Edgar Allen Poe was a man that is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers ever to live. Throughout his life he created many stories, poems, and tales of madness and mystery, that can arguably be stated were thoughts of his own life. “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” are two short stories that can be compared and contrasted to show how Poe incorporated his own madness into his tales of death and despair.
There is a mysterious style that Edgar Allen Poe uses when writing his stories.Poe has a way of grasping one’s own nightmarish thoughts and pulling the reader into the story. Many critics have different views on the style of Poe, but Harold Bloom in my opinion has the best analysis by saying Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives (7).
Poe uses the first person narrative in a sense to get the reader to feel what the character is feeling. The fear, the growing tension, and the shock the character feels can only be fully conveyed in a first person narrative.In “The Tell Tale Heart”, the main character starts you off in the madness circling around in his mind. The first few sentences actually set you up in his neurotic behavior, “TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? ” The same is evident in “The Black Cat” as the main character starts the story, “FOR the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not. This leap into the mind of the madman is in some way a leap into the mind of Poe.
According to author Petri Liukkonen, Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness, and he attempted suicide in 1848 (online). This further proves that maybe Poe’s creativity came from his own misery. Another main similarity in both stories is that the being that is killed is someone revered by the narrator. The main character’s love of the old man in “The Tell Tale Heart” is seen as the narrator repeats that he had no problems with the old man besides his pale blue eye.An eye that he becomes so fixated on that it leads him into an out of world experience that eventually leads to him killing. He becomes so obsessed with the pale blue eye of this old man he loved that he separated the eye itself from the old man. He was able to say he loved the old man, but in the process had no problem killing him as shown in: … It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.
Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me.He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye 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. (“The Tell Tale Heart” 1) In “The Black Cat”, the main character loved his pets, his cat, and his wife. The narrator states this as “I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own.Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat. ” In a way, Poe might have a deeper meaning underlying these deaths. Although both different in reasons, they both are death’s of someone the main character love’s.
This is a small insight into Poe’s actual life out of stories. Almost everyone in Poe’s early life either left him, or passed away. Poe’s father had abandoned their family 1 year after his birth and his mother had passed on a year after that.Years later, Poe’s brother would die of a severe case of alcoholism as well as having his first wife, Virginia, die of tuberculosis (Raymond Foye). There is reason to believe that Poe’s stories of death between loved ones might have some type of tie into his real life experiences. The lack of concern of being caught is also baffling between both stories. The extreme absence of anxiety that the narrator has in the “Tell Tale Heart” is shown when he decides to invite the police into the house to search and then grabbing and setting down his “own seat upon the place beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim” (“The Tell Tale Heart” 6).
The narrator of “The Black Cat” has the same nonchalant emotions when he goes on to brag about the sturdiness of the walls that surround his property as he then “rapped heavily, with a cane, which I held in my hand, upon the very portion of the brickwork behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom” (“The Black Cat” 12). This lack of emotion in both narrators brings back the topic of Poe’s madness. Poe was a person that drank all of his misery away and maybe this is how he wanted to feel towards all of his family that weren’t with him anymore.The psychology behind Poe is heavy topics that can also further the proof of Poe’s madness in his stories. The laid back state of both characters even in the heat of their lie’s shows the reader the true side of the narrator, at his peak of insanity. As both stories go from start to finish their emotions and derangement are at uncommon levels. Both keep putting on a show for the public to have them see that everything is all right, but little did they know that it was all just a delusion and their own minds were bringing them down.
The fixation of an “eye” was a major part of both stories as stated before.The narrator of “The Tell Tale Heart” has a hate obsession with the old man’s “vulture eye. ” All he thought about was this eye that was giving him an evil curse that he needed to get rid of. So after he decided he was going to finally kill off the old man, “every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! ” Many nights went by until the final, eighth night where the old man was awake, and the narrator became so furious upon looking at his “vulture eye” that he suffocated him using the mattress and pillows.In “The Black Cat”, the narrator would go on reckless drunken rages on his wife and pets, until one night when he was intoxicated critically, he got so furious at his cat when it scratched him that the: The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fiber of my frame.
I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! “The Black Cat” 3) Of the many ways the outcome of this could have happened, Poe decided to have the narrator cut out the eyeball of the cat. As the first cat died though a second black cat came along, this time with some white fur but with 1 missing eye as well. This obsession Poe had with eyes was another look into his madness. Among all the similarities though, there are differences surrounding both stories. The ways both angers are forged are in contrast. In “The Tell Tale Heart” the narrator has a specific and direct object that he focuses all his anger on. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold” was the problem the narrator faced that made him decide to kill the old man.
He reduces the love for the old man and see’s the eye as its own separate entity. His anger towards it, made him want to sever the tie between the old man’s eye and his socket, just so he could save the man from the guilt that the “evil eye” had brought. However in “The Black Cat”, the narrator doesn’t focus his anger all on one object. His anger progresses to his first cat, Pluto, by unknown reasons. In a drunken rage he attacked Pluto and changed his relationship forever with it.Even as the story continues, the narrator continues to be irritating to everyone including his wife. His anger than escalates to its max when he attempts to kill the second cat and ends up killing his wife for trying to stop him.
Although these are differences between both stories, both still have Poe’s curiosity for death intertwined. Poe’s inevitable obsession with death, as Jeffrey Meyers says, was one of the biggest influences on where Poe’s creativity sparked. Death was cultivated into most if not all his stories because he was surrounded by death his entire life (Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy).Many critics agree with the fact that Poe brought his own madness into his tales of mystery. Some have come to the conclusion that the narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart” was a character that Poe wished to be. Some critics such as Suzanne Dewsbury state, “That the madness or dreamlike quality of the narrative is unambiguous, and have gone so far as to diagnose the narrator with paranoid schizophrenia. ” This was a disease unknown at the time of Poe’s life, but many consider Poe would fit into that category completely.
In “The Black Cat” however, there are few if any critics creating ties between the narrators’ madness and Poe’s.Although the clarity of what Poe was trying get across to the readers is a little muffled, everyone could see the darkness that Poe lived every day through his stories. The way the reader finds out the ending of the story differs between both as well. “The Tell Tale Heart” starts the narrator telling the reader that he killed the old man and this was a story on what lead up to it and the aftermath of the killing. The narrator lets us know, “I made up my mind to take the life of the old man. ” He tells the reader, since the first day that the idea of getting rid of the “evil eye” was created, it was the only thing he thought of day and night.The ending of “The Black Cat” on the other hand is only learned as the reader finishes the story.
The reader doesn’t find out until later about what the narrator does. The final pages of the story are when you find out that the narrator is a madman that kills without remorse. When faced with a story like “The Tell Tale Heart” readers know what the final outcome is, but now they learn how it all came to be, while “The Black Cat” has a more traditional story line in which the readers develop more with the characters instead of already making a decision on them early.