Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'The Tell-Tale Heart'

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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.
1. E d g a r A l l a n P o e
T h e Te l l - Ta l e H e a r t
Listen! Listen, and I will tell
you how it happened. You will see, you will hear how healthy my mind
It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my head. There
was no reason for what I did. I did not hate the old man; I even loved
him. He had never hurt me. I did not want his money. I think it was
his eye. His eye was like the eye of a vulture, the eye of one of those
terrible birds that watch and wait while an animal dies, and then fall
upon the dead body and pull it to pieces to eat it. When the old man
looked at me with his vulture eye a cold feeling went up and down my
2. E d g a r A l l a n P o e : S t o r y t e l l e r
back; even my blood became cold. And so, I finally decided I had to
kill the old man and close that eye forever!
So you think that I am mad? A madman cannot plan. But you
should have seen me. During all of that week I was as friendly to the
old man as I could be, and warm, and loving.
Every night about twelve o’clock I slowly opened his door. And
when the door was opened wide enough I put my hand in, and then
my head. In my hand I held a light covered over with a cloth so that
no light showed. And I stood there quietly. Then, carefully, I lifted the
cloth, just a little, so that a single, thin, small light fell across that eye.
For seven nights I did this, seven long nights, every night at midnight.
Always the eye was closed, so it was impossible for me to do the work.
For it was not the old man I felt I had to kill; it was the eye, his Evil
And every morning I went to his room, and with a warm, friendly
voice I asked him how he had slept. He could not guess that every
night, just at twelve, I looked in at him as he slept.
The eighth night I was more than usually careful as I opened
the door. The hands of a clock move more quickly than did my hand.
Never before had I felt so strongly my own power; I was now sure of
The old man was lying there not dreaming that I was at his door.
Suddenly he moved in his bed. You may think I became afraid. But no.
The darkness in his room was thick and black. I knew he could not see
the opening of the door. I continued to push the door, slowly, softly. I
put in my head. I put in my hand, with the covered light. Suddenly the
old man sat straight up in bed and cried, “Who’s there??!”
I stood quite still. For a whole hour I did not move. Nor did I
hear him again lie down in his bed. He just sat there, listening. Then I
heard a sound, a low cry of fear which escaped from the old man. Now
I knew that he was sitting up in his bed, filled with fear; I knew that he
knew that I was there. He did not see me there. He could not hear me
there. He felt me there. Now he knew that Death was standing there.
Slowly, little by little, I lifted the cloth, until a small, small light
escaped from under it to fall upon — to fall upon that vulture eye!
It was open — wide, wide open, and my anger increased as it looked
straight at me. I could not see the old man’s face. Only that eye, that
3. E d g a r A l l a n P o e
hard blue eye, and the blood in my body became like ice.
Have I not told you that my hearing had become un­­usually
strong? Now I could hear a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a
clock heard through a wall. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
I tried to stand quietly. But the sound grew louder. The old man’s fear
must have been great indeed. And as the sound grew louder my anger
became greater and more painful. But it was more than anger. In the
quiet night, in the dark silence of the bedroom my anger became
fear — for the heart was beating so loudly that I was sure some one
must hear. The time had come! I rushed into the room, crying, “Die!
Die!” The old man gave a loud cry of fear as I fell upon him and held
the bedcovers tightly over his head. Still his heart was beating; but
I smiled as I felt that success was near. For many minutes that heart
continued to beat; but at last the beating stopped. The old man was
dead. I took away the bed­covers and held my ear over his heart. There
was no sound. Yes. He was dead! Dead as a stone. His eye would
trouble me no more!
So I am mad, you say? You
should have seen how care­ ful I
was to put the body where no one
could find it. First I cut off the
head, then the arms and the legs. I
was careful not to let a single drop
of blood fall on the floor. I pulled
up three of the boards that formed
the floor, and put the pieces of the
body there. Then I put the boards
down again, care­fully, so carefully
that no human eye could see that
they had been moved.
As I finished this work I
heard that someone was at the
door. It was now four o’clock in
the morning, but still dark. I had
no fear, however, as I went down
to open the door. Three men were
at the door, three officers of the
4. E d g a r A l l a n P o e : S t o r y t e l l e r
police. One of the neighbors had heard the old man’s cry and had
called the police; these three had come to ask questions and to search
the house.
I asked the policemen to come in. The cry, I said, was my own, in
a dream. The old man, I said, was away; he had gone to visit a friend
in the country. I took them through the whole house, telling them to
search it all, to search well. I led them finally into the old man’s bed-
room. As if playing a game with them I asked them to sit down and
talk for a while.
My easy, quiet manner made the policemen believe my story. So
they sat talking with me in a friendly way. But although I answered
them in the same way, I soon wished that they would go. My head hurt
and there was a strange sound in my ears. I talked more, and faster.
The sound became clearer. And still they sat and talked.
Suddenly I knew that the sound was not in my ears, it was not
just inside my head. At that moment I must have become quite white.
I talked still faster and louder. And the sound, too, became louder. It
was a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a clock heard through a
wall, a sound I knew well. Louder it became, and louder. Why did the
men not go? Louder, louder. I stood up and walked quickly around the
room. I pushed my chair across the floor to make more noise, to cover
that terrible sound. I talked even louder. And still the men sat and
talked, and smiled. Was it possible that they could not hear??
No! They heard! I was certain of it. They knew! Now it was they
who were playing a game with me. I was suffering more than I could
bear, from their smiles, and from that sound. Louder, louder, louder!
Suddenly I could bear it no longer. I pointed at the boards and cried,
“Yes! Yes, I killed him. Pull up the boards and you shall see! I killed
him. But why does his heart not stop beating?! Why does it not stop!?”