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ENGL 1033-14

20 Nov. 2011

Concealed Culpability

While the general construction of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and stories is centered on murder, revenge, and insanity, each tells of an undeniably unique story or lesson. In ‚The Raven‛ and ‚The Tell-Tale Heart,‛ Poe details the events encountered by two self-proclaimed sane men, and cautions that the guilt of each will drive them mad unless they confess. While one of the men expresses external manifestations of shame, shown by the raven as a physical projection of his conscience, the other displays internal manifestations in the form of the pulsating heart. Throughout each piece of literature, Poe uses both narrators’ developments, or rather deteriorations, to provide an underscoring lecture on the effects of self-driven insanity.

To personify each narrator’s feelings of remorse, Poe controls each story with a unique symbolic depiction of their guilt. Poe’s incorporation of symbolism in ‚The Raven‛ allows for further information to be exposed, regarding the narrator’s external manifestation of malfeasance, than what his pen is able to capture in each six-lined stanza. The ominous raven that perches itself upon the bust of Pallas just above the narrator’s chamber door is a European symbol of prophecy and ill fortune (Black). Not only is the raven used as a symbol of ill fortune and death, but it is also used to

a projection of a guilty conscience. Whether or not the death of Lenore is the narrator’s fault is never explicitly revealed. in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph. for balm in Gilead is a biblical reference to a resin. As well as a . This internal culpability stems from the narrator’s heinous murder of the old man. nonetheless. Poe presents the increasingly louder drumming of the narrator’s heart as a physical representation for the feeling of internal fault. from which the narrator initially infers no wrong-doing: ‚I myself. which has the power to bring hope to the hopeless and healing to that which is untreatable (Williams).‛ one finds that Poe utilizes many of the same techniques in ‚The Tell-Tale Heart” to depict a rather contrasting possession of guilt. Upon analyzing the various applications of symbolism in ‚The Raven. if the narrator merely feels guilty or is actually guilty. the narrator is able to verbally confront the raven in an attempt to find an answer to his grave question regarding healing a sin-sick soul. By introducing this omen as a physical entity. ‚Is there balm in Gilead?‛ (Raven 89). However. the psychological impact ultimately remains the same because personal reality is dictated by personal perception. the narrator’s inner burden is repressed no more and instead begins to grow with every beat of his drubbing heart. or honey. In parallel to the raven. placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim‛ (Heart 15). the narrator is revealing his private desire to seek healing for his grief over his wife’s death. In asking this question. as time shortly passes.represent the inner conflict of his conscience concerning the death of his wife Lenore.

the narrator in ‚The Tell-Tale Heart‛ experiences an internalized form of selfreproach to contrast the physical deed that he performed. For as much attention to symbolism that crosses over between the two pieces. is common throughout the story and in real life within serial killers. By instilling within the reader an association of the beating heart with death. but lack of concern for consequences. Such attention to one or two details.‛ Poe’s application of syntax is exhibited by increasingly fragmented sentence structures that mimic the narrator’s fear and desperation: ‚Almighty God! – no. Indications of psychopathy in murderers is analyzed in Bruce Bowers academic article ‚The Predator’s Gaze‛: ‚Psychopaths focus well on their explicit goals but ignore incidental information that provides perspective and guides behavior…this narrowing of attention in psychopaths jams their mental radar for discerning other people’s emotional . no! They heard! – they suspected! – they knew! – they were making a mockery of my horror‛ (Heart 17).. In ‚The Tell-Tale Heart.. louder! .representation of inner shame. anxiety seized me…The old man’s hour had come‛ (Heart 11). the eye and the heart. just as much attention to syntax can be observed. ‚[T]he beating grew louder. Poe creates a sense of foreshadowing for when the narrator hears this beating yet again after contrition sets in. the beating of the heart that grows louder within the narrator also represents a sign of his death to come. The brevity of the story mimics the obsessive mind of an insane person. As opposed to the narrator’s inner guilt in ‚The Raven‛ being expressed in a superficial form.

