The Tell-Tale Heart Introduction
In A Nutshell
"The Tell-Tale Heart" is a famous short story by American author Edgar Allan Poe. He first published the story in January 1843, in the short-lived Pioneer magazine. "Tell-Tale" is about a nameless man who kills an old man for a really strange reason, which we won't give away here. The nameless man tells the story of the murder to prove he is not insane.
Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts to actors Elizabeth and David Poe, both of whom died before Poe's second birthday. Shortly thereafter, Poe moved to Virginia to live with the childless couple John and Frances Allan.
His biography has fascinated scholars and readers for a long time, and nobody can quite pin him down. Many scholars agree that he was a heavy drinker and was addicted to the drug laudanum. There is much gossip, speculation, and fabrication regarding the man's death, but he probably passed away as a result of drug and alcohol-related complications. He died October 13, 1849, at Church Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (source).
Poe believed that a perfect story should be readable in one sitting, that it should be a tightly controlled, highly compressed narrative that hit on topics to which everybody can relate. Weighing in at ten precise paragraphs, "Tell-Tale" is an excellent example of Poe's theory of writing. For more, check out his essay "Philosophy of Composition."
Why Should I Care?
If you like stories that test and sharpen your analytical skills, while scaring you with portrayals of the extremes of human behavior, this is the tale for you. It's also only ten paragraphs long, so you can read it in one sitting, which is what Edgar Allan Poe had in mind. He believed that if a story isn't read through in one sitting, much of the impact is lost (source).
This story is an attempt to create an extremely brief piece packed with as much information as possible, though perhaps not the kind of information we get in many stories. No names. No locations. It's as if the narrator meets you, by chance, in a dark café and tells you his darkest secrets, knowing he will never see you again. The information we get is secret information, the kind of things we don't hear everyday.
Since it's fiction, you can look at it objectively and, in doing so, learn more about your own feelings concerning murder, confession, and related topics. If you have to think about these things, why not use a guy like Poe, who thought about them most of the time, it would appear, to help get you thinking?