Edgar Allen Poe is one of my favorite authors. I remember reading The Raven for the first time back in eighth grade, and I instantly fell in love. The way he could weave words together and send chills down my spine was the best. After that, I was hooked and read everything I could by Edgar Allen Poe.
This week we read a few short stories The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Cast of Amontillado, by Poe where the narrator was not so reliable. The narrators in each story were insane. Now, writing a story with a narrator that’s not all there is not an easy task. As a writer, we walk a fine line with our word choice with these characters, but they can be so much fun to write if you know what you are doing. Poe certainly did.
The Tell-Tale Heart ranks up there with The Raven for me. I will admit, I have not read the story in years, so it was neat to take a look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. The story is short which is nice, but the words chosen pulls us in and guides us through a brief trip inside this lunatic’s mind.
Poe introduces us to the problem the narrator faces. He cannot stand the color and look of an eye that the old gentleman he tends to has. He describes it as, “He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever,” (Poe 179). Now, most of us would think why should the eye bother someone that much. My first thought would be to not look at it. But, there are small things all around us that can affect us and drive us nuts. For me, I don’t like to see a mass of little bugs like baby spiders or ants running around. All I want to do is banish them from my site. So, while I can understand his aversion to the eye, killing the old man is just a tad too much.
If Poe had thought the same way as me, we wouldn’t have a creepy story to read. I found it interesting how the narrator tries to justify his hate for this one body part. He goes to great lengths to tell us how much he loves the old man and has no desire for the man’s wealth, but that one eye is what pushes him over the edge. I think Poe did a good job getting inside the narrators head and giving us a front row seat to his downward spiral.
In The Black Cat, the narrator starts the same way telling us that he is mad and that he is going to die, but he must tell us what caused this. He seems to be happily married, and they have lots of animals. Everything appears great for this guy, but then one day something happens, and he goes off the deep end. To me, there is no reason for him to have these issues other than it seems to be a midlife crisis gone wrong. Isn’t this what could happen to any of us? We are fine and dandy one day and the next we are losing it and about to go on a killing spree.
What I found interesting in these two stories was the fact that both of the narrators after everything is said and done feel guilt. If someone, is genuinely insane would they feel guilty about what they did? It almost seems to me that this was an excuse used to absolve themselves of responsibly.
Poe does a great job with planting these questions in our mind. That may not have been his intent, but for me it does. Writing from the point of view of someone who is insane or unreliable is no small task, and yet Poe handles this rather well. What’s even more interesting is the fact that he did these with so few words. Whether you like Poe or not you have to give him applause for doing what most don’t want to do.