Oriented Approach to Edgar Alan Poe’s the Tell- Tale Heart Essay
The Titular question is an old philosophical riddle for which a wide range of metaphysical and non-metaphysical solution has been offered. The answers differ based on the perspective of the interpreter. Judging these answers is neither possible nor desirable for us, but the riddle and the ensuing debates attest to the veracity of one of the most basic tenets of reader-response theory: If a text does not have a reader, it does not exist-or at least, it has no meaning.
It’s reader, with whatever experience he brings to the text, who gives it its meaning. Of particular significance is Louise M. Rosenblatt’s transactional theory to the shaping of the reader-response criticism. Rosenblatt describes the act of reading itself – as a transaction That derives from “the peculiar array of experiences that define the reader’s persona. (Davis and Womack 53) In The Reader, the Text, the Poem, a landmark in the history of reader response movement, she writes: “Each reader brings to the transaction not only a specific past life and literary history, not only a repertory of internalized “codes,” but also a very active present, with all its preoccupations, anxieties, questions, and aspirations,’ (Rosenblatt 126)
One problem arises then: “To what extent the reader is allowed to draw on his or her own feelings, associations, and memories in interpreting the text? ” “The text itself will determine. Some texts are open and invite the reader’s collaboration in the production of meaning, while others are ‘closed’ (comics, detective fiction) and predetermine the reader’s response. (Selden 48) Obviously a text with an unreliable narrator will depend more on its reader in the production of meaning and consequently affords us with an exemplar for exploring the wide-ranging interpretive possibilities of reader-response theory. Hence is my selection of Edgar Alan Poe’s short stories for, in Rosenblatt’s term, an aesthetic reading in which the reader devotes particular attention to what occurs during the actual reading event.
Many of Poe’s short stories are effective in their portrayal of terror and madness precisely because the narrators of these stories cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Chief among them is his “Tell-Tale Heart. ” the story starts in medias res. The narrator is apparently in middle of a conversation with a non-identified listener. No clue has been given within the text to guide us in identifying this silent addressee but it can be speculated that the narrator is confessing to a prison warden, judge, newspaper reporter, doctor or psychiatrist.
The first word of the story, “True! ”, is an admission of his guilt. This introduction also serves to immediately grab the reader’s attention and pull him/her into the story. The obsessive insistence of the Tell-Tale Heart’s narrator on his sanity will arouse suspicion in reader regarding its veracity: “TRUE! —Nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! But why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth.
I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! And observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story. ” (Poe 47) And indeed it is too soon to pass a judgment on this character. The unnamed narrator of Poe’s tale proved to be something of a riddle. The exactness with which the narrator recounts murdering the old man; obviates any possibility of insanity, but on the other hand his motive for the murder proves him to be insane: “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it.
Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever. ”( Poe 48) Perhaps the most ready- made explanation the reader might comes up with is lunacy. The narrator is a psychopath with wacky motivations. If we accept this convenient explanation then we have to deal with another question: could a madman talks with such lucidity and exactness? The answer that Ken Frieden gives to this question is a positive one.
He downplays the contrast between the sane narrative and mad narrator: “The discrepancy between sane narrator and madman perhaps shows the error of assuming that linguistic normalcy implies psychological normalcy. ” Friedan took it for granted that the narrator is mad because he kills an old man for no reason. He is doubly mad, Friedan said, when he imagines he hears the pounding of the dead man’s heart and gives away the crime he had concealed. Yet the narrator tells a coherent tale, as if to demonstrate out of spite that he is sane, refuting the ordinary belief that he must be mad.
On the other side of the road, there are critics who are sympathetic toward the narrator and dismiss any suggestion of madness. Daniel Hoffman, for instance is willing to believe the narrator’s claim about the Old man’s eye. Hoffman reads the vulture-like eye as a Freudian Father-Figure. He takes the old man as a father-figure; whose “Eye becomes the all-seeing surveillance of the child by the father. ” (Bloom 53) . This surveillance is, Hoffman writes, “the inculcation into his soul of the paternal principles of right and wrong. As such, the old man’s eye becomes a ray to be feared.
For if the boy deviates ever so little from the strict paths of rectitude, it will find him out. (54) Well, the acid test of Hoffman’s claim is the text itself. And of course there are evidences within the text which proves Hoffman’s Freudian theory of the Evil Eye is not ill-founded. The narrator’s obsession with the Evil Eye is to the extent that he refused to kill the old man when his eyes were closed. “For it was not the old man who vexed [him], but his Evil Eye. ” So he had to keep vigilant for the seventh night till he found it open and then the effect is immediate: “It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it.
I saw it with perfect distinctness—all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones. ”(Poe 50) Besides, his vivid account of the old man’s fear of an intruder is beyond the power of a madman. With an acute sense of hearing, he detected a slight groan which he believes is not of pain or grief but “arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. ” That he interpreted the groan as an exclamation of awe; pitied him but “chuckled at heart”, shows that the narrator is enjoying his newly achieved position of power.
The Father- figure stood in awe of him and he rejoiced over it. To make the issue even more complicated, the feminist critics posed another question: how can one say for sure that that an unmarked narrator is a “he”, why not a “she”? Such a reading would displace a whole series of masculinist assumptions. No matter which of these already discussed interpretations or any other responses we trust as the right one. Because Different readers, according to Rosenblatt, come up with different interpretations acceptable if they could afford “textual supports” for it.