examining all the implications of the bird’s ‚Nevermore. He chooses his words wisely. and his self-proclamation of sanity. In ‚The Raven‛ however. it is a simple plot of Recognition in which the poet. it is the only poem by Poe which leads the reader through an action. in an economic sense. the plot is simple.‛ recognizes his doom. Poe goes into significant detail on the different sounds being heard. and offers hopeful reasoning to the bird’s appearance in his chamber.reactions. that Poe uses such depth of detail and dramatic form. the narrator in ‚The .‛ Allen Tate explains how ‚The Raven‛ is the one poem by Poe which is not directly lyrical or romantic expressionism. (Tate) It is because of the narrator’s own struggle with his conscience. and how the form of the poem mimics the narrator’s own progression: It has dramatic form and progression: the poet conducts a dialogue with his demon. In classical terms. In his academic article entitled ‚The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Unlike the focused mind of a killer. Poe strips the story of excess detail as a way to intensify the narrator’s fascination with the vulture eye. not complex. to create a short story focused on content rather than superfluous background and buildup. the explanation for these sounds. and the amount of sorrow and grief he mulls over in his brain on a nightly basis.‛ Placing his pen in the hand of a psychopathic murderer to detail the events of the crime. the beating heart.

Whereas the quickened pace of ‚The Tell-Tale Heart‛ reflects the mindset of the murderous narrator. A complement to Poe’s superb implementation of syntax is his equally effective application of diction in ‚The Raven‛. Poe employs a cool and collected narrator to make rational deductions as to what is making the sounds and to why the raven is in his chamber. Even when the raven states its famous refrain . to represent an underworld background from which the raven originated. Poe effectively condenses the amount of explaining that is needed. and his rationalized thinking towards the raven and the word ‚Nevermore‛. The narrator in ‚The Raven‛ is initially unfazed by the presence of the peculiar bird and its unique way of walking into his chamber. From word choices of ‚Plutonian‛ (Raven 47). mainly focusing on how each can be self-deprecating.Raven‛ is open-minded. and frenzied speech in both ‚The Raven‛ and ‚The Tell-Tale Heart. internal rhymes. which is a potion capable of causing oblivion of grief and sorrow. Underneath an exterior veil of beautiful language. This particular economy of words allows for his poem to achieve a continuous rhythm and mood. a rhythm which complements the overall events of the poem of the relatively collected narrator. to ‚nepenthe‛ (Raven 83). downplaying its grand entrance by mockingly calling the bird a ‚craven‛ (Raven 45). the suspenseful yet calmly told story of ‚The Raven‛ reflects the mindset of a loving. though troubled.‛ is a dramatic tale of human struggle with guilt and grief. widower searching for answers.

the narrator takes stock in its response by calling the raven a ‚prophet‛ (Raven 85). and desired them here to rest from their fatigues upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim‛ (Heart 15).‛ Arthur Robinson explains how the narrator’s proclamation of sanity produces an opposite effect upon the reader: ‚The criminal. for example. however. --for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome…I bade them search --search well…In the enthusiasm of my confidence.‛ Secondly. Firstly. Despite the fact that the narrator knows he will receive the same negative. appears obsessed with defending his psychic self at whatever cost. the narrator dismisses it as merely a reply ‚caught from some unhappy master‛ (Raven 63). but actually his drive is self-destructive since successful defense upon either implied charge – of murder or of criminal insanity – automatically involves admission of guilt upon the other. and take thy form from off my door!‛ (Raven 101). Exposed on two occasions. in his article titled ‚Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’.‚Nevermore‛. ‚I smiled. I brought chairs into the room. when the narrator pushes the bounds of his confidence to the point that he leads himself into madness. upon continued recitation of the word. Assuming the three officers to be . he continues talking to the raven to the point that with every statement he will be tormented even more so by the response: ‚On the morrow he will leave me/ as my hopes have flown before/ is there balm in Gilead?/ [will Heaven] clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore?/ Take thy beak from out my heart. the equivalent self-inflicting condemnation is also seen in ‚The Tell-Tale Heart‛. ominous response.

‛ are both equally capable of taking control over a sane host and leading them down a path of regret. Guilt over emotional loss. the Son and the Holy Ghost. his conscience. In effect. one can engineer one’s own madness if one refuses to confess. ‚[I]t is his own heart. Although both pieces offer the same warning and do so with a display of mastery in symbolism. his tell-tale heart. as presented externally in ‚The Raven. the narrator could not free himself of the fear that his horrible deed was secret after all. as seen internally in ‚The Tell-Tale Heart. which betrays him‛ (Tucker). each retains a certain amount of distinct identity through their differing sentence structures and primary motifs.‛ and guilt over physical loss even at one’s own doing. . which cannot hide from the all-seeing eye of God.representative of the Father.

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