The Tell-Tale Heart: Insanity


“And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? … -no, no! They heard! They suspected! They knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror! … Any thing was more tolerable that this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! – and now – again! – hark! louder! louder! louder!  louder!” (Poe 306)

In this near closing passage of the text, I feel like Poe uses the semantics, diction, and punctuation of the English language in order to portray the mental state of the first-person character. Previously in the text, Poe primarily uses commonly structured sentences in order to portray the insanity of the main character. For example, in the main character’s effort to convince the reader that he is perfectly sane, in the very beginning of the text he states, “How, then, am I mad? Hearken! And observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you this story.” (Poe 303). In addition, just after the climax of the story, Poe states, “If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body.” (Poe 305). The irony of the situation is that while, in so logically trying to convince the reader of his sanity, the main character does the exact opposite.

Consequently, as the character begins to lose the sense of false-logic that he has approached in telling the tale to the audience, the reader begins to lose this sense of “sanity” along with him, as he begins to break up his prose writing with frequent hyphens and shortened, one-word sentences. In addition, as in the quote above, towards the very end of this strange tale, Poe utilizes the use of punctuation to emphasize the character’s frenzy as the guilt, in the form of hearing a dead man’s heartbeat, begins to take over the main character as a result. In conclusion, Poe does an excellent job of using the semantics of the human language to demonstrate the emotion of this fictional character as his touch with the natural world is lost.

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