“It’s True! yes, I have been ill, very ill. But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Is it not clear that I am not mad?”

This quote is from the Gothic short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ written by Edgar Allan Poe. This novel follows the mind of a man who is unwilling to admit his insanity. He kills a man with no motive and calls the authorities before confessing his crimes and showing us how mad he actually is. The narrator in this short story is a Gothic protagonist. A gothic protagonist is the main character in a gothic novel. There are six traits that relate to a Gothic protagonist. These traits are contrasting qualities, High social rank, often shows negative foreshadowing, is driven by strong emotions, is secretive or has an air of mystery and has a need to know. These traits are related to a Gothic protagonist because they are consistently used in Gothic novels and short stories and are globally accepted to be the traits of a Gothic protagonist. They are common conventions of a gothic protagonist.  I will be looking at two of these traits and how the narrator shows these two traits. These two traits are contrasting qualities and need to know.

“But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Is it not clear that I am not mad?” The story starts with the narrator asking rhetorical questions and asking us whether he is mad or not. The narrator is doing this because he needs reassurance that he is not mad and this is the quality ‘need to know’ therefore showing a trait of a gothic protagonist. This just makes me think that he is actually mad because if he truly thought he wasn’t then he wouldn’t be asking so many questions like this in such a small amount of time. When I read this part of the text I immediately thought that he was crazy and quite mysterious. In a way, I relate to the narrator but it not in as much of an extreme way. I also have the quality of need to know. Whether I hear someone say my name or just a rumour I need to know what is going on. I do this because I like to be in control and obviously get a bit nervous if I am not. I am quite self-conscious at the moment so when I hear someone say my name I automatically assume that they are saying something bad about me and I want to know what is going on and why someone is talking about me. This had the biggest effect on me as a reader because I felt I could relate to the narrator in that we both have a need to know. This is probably relevant to a lot of people around the world that are in the same boat as I am. No one likes to be talked about behind their backs and by wanting to know what people think about you means that you have the trait need to know and makes you have a trait of a Gothic protagonist. I think the man is insecure about who he really is. He is not able to accept who he is and he is not able to accept the condition he has. I relate to this statement. This is a big problem for him. If you do not accept who you are then you will just keep getting worse and when someone gives you a bit of a smack and tells you who you really are then you will take it really bad and become crazier and try and shut your feelings away. This is why he became so crazy. I can also relate to this because for a while I did not accept who I was and how I looked but eventually, I got a reality check and that helped me accept who I am and gave me the motivation to change myself and not just dwell on it. I think Poe has given the Protagonist this trait for a reason. I think he has done this so that we instantly think that there is something wrong with this man. Something mentally is missing.

The narrator later murders a man with no real motive but still, he tries to persuade us that he is innocent. He covers up his crime with such preciseness that no one could ever find the body yet if he really thought he was innocent then why would he try and hide the evidence? This is shown in this quote: “You should have seen how careful 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.” The narrator covers up his crime with absolute preciseness. This means he has the trait of contrasting qualities. He thinks he is sane but he murders a man with no motive and covers up the evidence perfectly which means he has obviously done something wrong. He is insane for killing the man but he must have some sanity because he has the right mindset to cover up the act so that he didn’t get exposed as insane and as a murderer. What reason would he have to clean up the mess unless it was wrong? These contrasting qualities make him seem to me like a perfect Gothic protagonist. This action makes me think that the narrator is feeling guilty about his actions. I know this because when I do something I shouldn’t be I tend to try and cover it up as best as possible.  I believe Poe has created these contrasting qualities to make us question the sanity of the narrator. He wants the narrator to be an edgy character that makes us think and draws us in. The narrator shows the trait of contrasting qualities in a different way. “I did not hate the old man; I even loved him,” he vouched to love him yet he killed him. The evil eye overpowered him and caused him to commit this crime. This shows two contrasting qualities, love and hatred.  Poe has done this to make us uneasy. How could someone be so calm and collected about killing a loved one? He has done this because a feeling of being uneasy is a common convention of gothic fiction.

I think Poe has used these two traits to create a persona of a gothic protagonist very effectively. The use of these two traits as well as other traits such as foreshadowing helped me to distinguish a clear gothic protagonist in this short story. I can relate to both of these traits in a less intense way. Everyone has a need to know sometimes and everyone has contrasting qualities. Some people hide their contrasting quality but it is still present.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Lewie,

    Thanks for getting your response in on time to receive feedback.

    You are treating the traits of the gothic protagonists like a checklist and this is not their purpose.

    At the moment I can only see one quote from the text. You’ll need to include more evidence to support your judgements.

    I would also like to see you develop your personal response more.This could be by looking at historical social context of the text or by evaluating your response to the way Poe develops his Gothic protectionist using the characteristics you have outlined.

    Mrs. P


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