Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

We’re going with a classic this week – that favorite of high school English classes, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Poe packs a healthy dose of horror into this short story, and it’s not what the narrator does – murdering a man because of his blue eye, describing in matter-of-fact manner how he hides the body – as how he tells us what he does. The narrator through the story makes claims to his sanity, but the very things he views as markers of his sanity reveal his madness to the reader.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?—now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

Coloring the story is the narrator’s pride at the murder, and his actions in the week that leads up to it. As he writes early in the story, “you should have seen me.” “The Tell-Tale Heart” is probably as good a lesson in writing horror as exists: it’s not what the narrator does in the story, but what he thinks about what he does, that is so awful to the reader.

Read “The Tell-Tale Heart”

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