Study Guide

The Tell-Tale Heart Time

By Edgar Allan Poe


"The Tell-Tale Heart"
The Narrator

And this I did for seven long nights – every night just at midnight. (3)

It seems Poe is reminding us that we are in fact in a Gothic tale, where all bad things have to wait until just after midnight before they can play.

A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. (4)

This is an amazing line. The narrator sees himself as a kind of clock, counting down to the old man's death.

[N]ow, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. (6)

The heartbeat could be thought of as each person's personal internal clock. When it stops, so do we. Note that, just after this, the narrator says he knows the sound is the man's heart beating (when he's still alive). In fact, the narrator makes a big deal about knowing this. Go to the next quote to see why we are making a big deal, too.

It was a low, dull, quick sound – much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. (9)

Ha! It's almost the same line, but three paragraphs later. This time the narrator has no idea what the sound is until it gets much louder. He's forgotten something he knew just a few hours ago.

It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. (3)

This strange time management technique suggests extreme loneliness. We learn later that the narrator has problems sleeping at night (and probably during the day). This moment is when we first begin to notice there's something funny going on with time.