The Creation of Suspense in "The Tell-Tale Heart"

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The Creation of Suspense in "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Robert Burns wrote that, “Suspense is worse than disappointment,” and yet we mostly enjoy it- the feelings of tension and anxiety, which can be found in many frightening films and terrifying stories. However, the creation of suspense is not always straightforward. In particular, along with a horror theme, an appropriate pace, vivid descriptions, adequate choice of words, and lively characters are all essential elements of suspenseful literature. Edgar Allan Poe’s skillful use of the above literary methods has made him one of the most famous writers of dreadful stories and poems. In the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe especially focuses on language and literary devices to keep the reader in suspense.

By changing the pace of the story from slow to fast, the author succeeds in building up suspenseful tension. The unnamed narrator describes the nights, he spent watching and waiting for the perfect moment to strike, which seem endless to the reader:"It took me[the narrator] an hour to place my whole head within the opening(19),” and “A watch’s minute’s hand moves more quickly than did mine(29).” The cautiousness of the murderer’s motion, which slows down the story’s tempo, not only leaves the reader in uncertainty- What is he going to do? What is going to happen? -but also creates great tension, since the time before a crime is committed is often terrifying to the murderer. While the killer’s waiting moments are depicted in slowness, his actions after the murder are shown with a fast pace: he starts talking non-stop, foaming, swearing, swinging the chair madly, and especially the story ends abruptly with his confession: “…here, here!- it is the beating of his hideous heart! (123)” that has the reader in escalating suspense.

In addition, the story is full of imagery that gives the reader ability to feel,…...

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