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To analyze the theme of insanity in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, would require a definition of insanity. The American Journal of Insanity defines insanity as a chronic disease of the brain, producing either a derangement of the intellectual faculties or a prolonged change of the feelings, affections, and habits of the individual. Legally, one is considered insane if they are unable to appreciate the impact of their actions, and hence do not have the guilty mind required to commit a crime (Howes, 2009). In Poe’s story, the narrator repeatedly says that people will consider him mad, whereas he is not insane. He argues that he knows very well what he is doing and he has actually meticulously planned to kill the old man, and he also has a plan of how not to get caught. To him, since all his actions are intentional, he does not satisfy the criterion for insanity. But I completely disagree and believe that the narrator, by his behavior and actions, is a vivid example of a person suffering from insanity.

The first reason why I think so is that the narrator has an incredibly irrational fear of the eye of the elderly man. People who are in full possession of their mental faculties do not vilify the body organs of others. You cannot look at the way a person’s arm or ear looks and feel threatened by it and still claim to be in full control of your mind. This to me is evidence of insanity on the part of the narrator. The narrator states that he actually loved the old man, but he made up his mind to kill him in order to get rid of the old blue vulture-like eye that made him extremely afraid. He actually concedes that he had no idea why the eye bothered him so immensely, which is why I think he was somewhat deranged.

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The second reason I believe that the narrator is insane is the disproportionate steps he took toward ridding himself of the eye. He could have left the old man or tried as much as possible never to be within the vicinity of the man, to solve his problems with the eye. Instead, his brain told him that the solution to the problem was to kill the man. Even worse is how he killed and dismembered the old man. He takes great pride in the fact that he was extremely calm after killing the old man by hitting him with the bed, and then he went on to cut him up in pieces and hide him beneath the wooden floorboards. In my opinion, this is something that can only be accomplished by a psychopath (Hirstein, 2013). A person whose brain is still intact would probably be immensely consumed by guilt in the immediate aftermath of robbing a man of his life and would be shaking with fear and guilt. It takes either a person who is used to killing people or a psychopath to calmly dismember a man and hide him so properly without batting an eyelid.

The final reason why I believe the narrator to be insane is because of what transpired in his mind when the officers arrived at the old man’s house. At first, confident that he had covered up his crime perfectly, he was happy to welcome the men into the house and even set chairs up for them at the murder scene. As the conversation continued, he lost his patience and his brain started torturing him with the old man’s final heartbeat so terribly that he gave himself in. He describes his torment thus: “And still, the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! – no, no! They heard! -they suspected! – they knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror! – this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now – again! – hark! louder! louder! louder! Louder!” (Poe, 4).

Despite the fact that the narrator believed himself to be completely sane and that he only had a heightened acuteness of the senses, I think that his thoughts and actions show a man suffering from derangement, unable to differentiate reality from his hallucinations.

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