The short story The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe is a masterpiece; creating and holding suspense with simple thoughts and dialogue, consistent with much of Poe’s other fictional works. This particular short story happens to be considered one of the best ever written by the master.
Edgar Allen Poe, after a turbulent childhood, eventually settled in Baltimore, Maryland where he lived and worked as a writer and well-known literary critic. In addition to being considered one of America’s foremost poets and fiction writers, Poe is always famous for his essays on writing such as The Philosophy of Composition.
The Telltale Heart, however, revolves around a murderer who hid his victim’s remains under his own floorboards. Though he is engaged in dialogue with law enforcement regarding the disappearance, this is not the way the man gets caught. Instead, in classic Poe-fashion, there was a heavy psychological element.
The murderer, while being questioned, seemingly starts to hear the heart of his victim reverberating in the floorboards. While his interviewer is clearly not too suspicious of the man, the murderer’s mind tricks him into believing the “heartbeat” will give him away. When he begins to act oddly, the inspector even enquires about his health. His paranoia had taken over, and he admitted guilt on the spot, unable to take the pounding of his victim’s “heartbeat”.
This is the brilliance of Poe–he has the ability to take a seemingly mad man, clearly hallucinating the beats of his victim’s heart, and relate it to an emotion every person who ever read that story can relate with: guilt.
Whether a hallucinated heartbeat, or the word guilt, it evokes the same emotion–therefore having the same impact on the human experience only a piece composed by Edgar Allen Poe can provide.