paragraph lacks a bit in the use of hyphens and
exclamation points but fragment sentences are common. By paralleling the
sentences “Object there was none. Passion there was none,” Poe draws the
reader’s attention more directly to what he is trying to say. This is very
similar to the third paragraph in which the narrator repeats many things,
as if he’s so desperate to get his point across he feels he needs to say
things twice. He repeats the words “closed, very slowly,” and “cautiously.”
Poe also hints at the character’s delusion of intelligence as opposed to
his denial of insanity (“Madmen know nothing.”) This paragraph ends with
unusually long sentences, which make the narrator seem as if he were
rambling. This is a stereotypical characteristic of a madman.

The next paragraph contains a hyperbole as well a symptom of madness.

The narrator claims he has “powers” and “sagacity.” This self-absorption is
common to those victims of mental illness whose experience extends to
insanity. The following seven paragraphs contain characteristics such as
this, as well as the repetition, fragment sentences, excessive hyphenation,
and exclamation use mentioned before. Within this part of the piece, there
are eighteen hyphens and eleven accounts of repetition. This is a very high
number for such a short piece. These tools that Poe uses in his story add
to the theme of madness and make it apparent that the main character is
slowly progressing into insanity.

In the next five paragraphs, Poe uses the same strategies he used in
the first part of the story. However, some appear to be more important than
before such as the narrator’s rhetorical questions to the readers (or to
himself). He asks, “What did I have to fear?” then soon after he asks
again, “What did I have to fear?” This combination of repetition and
rhetorical question is not common to this story. Therefore, it appears more
important to the progression of the plot. This seems to be foreshadowing
because of the fact that he did have things to fear.

The last two paragraphs of the story are, in my opinion, two of the
most important and relevant elements of the plot. They illustrate the theme
of madness better than the opening or even the body of the story. From the
beginning, it becomes apparent that the character of the narrator is the
sole passenger of a slow downward spiral into complete clinical insanity.

These paragraphs contain not only the climax of the story, but also
undeniable proof that the narrator is in fact insane. Poe makes this
obvious through the use of the same strategies found throughout the entire
paper. However, these strategies seem to be multiplied and condensed within
these paragraphs. This magnifies the theme of madness.

First of all, there are eighteen hyphens in these paragraphs, which
separate the narrator’s sentences into short, choppy fragments. This
strategy makes the account seem as if the speaker is frantically recounting
his experience. The twenty-two exclamation points add a hysterical tone to
this part of the story and almost cause the reader to feel as if he were
being screamed at. As the narrator says “I talked more fluently, and with a
heighten voice,” his account of the story acquires those very same
characteristics. As the speaker’s tone quickens, it parallels the speed and
volume of the hastening heartbeat. As the main character remembers,
“foaming, raving, and swearing,” the reader feels as if he is witness
to the violent outburst of a madman. When describing the heartbeat as
growing “louder-louder-louder!” one can imagine the speaker’s voice growing
louder-louder-louder. Rhetorical questions fill this paragraph and ask over
and over again “What could he do?” The narrator even cries out to God,
screaming “no, no!” Soon the narrator is ranting. His tone is frenzied and
his sentences are short. The only punctuation used is exclamation points.

The speaker even gets to a point where he is simply repeating a single
word: “Louder! Louder! Louder! Louder!”
These final paragraphs are the epitome of madness. The narrator’s
character is revealed as the insane person he really is. In these two
paragraphs, the hints and subtle illustrations found throughout the paper
come together and multiply to form the perfect picture of insanity. This
was Poe’s intent as well as his central theme.