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Ok, I am doing a school project; A five minute speech on "The Tell Tale Heart"...and I would like some information. 1. Why was Poe sharing that house with the old man? 2. Were they related? 3. How old was Poe when he wrote this? 4. How long has we shared the house with the old man?
-- Anonymous, December 10, 2000
OK Halley, here's some help! First point.... this story is a psychological thriller told in the first person narrative so that the reader can see into the mind of a madman that is contemplating murder for a reason that he, himself, justifies as ridding himself of the old man's evil eye. The deranged narrator is attempting to convince his audience that his sanity is intact by relating his brilliant stealth and planning for the murder. It is a fanciful story of fiction and not an autobiographical account of Edgar Allan Poe taking up residence with an old man with an afflicted eye.
There are no clues that would indicate why the narrator was living with the old man. At best, we may suppose that the narrator was, in some manner, apprenticed to the old man to learn a trade or even, perhaps, simply renting a room in his home. Personally, I am more comfortable with the apprenticeship notion merely because it suits my purpose and logic. You may develop your own cause and effect that best suits your purpose.
There is no indication, even by inference, that there was a family relationship between the old man and the narrator. There is a vaguely discernable inference that they were not related by blood. This is the fact that the narrator felt compelled to tell us that he had no wish for the old man's gold, that the old man had never wronged him or given him insult. His repeated use of the term "old man" as opposed to using his name also implies no relationship except that of master to apprentice. This lack of clarity on this point is not unusual in Poe's stories and leaves this up to the reader's imagination.
The first publication of the story was in the Pioneer Magazine in January of 1843. Poe would have been about 33 years old.
There is no discernible evidence anywhere in the tale that would indicate the duration of the narrator's residence with the old man. In fact, we presume he lived with the old man and not vice-versa. If my personal suppositions are at all accurate, some apprenticeships lasted many years. However, the point is that it is not relevant to the story and adds nothing to the sense of fright or horror of the narrator's crime.
One fascinating fact about this tale and about Poe in particular is that on April 1, 1840, Poe wrote an article for Alexander's Weekly Messenger entitled "The Trial of James Wood." This was an article about an actual case of a man, James Wood, being acquitted of the crime of murder for killing his daughter, Mrs. Sarah Ann Peak. In the article, Poe addressed the seeming premeditation of James Wood in calmly purchasing pistols to effect the assassination of his own daughter and of the evidence given in court of a state of extreme agitation seen in Wood prior to the murder. Wood was acquitted by reason of insanity but was legally confined until the Court was assured he was again of sound mind. Interesting bit of coincidence? I don't think so! : )
For those interested, this article by Poe can be found at: http://www.eapoe.org/works/misc/awm40m02.htm
-- Anonymous, December 10, 2000