Poe toys with the idealism within the first-person narrative versus authenticity or essence in this short-story, The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). It toys with self-delusion, more than anything, first in the eye of paranoia-induced-insanity and then the process of this character’s psychological retrogression. Case in point, “Hearken! and observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story” (1). Upon taking note of this mental back-and-forth, that quote becomes quite shady, or not at all reinforced, as this story progresses for this narrator and his brotherly-love (Koine Greek word being Philo or Philia, rather than Eros or Agape) for the old man, a person whom this narrator violently murders and dismembers. But soon enough this love progresses and then becomes evident as Agape – unconditional love, the strongest of the three.
The reason this story is so short and not too detailed is to place central-focus on this narrator’s angst. One big word to take note of, in the final sentence, is “Villains.” Does this mean that the police have now become the literal villains? Or is this to entail that the subjective character has completely lost it now? Or is this to tell how this character feels that his perceived reality (quite the oxymoron here) has been stolen? Thereby making this entire story nothing more than his fancy? Are the police villains since they stole his land of make-believe, then?
Though this term is quite an ambiguous one to take note of, for sake of this paragraph that final question would be more fitting. The point of this essay (thesis or premise) will be a search for the words, phrases, and characteristics in between Hearken! and Villains that back this claim.
Poe not only expounds upon the yin-and-yang parallel between love and hate in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but he also expands upon the layers. Moreover, Poe toys with personal recognition, or perception, versus objective comprehension. The narrator and the old man have an undoubted love, but the depth is what mystifies. This is the exact love format as that with Randle Patrick McMurphy and Chief Bromden of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey, 1962). This, too, soon enough is a type of love that first progresses and then becomes evident as Agape, unconditional love, the strongest of the three types of love (eros, philia, and agape).
The only difference is that Nurse Mildred Rached poses the Yang for narrator Chief Bromden’s Yin, the antagonist to his protagonist. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” that unnamed narrator presents both the protagonist and antagonist; yes, the evil power of that old man’s pale blue eye is nothing more than this unnamed narrator’s hyperactive imagination. Therefore, within one character alone, Poe portrays the psychological inversion of these complementary emotions, demonstrating that they are opposing universal emotions of one singular structure. In other words, Poe details the psychological intricacies and complexity of a random or unstated individual’s depth of character (thereby pointing out everybody’s rather than just anybody’s).
Furthermore, the subjectivity of the old man’s eye, the heartbeat, and his own claim to sanity are not comprehensible until the end of this short story. The sanity of this narrator, ironically, is not truly dismissed until he stops assuring the reader that he is sane. That irregular or asymmetrical or strange “vulture eye” that is “pale blue with a film over it” proves to show this entire person’s destiny to the subjective judgment of this anonymous narrator. Peculiar, sure, but so is both the common emotionally distressed reaction and the destiny of the average human alive today.
All the same, in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator fixates on the concept that an old man is glaring at him while his Evil Eye is transmitting a curse on him. This is where the paranoia steps in; the narrator kills the old man so he will spare any so-far-undiscovered evil transmitted by this evil eye. However, after the narrator obsesses over the eye, he wants to separate the old man from the Evil Eye and relieve this old man from any violent response to the eye. More than just a love-hate contradiction that the writer is toying with, to a strong degree this has become the protector / defender / protector aspect of love.
From this point the eye becomes for this narrator the I, or id (of the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described, according to Freud’s model of the psyche). By pointing out that he cannot discern between the vulture-eye and the “I” (id or identity) of this old man, this narrator nonetheless draws focus on the “I” of this subjective character for the reader.
Accordingly, this short story is loaded with contradictions. Ironically, this narrator attempts to claim complete sanity due to his frenzied state of nervous awareness. However, this self-delusion and ultimate paranoiac state of insanity as a momentary lapse of reason is entirely familiar as a human trait (supposedly to most mature humans, anyway). That fixation on and then blame of the vulture-eye as an escapism, psychologically (psychoanalysis), is recognized as this narrator’s mental displacement. This paradoxical self-deceit and these inconsistencies, then, are not only conceivable and even feasible, but they could also be perceived as probable.
Poe, Edgar Allen. “THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allan Poe 1843” Web. 7 February 2012. “http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/telltale.html“
Here is the citation:
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Signet, 1963, ©1962.
