Literary context

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story is considered a gothic horror story. Gothic stories usually rely on ambiguity and enigmatic characters. Furthermore, the setting is dark and gloomy, and the aim is to instil feelings of horror and suspense in the readers. These elements can be encountered in “The Tell-Tale Heart” as the setting of the story is unspecified, the action takes place at night, and the narrator is a mentally ill person.

As with many of Poe's stories, the question of whether the events described are supernatural in nature is left open. Even if the main character believes that he has supernatural hearing and that the old man’s heart continued to beat even after he was dead, it is also possible that he is simply experiencing auditory hallucinations due to his mental illness.

You can read much more about the horror genre in our in-depth topic guide. 

Texts with the same theme

"Suffer the Little Children" by Stephen King shares the focus on madness and obsession from "The Tell-Tale Heart", as it describes a schoolteacher who becomes convinced that her pupils are demons in disguise and eventually starts murdering them. The ending of the story is open, as it is never directly revealed whether the teacher is right about the children being demons, or whether she is merely a severely disturbed person whose delusions lead to brutal consequences.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl is also focused on a person who tries to hide a murder from the authorities. The two stories also have somewhat similar ending, as the closing scenes of both feature the murderer and the police investigators being together at the scene of the crime. However, the main character of "Lamb to the Slaughter" cleverly manages to hide her deed from the police, whereas the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" breaks down and confesses his crime.

Texts by the same author

"The Black Cat" is another famous story by Poe, and it is frequently compared to "The Tell-Tale Heart". Both stories feature a narrator who descends into madness and ends up committing murder, and both stories end with the crime being revealed to the police through events that symbolise the narrator's guilt. Also, both stories leave the question of whether the described events are supernatural or a product of the narrator's madness up to the reader.

"The Oval Portrait" deals with somewhat different themes than "The Tell-Tale Heart", though both stories share a focus on the power of obsession. Also, just like in "The Tell-Tale Heart" it is left to the reader to interpret whether the supernatural elements described in the story are meant to be taken seriously, or whether they could have had natural explanations.

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