Summary of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart is a well-known American short story written in ten paragraphs. This is a tragic story. It has long been admired as an excellent example of how a short story can have an impact on the reader. Poe (1809-1849) was a prolific American writer. He published around seventy stories (Silverman, 1993). He is regarded as a well-known author of psychological thrillers and horror fiction.
This Edgar Allan Poe story appears to be a boastful confession of a criminal. He keeps insisting that he is not insane, which makes him appear even more so. He explains how he had to kill his neighbour because the old man’s evil eye bothered him. For a week, he would slowly open the door to the old man’s apartment and peer in on him sleeping. He did not kill him because he did not see the eye.
On the eighth night, as he peered in at midnight, the narrator chuckled at the thought of the man not knowing what he was doing, and perhaps the old man heard it because he was startled awake. He inquired as to whether anyone was present. The narrator froze. After a long wait, he decided to open the lantern slightly, and a single ray fell upon the old man’s eye. The narrator could hear the old man’s heart pounding in fear. The beating became louder until the narrator was afraid the neighbours would hear it, so he decided to attack now. The old man shrieked once before the narrator dragged him to the floor and piled the bed on top of him. He waited until the heart stopped beating before pulling himself off the bed and examining the body. The old man had died. He dismembered the body in a tub to collect the blood, then buried the pieces beneath the floorboards. He washed everything carefully and finished around four a.m. A knock at the door revealed three police officers who had been summoned in response to a strange shriek overheard by some neighbours who were wondering if foul play was involved.
The narrator calmly invited the cops inside and encouraged them to search the area. He explained that the old man was away in the country and that he was the one who screamed as a result of a bad dream. In his supreme confidence, the narrator even brought chairs into the room on top of the floorboards where he had buried the man and invited them to sit and rest. His own chair was positioned directly over his body. As they talked, the narrator became aware of a noise coming from the floorboards. He recognised it as the beating heart of the old man. He tried to talk louder to cover it up and wondered if the cops could hear him. He knew they had to hear it, and they had to suspect what he had done. He finally had enough and told them to tear up the floorboards to find the dead body.