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The Tell-Tale Heart – Summary | The Heritage of Words

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The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allan Poet


True! I get excited – very excited. But why do you say that I’m mad? How am I mad? My senses are not destroyed. My sight and my hearing are very good. And listen to me. See how coolly I can tell you the story. I cannot say how the idea first entered my head. There was no good reason. I felt no hate. I loved the old man. He never hurt me. I had no desire for his money. I think his eye caused the trouble. Yes, it was his eye. He had the eye of a large bird – a bird that feeds on dead bodies. When his eye fell on me, my blood always went cold. So one day I decided to kill the old man and destroy that eye.

You think I’m mad? Madmen don’t know what they’re doing! But I knew – and I was clever. I was very kind to the old man during the week before I killed him. And every night, at midnight, I opened his door – very gently. When the opening was just wide enough for my head, I put in a dark lamp. The lamp was completely closed; so no light shone out. Very slowly and quietly, I put my head through the opening. I spent an hour doing this. I did not want to wake the old man. I ask you: would a madman be so careful? When I was able to see the old man on his bed, I set the lamp to shine upon him.

I did this every night – always at midnight – for seven ling nights. Then in the morning, when daylight came, I went into the room and spoke to the old man in friendly voice. “Good morning! Did you sleep well?” I asked him this every day. He never knew that during the night, at twelve o’clock, I looked at him while he slept. On the eight night, when I opened the door, I suddenly had a feeling of power. I thought: “I’m going into this room – and he doesn’t even dream of my secret plan!” I laughed at the idea. Perhaps he heard me. He moved on the bed suddenly. But I was not worried. His room was completely dark, and he could not see the opening of the door.

I opened the door wider and put my head into the room. I was just going to open the lamp, but my thumb made a little noise on the tin. The old man sat up in bed and called out; “Who’s there?” I stood still and said nothing. For a whole hour I didn’t move or make a sound. And all that time he still sat up in bed, listening. Later, I heard a little low cry – a cry of fear. I knew how the old man felt. Often at midnight, when the world was asleep, I had a feeling of fear. I was sorry for the old man, but I quietly laughed to myself.

“His fears are growing”, I thought. “He has been lying awake ever since he heard the sound of the lamp. He has been telling himself that he has nothing to fear. It was only the sound of the wind … or some little animal in the roof – or perhaps a bird outside the window … He has been trying to comfort himself with these thoughts. But he doesn’t really believe them. The old man can’t see me, but he senses that somebody is in the room … He can feel that death, with its black shadow, is coming to him.”

I waited for a long time. Then I suddenly opened the lamp a little. The light shone on the eye of the old man. The eye was wide open. I started at it. I saw only that fearful eye – nothing else of the old man’s face. I became very angry. But I tell you: I’m not mad! Don’t mistake my anger for madness! Now low beating sound came to my ears. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. My anger grew. But I didn’t move. I almost stopped breathing. I held the lamp still and shone it upon the ye. The beating of the heart got quicker and louder. The old man’s fear was growing every moment.

Now, in the dark, silent hours of the night, that strange noise filled me with fear. I thought: “The neighbors will here”. I have told you that I get excited – and it’s true. With a loud cry, I shone the lamp brighter – and ran into the room. The old man screamed. I quickly pushed him on to the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him. I smiled. The heart was still beating. But that didn’t worry me. “The neighbors won’t hear it through the wall now”, I told myself. At last, the heart stopped. The old man was dead. I pulled away the bed and looked at him. “That eye will never trouble me again!” I said happily. Do you still think I’m mad? You won’t when I tell you how I hid the body. I had a very clever idea.

The night was night ending. I had to work quickly and silently. First, I cut off the old man’s head, arms and leg. Next, I pulled up part of the wooden floor and hid the pieces. Then I carefully put back the floor. There was no blood – no sign of any trouble. “Nobody”, I thought, “will ever discover the old man’s murder.”  It was four o’clock – still as dark as midnight. As the clock rang the hour, there were loud bangs on the front door. I went happily downstairs and opened the door. Three men entered. They were policemen. “A neighbor,” they said, “heard a man scream during the night. He thought the man was being attacked. So he told the police… We’re come to search the house.”

I had nothing to gear! I smiled and gave the policemen a friendly welcome. “I probably screamed in a dream,” I explained. I told them that the old man was away and I was alone in the house. I took my visitors over the house and let them search in all the rooms. “Search everywhere and search well,” I said. I led them to the old man’s room and showed them his treasures. They were all safe and touched. I became completely fearless. I brought chairs into the room, and we all sat down. I sat over the place where the old man’s body lay. No madman would do that! The policemen asked me questions – and I answered them quite happily. The policemen believed me and stopped asking questions. We then talked in a friendly way about other things.

I was enjoying myself. Then suddenly I had a sick feeling. My head began to swim. I thought I heard strange noises in my ears. I wanted the policemen to go. But they still sat and talked. I talked louder and quicker and tried to kill the noises. But the noises also grew louder. “Oh, God!” I thought. “The policemen will hear! What can I do?” I jumped up and walked about with a heavy step. I argued violently about everything and wildly threw my arms into the air. I pushed my chair backwards and forwards along the floor. But I could not kill those beating noises. They continued to grow louder! Louder! I gave an angry cry and threw my chair across the room. The policemen took no notice. Still they talked and smile. “Can’t they hear the noises?” I wondered. I watched the smiles on their faces. “No, no – it’s not possible!” I thought. “They can hear. They know what I’ve done! They can see my fear, and they’re making fun of me!”

Those hateful smiles filled me with anger. I wanted to escape – or die! I screamed. “Stop acting!” I cried, “I killed the old man. That noise is the beating of his heart. Pull up the floor – and you’ll find his body!”

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