An Edgar Allan Poe for Our Time

An Edgar Allan Poe for Our Time
AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown

“TRUE! — NERVOUS — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” So begins what may be the most famous short story of all time: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allan Poe. First published in 1843, the story recounts a heinous act — murdering a housemate and stuffing his body beneath the floorboards — and the narrator’s attempt to rationalize it after the fact. While the crime takes up most of the story, the drama lies elsewhere: in the mind of the narrator, as he strains to make sense of the senseless thing he’s done. Poe’s style, all em dashes and italics, is the dark mirror of the agony it portrays: pulled apart by anxiety, the narrator’s mind ultimately comes undone in the story’s final line. Mistaking the hammer of his own heart for that of the dead man, he breaks down the wall between his inner monologue and the outside world: “[T]ear up the planks! here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

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