*The 1962 novel was adapted into a 1963 play.
This is from Wikipedia (and yes, this is exact):
Chief Bromden: The novel’s half-American Native American narrator, the Chief, has been in the mental hospital since the end of World War II. Bromden pretends to be deaf and mute, and he is privy to many of the ward’s dirty secrets.
As a young man, the Chief was a high school football star, a college student, and a war hero. After seeing his father, a true Native American chief, humiliated at the hands of the government and his white wife, Chief falls into despair and starts hallucinating. He is diagnosed with schizophrenia. He believes society is controlled by a large, mechanized system which he calls “The Combine.”
Randle McMurphy: A rebellious convict sent from a normal prison. He is guilty of battery and gambling. He had also been charged with, but never convicted of statutory rape. McMurphy is transferred from a prison work farm to the hospital, thinking it will be an easy way to serve out his sentence in comfort. In the end, McMurphy violently fights Nurse Ratched’s rule which costs him his freedom, his health and, ultimately, his life.
Nurse Ratched: The tyrannical head nurse of the mental institution, who exercises near-total power over those in her care, including her subordinates. She will not hesitate to restrict her patients’ access to medication, amenities, and basic human necessities if it suits her needs. Her greatest success is with Billy Bibbitt, from whom she can get everything she wants to know under the threat of informing his mother. McMurphy’s fun-loving, rebellious presence in Ratched’s institution is a constant annoyance, as neither threats nor punishment nor shock therapy will stop him or the patients under his sway. Eventually, after McMurphy nearly chokes her to death in a fit of rage, Nurse Ratched has him lobotomized. However, the damage has already been done, and Nurse Ratched’s rule is broken after McMurphy’s attack leaves her nearly unable to speak, which renders her unable to intimidate her patients, subordinates and superiors.
The “Black Boys” Washington, Williams and Warren: Three black men who work as aides in the ward. Williams is a dwarf, his growth stunted after witnessing his mother being raped by white men. The Chief says Nurse Ratched hired them for their sadistic nature.
Dr. Spivey: The ward doctor. Nurse Ratched drove off other doctors, but she kept Spivey because he always did as he was told. Harding suggests that the nurse could threaten to expose him as a drug addict if he stood up to her, regardless of whether or not he actually is one. McMurphy’s rebellion inspires him to stand up to Nurse Ratched.
Nurse Pilbow: The young night nurse. Her face, neck and chest are stained with a profound birthmark. She is a devout Catholic and presents symptoms of peccatophobia (fear of sinning or imaginary crimes). According to the Chief, she spends her time off either praying for the birthmark to disappear or scrubbing it furiously until her skin bleeds. She blames the patients for infecting her with their evil and takes it out on them.
Mr. Turkle: An elderly African American aide who works the late shift in the ward. The Chief notes that Turkle is far more kindly than the other aides. He agrees to allow McMurphy to host a party and sneak in prostitutes one night. He is a marijuana user, and shares his joint with some of the patients during the party.
The acutes are patients who officials believe can still be cured. With few exceptions, they are there voluntarily.
Billy Bibbit: A nervous, shy and boyish patient with an extreme speech impediment, Billy cuts himself and has attempted suicide numerous times. Nurse Ratched is a close friend of his overbearing mother, who treats him like a child, despite his being in his thirties. To alleviate Billy’s fear of women, McMurphy sneaks a prostitute into the ward so Billy can lose his virginity. Upon being discovered the next morning, Billy speaks for the first time without stuttering. It’s only after Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother that Billy reverts to his nervous ways. Fearing the loss of his mother’s love after Ratched’s threat, Billy has an emotional breakdown and cuts his own throat.
Dale Harding: The unofficial leader of the patients before McMurphy arrives, he is an intelligent, good-looking man who’s ashamed of his repressed homosexuality. Harding’s beautiful yet malcontent wife is a source of shame for him; he cannot please her, so she constantly emasculates him.
George Sorensen: A man with germaphobia, he spends his days repeatedly washing his hands in the ward’s drinking fountain. McMurphy manages to persuade him to lead a fishing expedition for the patients after discovering that he’d captained a PT boat during World War II. Afterward, the staff forcibly delouse him, knowing the mental anguish this causes him. The delousing is a retribution by Nurse Ratched, rather than medical care.
