Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Role of Conscience in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

"Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony!"

Possibly the most obvious and most stated of all themes presented in this tale is one of guilt. The guilty conscience of the narrator is typically viewed as the central, overarching theme of the entire story. It presents a very unique set of questions about the duality of the narrator's character, and perhaps Poe's point is that fine line that exists between the good and evil in all of us. This being, if the narrator is the insane, horrible, psychopath that we think he is, does the sane part of his being show through in his guilt? Is this a redeeming quality, or is this just the act of a raving lunatic, thinking he can hear the heart of a dead man through the floorboards?

These questions are fully debatable, but one thing is for sure, even though the narrator cannot recognize it for what it truly is, it is clear to us that it must be the guilt and remorse he subconsciously feels that inevitably brings him to turn himself in. After all he was completely in the clear. The police were satisfied and all he needed to do was sit through a simple conversation in order to get away with murder. But in his almost perfect triumph over the high hand of the law he hears a ringing in his ears, something that changes the entire outcome of the situation. The ringing increases and increases until he can no longer take it, and in his mind he thrashes about like a madman, but the police chat idly by until he screams, "Villains! dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here!". He mistakes the ringing for the heart of the dead old man, when in reality it is the beating of his own heart that he cannot escape. Tucker says it best when he writes, "For it is his own heart, his tell-tale heart, his conscience, which cannot hide from the all-seeing eye of God, which betrays him".