The Tell-Tale Heart Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book "
name The Tell-Tale Heart
image caption Modern cover
author Edgar Allen Poe
country America
language English language
genre(s) Gothic literature
publisher NA
release date 1843
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 9
The Tell-Tale Heart is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe first published in 1843. It follows an unnamed, unreliable narrator who insists on his sanity after murdering an old man with a "vulture eye". The murder is carefully calculated, and the murderer hides the body by cutting it into pieces and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately the narrator's guilt manifests itself in the hallucination that the man's heart is still beating under the floorboards.

It is unclear what relationship, if any, the old man and his murderer share. It has been suggested that the old man is a father figure or, perhaps, that his vulture eye represents some sort of veiled secret. The ambiguity and lack of details about the two main characters stand in stark contrast to the specific plot details leading up to the murder.

The story was first published in James Russell Lowell's The Pioneer in January 1843. The Tell-Tale Heart is widely considered a classic of the Gothic fiction genre and one of Poe's most famous short stories. It has been adapted or served as an inspiration for a variety of media.

Character Summaries

The narrator

The unnamed, unreliable narrator kills the old man because he can't stand the old man's vulture eye. He spends the entire story trying to persuade us that he is in fact completely sane.

The old man

The old man is murdered by the narrator because of his strange, vulture-like eye. He is then chopped up and hidden under the floorboards, but the phantom beating of his heart causes the narrator to go mad and reveal his crime to the police.

Plot Summary

The unnamed narrator begins by explaining that yes, they have been sick recently, but that they are not mad. They claim that the illness actually benefited them by making their hearing better.

The narrator then goes on to relate some past events involving an old man, events that they claim even prove their sanity. They say that at first they didn’t hate the old man, that they even loved him, because the old man had done nothing to them.

They did mention that the old man had a strange, vulture-like eye, and that the old man’s eye gave the narrator a strange, cold feeling when he looked at them. It got worse and worse to the point where the unnamed narrator decided that the only thing to do was to kill the old man so the vulture eye could never look at them again.

The unnamed narrator continues to explain that they are not mad – a mad person could not plan a murder, after all! They then detail how every day the next week they were friendly to the man, and at night they crept into his room. For seven days though they were unable to kill the man because he had his eyes closed – it was the vulture eye that was compelling the unnamed narrator to kill the old man, after all.

It is on the eight night that the old man wakes up when the narrator enters the room. The old man knows that someone is there, and he even cries out with fear. The narrator can finally see the awful vulture eye, and it is this that finally enables him to murder the man.

The narrator says that the illness had strengthened his hearing to the point where he could hear the old man’s heart beating in his chest. The sound grew louder and louder as he stood there looking at the man, and then louder still as he murdered him, until it was gone.

After murdering the man, the unnamed narrator chopped up his body and put him under the floorboards. The next day, three police officers came to visit the narrator because a neighbour had tipped them off to a strange sound coming from the old man’s house.

The narrator explains that he invited the policemen in, confident in his success. Suddenly, though, he began to hear the beating of the old man’s heart under the floorboards. He thought the policemen were playing a joke on him when they said they couldn’t hear it, and the beating of the heart got worse and worse until the narrator was compelled to reveal his crime.


Categories: Short Stories