Unreliability of Narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart


Edgar Allan Poe’s story, The Tell-Tale Heart, is one of his most popular gothic stories. The narrator explains how he kills an old man out of despising his strange-looking eye. He proceeds to dismember and hide the body beneath the floor. He however confesses his evil deeds to some police officers who interrogate him regarding the death of the old man. Throughout the story, the narrator attempts to persuade the audience of his sanity but often makes contradictory statements and illogical arguments. The thesis for the essay is that the narrator is unreliable due to his insanity, confusion, and paranoia. The unreliability of the narrator is depicted by instances where he reveals to the audience the state of his mind that is insanity by way of proving that he is not insane.

The narrator addresses the reader using both first person and second person point of view. This break-in point of view signifies the instability of the narrator thus unreliable. His address in the second person shows his desperation as he feels the need to justify his actions to the reader to prove his sanity. His appeal to an unidentified audience shows his desire to confess his guilt.  The narrator’s unreliability is also shown by his anxious behavior indicated by his staccato speech which is typical of a paranoid person. The use of staccato speech at the beginning of the story shows that the narrator is mad and therefore unreliable. He further reveals how he can hear different things in heaven and hell, an indication that he was mad

The narrator begins by pleading his case of sanity to try to create reliability in the story. He explains how he adored the old man describing how the old man treated him right, never wronging him. The narrator tries to clarify his reasoning of killing the old man by indicating that his hate emanated from the old man’s evil eye not his persona (Amir, 2020). This further proves his insanity as he sees the old man and his evil eye as two distinct things thus justifying the murder. His insanity epitome is his justification of being sane when his actions show that he is insane. He covers up his insane actions by referring to himself as being wise. A sane person would not prove his saneness thus implying the narrator is mad and unreliable.

The narrator is unsure of his true motive to kill the old man thus signifying his unreliability. The narrator lists several possible motives such as revenge and greed but ultimately gives the impression that the evil eye was his real intention. The narrator is bent on proving his sanity to the audience but in so doing reveals himself to be insane. In proving that his intentions hinged on getting rid of the old man’s evil eye, he reveals he had other intentions such as revenge or the old man’s gold.

The narrator is unreliable as he claims to hear the heart beats of the old man after he had murdered him and hid his body. The narrator shows signs of mental instability when the law enforcement chaps came to his house to question him and he proceeded to bring the chairs to sit in the same room that he had hidden the old man’s body. He, however, started hallucinating regarding the old man’s heart beat and is even convinced that the policemen and neighbors can hear the sound (Amir, 2020). His hallucinations made him confess his crime to the policemen. Hallucination is a common occurrence in insane persons thus the narrator can be described as an insane person who is unreliable.

The narrator claims he had executed his crime perfectly and assures the audience that only a sane man would execute such a plan void of error. He reassures the audience that he is sane as he is capable of retelling the story perfectly without falling apart. This creepy aura of having the desire to retell a murder story is a proof that he insane and therefore unreliable. The narrator is unreliable because he is not sane, confused, and anxious about what he feels and thinks. His relentless insistence of his sanity and his planning and execution of his grand scheme depicts a victim of insanity.




Amir, S. (2020). Analysis of the Short Story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe. The Creative Launcher, 2.

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