’s Heros Essay, Research Paper
July 10, 2000
The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder of the Narrator in Edgar Allen Poe?s
?The Tell-Tale Heart?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is defined as ?an anxiety disorder in which a person suffers from obsessions and/or compulsions? (Wood 407). In Edgar Allen Poe?s short story, ?The Tell-Tale Heart,? the narrator shows signs of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when wakes up at midnight and ritualizes how he is going to kill the old man, when he creates a personified image of the old man?s eye, and according to a critic, Daniel Hoffman, when he believes that the sound of his own heart beat is the old man?s heart. In the beginning of the story the narrator tells us that he has a disease: ?The disease had sharpened my senses-not destroyed-not dulled them? (Poe 34). This disease that the narrator displays to us has characteristics in common with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
The narrator was persistent and went through a ritual every night to see if the old man?s Eye was open or not. A compulsion is defined as ?a persistent, irresistible, irrational urge to perform an act or ritual repeatedly? (Wood 407). He would get out of bed every night at midnight, stand motionless and silent with his head in the doorway, and take the lantern and open it ever so slightly to see if the
old man?s evil eye was open. Also every morning after he looked in on the old man, he would go ?boldly into the chamber and speak courageously to him,
calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night? (Poe 34). The steps the narrator took, clearly show signs of him having a compulsion.
When the narrator personifies the old man?s eye as being evil, the narrator is having a persistent, recurring, involuntary image invade his conscious thought. An obsession is defined as ?a persistent, recurring, involuntary thought, image, or impulse that invades the consciousness and causes the suffer great distress? (Wood 408). The narrator describes the eye as that of being a ?vultures eye.? He goes further to describe it as ?a pale blue color? and ?filmy? (Poe 34). The narrator also gives the eye actions that it does with out the old man?s help, such as when the Evil Eye looked at him and made his blood run cold.
The narrator shows another sign of obsession when he hears his own heart beat but mistakes it for the old man?s heart beat that he has just killed. This sound starts in his head and then invades his consciousness. It is this invading sound of a heartbeat that drives the narrator to confess and tell us about his recurring acuteness of senses. The narrator has irrational thoughts, such as, ??for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye,? and ?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!? (Poe 34).
In conclusion, the narrator in ?The Tell-Tale Heart? shows signs of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by having a compulsion to go through the ritual of checking on the old man every night at midnight to see if the eye was open or not, having an obsession with the old man?s Evil Eye, and finally when the thought of hearing the old man?s heart, which was actually his, invades his conscious thought and gives him great distress. The narrator displays the symptoms of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and he explains them to us in great detail.
Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Tell-Tale Heart.? Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed New York: Longman, 1999. 33-37.
Wood, Samuel E. and Ellen Green. The Essential World of Psycology. MA A Pearson Education Company, 2000.