Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” was written under the influence of gothic literature that emphasizes the human fallibility and evil instincts everyone possesses. In “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe mentions that the subjects should be extraordinary to affect the readers profoundly and let their emotions come into play. Thus, “The Tell-Tale Heart” creates a strong fear for the reader as dark romanticists put emotions over rationality.
The characters of gothic literature mostly fail in their attempts. To give an example, the main character tries to prove that he is sane but none of his actions are rational, which also shows that he has psychological problems. The narrator, in the beginning, says that he will tell the story “calmly”. However, it is understood from the exclamation marks that he is not calm but excited and sometimes furious. The contradiction the main character creates and also the repetition of the word “mad” emphasizes that the narrator is not sane. Thus, it can be said that he is an unreliable narrator imagining an old man.
Being paranoid and illogical, the main character becomes disturbed by the old man’s eye and wants to kill him. However, no normal person dismembers an old man because of his vulture-like eye. After taking his life, the narrator hears the old man’s heartbeat by means of his imagination. He hears the heartbeats because the effects of sin are shown in gothic literature as the dark romanticists believe that everyone possesses evil instincts and they are fallible. Therefore, the protagonist feels guilty and confesses the murder while expressing the imaginative sound to the police.
However, the murderer and the old man only exist in the narrator's mind, who shows schizophrenic symptoms. The old man symbolizes his fear of aging and death. Thus, the main character thinks that he will beat the dead when the old man is killed. Also, he makes time references countless times indicating his fear of death. In the story, the narrator uses the words “I” and “eye”, repetitively. “I” is emphasized since the main character has problems with himself and he wants to stay young and healthy. “Eye”, which is pronounced in the same way as the word “I”, is stressed because the protagonist is afraid of “seeing” himself as an old man having wrinkles and grey hair like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray who puts his portrait away so as not to see his perfect younger self while getting older day by day.