Edgar Allen Poe - The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart

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Edgar Allen Poe is a master of the Gothic genre. How does he create a sense of
horror in his readers in `The Black Cat' and `The TellTale Heart'? Jacqueline Warren
Edgar Allen Poe has a vivid imagination which fuels his ability to create horrific
stories. `The Black Cat' and the `TellTale Heart' both written in 1843 and published in a
newspaper and a magazine have impact on readers by Poe's profound understanding of
what will horrify, across centuries. His stories were the first of many gothic novels and
therefore endured criticism from outraged readers who were in favour of traditional novels
which carried a strong moral. Poe lived a turbulent life and after suffering from sporadic
madness, extreme depression and a drug and alcohol addiction it is thought that some of his
content may have been centred upon his personal `nightmares'.
`The TellTale Heart' is written in medias res, halfway through the event or a
conversation but no specific details are given. The story progresses from mystery at the
beginning to suspense and then finally a horrific climax. Throughout this recall of events, Poe
includes many techniques which help to terrify his readers.
A sense of urgency and immediacy is established from the beginning of `The TellTale
Heart' in the dynamic opening sentence: `True! ­ nervous ­ very, very dreadfully nervous'
where the narrator flits between notions, making the paragraph disjointed and unsettled. This
is portrayed by Poe's prolific use of pauses and excessive punctuation these devices
interfere with the clarity and fluency of the sentences giving the sense of drama and disorder.
This individualistic writing style has dream or nightmarelike qualities, in nightmares you may
skip details or events which is mirrored by the erratic nature of the dashes.
The immediacy gives the feeling that the readers become bystanders to the action
this enables the vivid descriptions to have more impact. In addition, the sounds that are
described become alive, `for the hinges creaked' become figments of the reader's
`The TellTale Heart' is written in the first person narrative, which instantly creates a
very intimate connection between the narrator and the reader. The first sentence seems like
a response to a question and it introduces the idea that the narrator may be speaking to
someone. Although they are never explicitly mentioned, it may be a psychiatrist, a policeman
or a judge. The conversational tone continues when the narrator asks `why will you say I am
mad?', this rhetorical question being used to try and persuade the reader that he is sane.
However it is made quickly evident that the opposite is true.
Throughout the story, the narrator asserts his sanity he describes `how healthily ­
how calmly' he retells the story however these adverbs, typically associated with rational
people are ineffectual as it is obvious he is losing his sanity.
In `The TellTale Heart', contradiction is used to show the irrationality of the madman,
although he asserts his reasoning is perfectly logical it seems to portray the opposite. He is
unable to identify the core motive to committing his crime, stating `object there is none'. He

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He also denies he is mad by claiming it is just a disease that has `sharpened his
senses', thus a particular emphasis is put upon his acute hearing where he claims he can
`hear all things in the heaven and the earth', in which Poe foreshadows how the story will end.
Later in the story the same technique is used when he professes `for a whole hour he did not
move a muscle'.…read more

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The macabre arrogance and sense of achievement is shortlived as he
soon `fancies a ringing in his ears' and become pale, suffering symptoms of illness. The rapid
mood change illustrates once again his lack of control and insanity.
In addition to rapid mood changes, Poe also mixes tenses to generate confusion. At
the climax of `The TellTale Heart', as the mad narrator completely loses control, he exclaims
that he heard the noise become `Louder! Louder! Louder!'.…read more

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Poe selects his words carefully to change the mood of the story to describe the
horrific crimes, he uses the strong verb `seize'. His loathing of the cat is described as
`unutterable', this polysyllabic word puts extra emphasis on his intense hatred.
The murder of the narrator's wife is brutally described, `I buried the axe in her brain',
and approached with cold logic and emotional detachment he claims to have committed the
act with `entire deliberation'.…read more

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perverseness is distressing for the readers although the primitive reflex of disobedience is at
the heart of the way we all behave, the extreme of the man's actions makes the story horrific.
Animal abuse is a continual problem, both in Poe's lifetime and in the modernday,
because of this Poe's subject is still shocking and is able to horrify readers.…read more


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