Tell Tale Heart: Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity
“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear” states Edgar Allan Poe, the author of the short story “The Tell Tale Heart”. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell Tale Heart” describes a narrator’s troubles with trying to convince his audience that the murder he has just committed was not due to “madness . . . but over acuteness of the senses” (Poe 92). He has murdered an old man he lives with due to the appearance of his the old man eye. Throughout the entire story the narrator displays acts of madness, shown in his mannerisms, his descriptions of hallucinations and his specific reasoning behind the homicide. The evidence provided in the short story clearly points to a mental health defect that cannot go unnoticed. Therefore, the narrator of “The Tell Tale Heart” is not guilty of his crimes due to the reason of insanity.
“It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage” explains the narrator in reference to the old man’s beating heart. To begin, the narrator of Tell Tale Heart discusses several times that he has experienced some type of hallucination, specifically that he has heard various sounds. He claims to have heard sounds radiating from otherworldly places or have such an acute sense of hearing that he has heard a man’s rapid heartbeat. His delusional hearing has been said to have heard “all things in the heaven and in the earth as well as many things in hell” similar to how he claims to have heard “the beating of the old man’s heart” (Poe 92). No human being possesses the ability to have such efficient hearing that they can hear a person’s heartbeat, let alone from a distance. This alone proves that he is in some way insane. After the killing, he checks the man’s heartbeat to further prove to himself that he is “stone dead” and concludes that there is “not pulsation” (Poe 93). Although, not long after, he begins to hear the heart beat again, even though the heart is long past being able to beat. “‘Here, here! –it is the beating of his hideous heart!'” states the narrator in his confession to the police; nevertheless, the old man is dead, so the sound he is hearing cannot in anyway be the elderly man’s heartbeat. The sound he is hearing is a sound he claims to have known “well” and because the sound has appeared after the assassination and when he believes he has “satisfied” the officers with his lies, many have been led to believe that it is his guilt. His guilt seems to have manifested in a “low, dull, quick sound”, the exact same way the proclaimed beating of the old man’s heart sounded. This has caused his insanity to be more apparent, therefore making his already evident anxiety worse, causing him to finally confess.
To continue, he portrays unusual mannerisms throughout the story, and seems to have no justified reason for doing so, besides being insane. Specifically, his unusual behavior consists of a false sense of superiority and a belief that the police are mocking him. His response to the police coming to investigate was “what had I to fear?”, proving that he believed he was more superior than the police (Poe 93). A 2013 article on the “attempted first-degree murder and attempted vehicular hijacking and . . . 14 counts of aggravated battery” by a woman also presented that the woman accused, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, had a false sense of superiority, just like the anonymous narrator (Schmadeke 1). This is furthermore supported by his behavior later, where he states “My manner had convinced them”, where he believes he has fully rid the police of suspicion (Poe 94). His superiority is later turned to inferiority when he begins to fantasize that the police are mocking him during his conversation with them. When the alleged beating of the old man’s heart grows louder, the narrator begins to fantasize and begins thinking “they heard- they suspected- they knew!”, he believed they were trying to get him to confess and although he tried to resist the urge, the drumming of the heart became so loud that he did confess.
Furthermore, he specifically killed the elderly man due to his unnatural eye. He states several times that the man had not done harm or had wronged him in anyway, meaning there was no real intent besides wanting to rid himself of the elderly man’s eye. The narrator states: “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me an insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye!”; he explains that he was not trying to gain anything physical from the murder. One of the core factors in first degree murder or premeditated murder is that the accused has to commit such a crime “under special circumstances which include accompaniment of other offenses such as, kidnapping, hijacking, robbery, with an intention of financial gain… or involving extreme torture” all of which the narrator states he did not have in mind when committing the crime. With no justified reason for killing the old man, the only reason he did it was because of an irresistible impulse. The narrator was suffering under an uncontrollable desire to not have to ever view the “pale blue eye” again, thus causing him to “take the life of the old man”. He notes that his plan to rid himself of the eye “haunted me the narrator day and night” and that he could not stand the elderly man’s eye for “whenever it fell upon” him he got sick.
Certainly, though there are some aspects of the crime that are not particularly insane. For example, if the crime was caused by an irresistible impulse then why did he not immediately kill the old man on sight and instead took time to plan the murder? He states that he waited “for seven long nights” and had found “the deed so far done” upon the eighth night. If there was really a severe itch for him to kill the elderly man, then the thought of the crime would not have “haunted me the narrator day and night” and would have instead urged him to commit the murder right away. The narrator “was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I the narrator killed him”, expressing that he had planned out his actions “with what foresight” before the act of murder. “Homicides that are planned” are considered first degree murder, and defendants that argue they are not guilty by reason of insanity must have not planned the murder for it is not considered legally insane if it is planned. Admittedly, the unnamed narrator also lied to the police and tried to hide the evidence, further proving that he was not under the control of an irresistible impulse. Under the “M’Naughten” rule “a defendant may be not found guilty by reason of insanity if ‘at the time of committing the act, he was laboring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind as not to know . . . what he was doing was wrong” meaning that the anonymous narrator was guilty because he clearly states several times that he knew the wrongfulness of his actions.
Conversely, even if the narrator did not commit the murder immediately and it was planned, he was still acting upon his irresistible impulse. The unknown narrator had originally planned to murder the old man on the first night but was unable to because his “vulture eye” was not visible. The narrator was unable “to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me the narrator, but his Evil Eye”, expressing that his irresistible itch to “rid myself of the eye forever” was suppressed by his feelings for the old man; these feelings are expressed when he states “I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me an insult”. First Degree Murder or Premeditated murder has to be rationally planned out, and the unnamed narrator did not rationally plan out the murder. Even if he was somehow rational, his reasoning behind the murder was not rational. Although he knew the wrongfulness of his actions, expressed when he states “in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph”, “a defendant suffering under ‘an irresistible impulse’ which prevents him from being able to stop himself from committing an act he knows is wrong” cannot have committed premeditated murder (The Insanity Defense 2).
Therefore, the narrator of “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe is not guilty by reason of insanity because of all the mad actions he expresses. He constantly states mad information and acts in other strange ways, he hears unjustified sounds and he killed a man over his eye. This proves he is insane and has some type of mental illness. The narrator needs mental help rather than a death sentence. The unknown narrator of this horror short story should be sent to a mental institution.