The idea that certain things in life are out of our control is an essential concept to understand when a person comes into adulthood. "A Tell Tale Heart" helps us to understand the mind of a man whose own lack of sanity is a circumstantial factor that influences and often dominates his own personal choices. The eye of "the old man" seems to act as the catalyst for his murder. In the story, the main character states,
"Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that 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 1206).
This quote strongly suggests the need for the reader's immediate understanding that the old man is blameless in his own demise. Often in literature an eye can be used as a metaphor for perception or the person's outlook on the world. The eye is a commodity of the old man that he has no control over and from this we understand how the old man had no ability to prevent his own murder or to even understand the need for its occurrence. The fact that our main character is driven mad by the eye is also tantamount because a loss of sanity is also perceived by the reader as a loss of control. The fact that both characters are adherently blameless for their actions speaks volumes to society's perception of power and the extent of free will. When we can understand the eye as a metaphor for the own man's personal outlook on life, it sheds the situation in an even harsher light, because the old man is essentially entering the environment of the main character and leaving his own comfort zone. Thus, when we as readers want to further understand the impact of power and control within this story, we must understand the setting that the events take place in.
Although, as it has been proven, humans cannot always dictate the circumstances in our lives, we can often choose the environment that we will live out of lives. Most humans instinctively search for docile places of sanctuary to escape from the harsh realities of life. Within this story, our plot plays out within the confines of the main characters home. Although it is never established that the house actually belongs to the main character, the preceding events of the murder suggest that the house is the only manner of confiding the main character's dire secret. For example, the main character states, "But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead" (Poe 1208). From this quotation, we can see that the home is a way to enclose the direness of the situation. The walls provide protection from unwanted outside influence. In saying this, we as the reader might come to the conclusion that often the choice of physical setting or advantageous environment is essential to the politics of our control or power. It is also not much of a stretch to say that the physical setting was the only power or control that the main character had over the situation. This, of course, gives power and control to the main character over the old man. Soon after, the main character, after dismembering the old man's corpse, hopes to further separate himself from unwanted admission of his crime by burying the body underneath the floorboards (Poe 1208). This strongly comments on the stories oversight on the issue of power because it shows us that even within the confines of the parameters we set for ourselves, and even when our actions have drastic consequences, the world is full of places to hide our secrets and the parameters we set for ourselves can expand. In other words, circumstance will always lead to more circumstance or new opportunities. While this idea might say a lot about the world we live in, the end result for our main character shows us the futility of human's obsession with power.
The previously established central theme of this short story, the power of human guilt, is demonstrated extremely dramatically within this short story. Rather than being an actual human heart that made incessant noise beneath the main character's floorboards, it is instead a metaphor for the writhing (or beating) guilt that came to fruition through the main characters slow understanding of the crime he had committed. The fact that the main character ends up turning himself in, admitting his crime, and ridding himself of such overwhelming guilt, says a lot about the previously discussed realm of uncontrollable circumstances. The fact that we as a society all understand that our lives will end one day seems to have two concurrent effects; either a person's choices become more fine-tuned in the hopes that they will achieve a personal goal in the allotted time, or the person's choices lose some credibility in a world with one unavoidable result. It is apparent that, for the main character, the choice to admit his crime and come to terms with his sins was, in and of itself, an unforeseen result to an uncontrollable situation. From this we are once again, and climatically, shown an example of human's natural attempts to understand and establish power and control. It is the main character's last ditch effort to dictate the terms and conditions of his life by attempting to salvage what was left of it. While it may seem karmic that the main character receives an unfavorable outcome, we must understand what he gained, or hoped to gain, at the end of the story. At the conclusion of the story, our main character exclaims, "Villainsâ€¦ dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks!- here, here!- it is the beating of the hideous heart!" (Poe 1209). It is this exclamation that expresses to us the change of desires for our main character. Rather than living with the hope that his deed will go unpunished, he instead chooses an immediate solution for the relief it might bring. The relief that he received in admitting his crime assuredly felt like a breath of fresh air after such a horrifying set of events. Indeed, we all search for similar relief from the confines of our stressful lives. The final decree, or attempt at a display of power, by our main character helps us better understand that rather than attempting to be powerful in all situations that might come our way, we can instead enjoy the relief of adherence.
The idea of adhering to the will others is a difficult thing for many people to do. Within the story, neither of our main characters ever bends to the will of each other, and it is with the end result that we can fully appreciate the gravity of the message Edgar Allen Poe hoped to relay to us. While the issue of power is reflected well within this story, it is only one of many social aspects that is explored within this story. What can be taken from Poe's exploration of power, however, is a clear view of the many ways that attempting to be powerful can both steer and doom a person's life. It reminds the reader that he or she must always be vigilant of the choices he or she makes and the influence that he or she has upon others. What must be appreciated is that often the best course of control is to forfeit control.