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The Tell-Tale Heart Study Guide


The Tell-Tale Heart Study Guide

The Tell-Tale Heart Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a classic horror story that has captivated readers for generations. With its chilling narrative and unreliable narrator, the story presents a unique opportunity for students to explore the complexities of human psychology and the power of storytelling. This blog post presents a study guide for "The Tell-Tale Heart" designed for students and educators alike. The study guide provides a comprehensive analysis of the story's themes, characters, and literary techniques, as well as discussion questions and writing prompts to encourage critical thinking and engagement. Through this study guide, students can deepen their understanding of Poe's masterful storytelling and the psychological underpinnings of the story's narrator. Our hope is that this study guide will be a valuable resource for educators teaching Poe's work and for students seeking to enhance their literary analysis skills.


A dark house, late at night 


The tell-tale heart is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It is a Gothic horror story told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who confesses to murdering an old man because of his “evil eye”. The narrator tries to prove his sanity by describing how he planned and executed the crime with meticulous care, but he is haunted by the sound of the old man’s beating heart, which he believes the police can hear as well.


The story explores themes such as madness, guilt, obsession, paranoia, and violence. It is an example of Poe’s use of unreliable narration, as the narrator’s account contradicts his claim of sanity and reveals his distorted perception of reality. The story also employs Poe’s technique of creating suspense and horror through the use of repetition, imagery, sound effects, and dramatic irony.


The narrator: 

The protagonist and narrator of the story, who suffers from a mental disorder that makes him obsessed with the old man’s eye. He claims to love the old man but kills him anyway. He is tormented by his own guilt and fear of being caught.

The old man: 

The victim of the narrator’s murder. He is described as having a pale blue eye with a film over it, which the narrator calls a “vulture eye”. He is unaware of the narrator’s hatred and intention until the night of his death.

The police: 

Three officers who arrive at the scene after a neighbor hears a scream. They search the house but find nothing suspicious. They chat with the narrator, who acts calmly at first but then confesses to the crime when he hears the old man’s heart beating.



The main theme of the story is madness, as the narrator tries to justify his irrational and violent act by claiming to be sane. However, his narration reveals his delusions, hallucinations and paranoia, which undermine his credibility and logic. He is unable to control his emotions and impulses, and he suffers from a distorted sense of reality.


Another theme of the story is guilt, as the narrator is haunted by the consequences of his crime. He feels remorse for killing the old man, whom he claims to love. He also feels fear of being discovered and punished. He hears the old man’s heart beating louder and louder, which he interprets as a sign of his guilt and conscience. He eventually confesses to the police in order to stop the sound.


A third theme of the story is obsession, as the narrator is fixated on the old man’s eye. He describes it as an “evil eye” that makes his blood run cold and fills him with horror. He believes that it is watching him and mocking him. He decides to kill the old man only because of his eye, not because of any personal or financial motive. He spends seven nights watching the eye before he finally acts on his plan.


The eye: 

The eye symbolizes the narrator’s obsession and madness. It is the only reason why he kills the old man, and it represents his distorted perception of reality. It also reflects his own guilt and fear, as he feels that it sees through him and accuses him.

The heart: 

The heart symbolizes the narrator’s guilt and conscience. It is the source of his torment after he kills the old man, as he hears it beating louder and louder. It also exposes his crime to the police, as he believes that they can hear it too.

The lantern: 

The lantern symbolizes the narrator’s methodical and calculated approach to murder. He uses it to shine a single ray of light on the eye every night, without disturbing or waking up the old man. He also uses it to hide his presence in the dark room.

Literary Devices

Unreliable narration: 

The story is told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, who contradicts himself and reveals his insanity through his words and actions. He tries to convince us that he is sane, but he admits that he has heard things from heaven and hell, that he has no motive for killing the old man other than his eye, and that he hears his heart beating after he is dead.


The story uses repetition to create suspense and horror. For example, the narrator repeats words such as “mad”, “nervous”, “eye”, “heart” and “dead” throughout the story to emphasize his state of mind and emotions. He also repeats phrases such as “I heard a slight groan” and “It grew louder, louder, louder” to build up tension and climax.


The story uses imagery to create a vivid and frightening picture of the events. For example, the narrator describes the eye as “a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones” and “the damned spot which no goad could reach but with these hellish tools”. He also describes the sound of the heart as “a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton” and “a muffled sound, that increased in volume and beat with a hurried drumming”.

Sound effects: 

The story uses sound effects to create a sense of realism and horror. For example, the narrator uses onomatopoeia to describe the sounds he makes and hears, such as “chuckled”, “groaned”, “shrieked”, “chimed”, “rung” and “thumped”. He also uses alliteration to create a rhythmic and musical effect, such as “stealthily, stealthily”, “cautiously, oh, so cautiously” and “louder, louder, louder”.

Dramatic irony: 

The story uses dramatic irony to create a contrast between what the narrator thinks and what the reader knows. For example, the narrator thinks that he is sane and clever, but the reader knows that he is mad and foolish. He thinks that he has committed the perfect crime, but the reader knows that he has left evidence behind. He thinks that the police are unaware of his guilt, but the reader knows that they are suspicious of him.
Mr. ‏El-Sayed Ramadan ‎ ‎


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