Charles Cheswick: A loud-mouthed patient who always demands changes in the ward, but never has the courage to see anything through. According to Chief, he “climbs onto a soapbox” and “shouts for a following,” but backs down when there are any repercussions by the Big Nurse from his demands. He finds a friend in McMurphy, who’s able to voice his opinions for him. After McMurphy loses his confidence when he learns that his stay in the ward is indefinite, Cheswick drowns himself in the swimming pool.
Martini: A patient who suffers from severe hallucinations.
Scanlon: A patient obsessed with explosives and destruction, he’s the only non-vegetative patient confined to the ward by force (aside from McMurphy and Bromden); the rest could leave at any time. It’s Scanlon who convinces the Chief that he should escape.
Sefelt and Fredrickson: Two epileptic patients. Jim Sefelt refuses to take his anti-seizure medication, as it makes his hair and teeth fall out; he’s plagued by seizures, which the Chief believes are controlled by Nurse Ratched. Bruce Fredrickson takes Sefelt’s medication, because he’s terrified of the seizures.
Max Taber: An unruly patient who was released before McMurphy arrived, the Chief recalls how, after questioning what was in his medication, Nurse Ratched had him “fixed.” He walked out of the hospital a sane man, a tribute to The Combine’s terrible power.
The Chronics are patients who will never be cured. Many of the Chronics are in vegetative states.
Ruckly: A hell-raising patient who challenges the rules until his lobotomy. After the lobotomy, he sits and stares at a picture of his wife, and occasionally screams profanities. He is kept in the ward as a reminder of what happens to patients who get out of line.
Ellis: Ellis was put in a vegetative state by electroshock therapy. He stands against the wall in a disturbing messianic position with arms outstretched.
Pete Bancini: Bancini suffered brain damage at birth but managed to hold down simple jobs until he was institutionalized. He sits, wagging his head and complaining how tired he is. The Chief remembers how once, and only once, he lashed out violently against the aides, telling the other patients that he was a living miscarriage, born dead.
Rawler: A patient on the Disturbed ward, above the main ward, who says nothing but “loo, loo, loo!” all day and tries to run up the walls. The Chief believes he has been wired to receive radio transmissions. One night, Rawler castrates himself while sitting on the toilet and bleeds to death before anyone realizes what he has done.
Old Blastic: An old patient who is in a vegetative state. The first night McMurphy is in the ward, Bromden dreams Blastic is hung by his heel and sliced open, spilling his rusty visceral matter. The next morning it is revealed that Blastic died during the night.
The Lifeguard: An ex-professional football player, he still has the cleat marks on his forehead from the injury that scrambled his brains. While he is the lifeguard at the hospital pool, he remains in the disturbed ward because he occasionally tackles the nurses. It is the lifeguard who tells McMurphy that he will stay in the hospital until Nurse Ratched decides he may go, regardless of his original prison sentence.
Colonel Matterson: The oldest patient in the ward, he suffers from severe senile dementia and cannot move without a wheelchair. He is a veteran of the First World War, and spends his days “explaining” objects through metaphor, with quotes such as “Mexico is … the walnut.” The Chief believes there is logic to his babbling.
Candy: The prostitute that McMurphy brings on the fishing trip. Billy Bibbit, a boyish patient who has no experience with women, obviously has a crush on her and McMurphy convinces Candy to sleep with him.
Sandy: Another prostitute and friend of McMurphy, she shows up with Candy on the night of the party. She and Sefelt sleep together. Sefelt has a seizure while they are having sexual intercourse.
Vera Harding: Dale Harding’s beautiful wife, who visits him faithfully but flirts with the other men while she’s there. Harding mocks her lack of education and refinement; she mocks Harding’s lack of manhood.
*However, NEVER cite Wikipedia. If anything, reference this one instead:
Biography: Whitley, Peggy. Goodwin, Susan. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Ken Kesey 1935 – 2001. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library. Revision: 06/2010 by pwhitley. Web. 26 February 2012.
Included within this biography are Kesey’s key players in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:
- P. McMurphy
A con man who becomes a modern-day rebel and hero cast in the mode of the cowboy hero of the American Western. Charming and manipulating, he is a forceful character living a generation too late. He challenges authority. Using a strong sense of humor and comic exaggeration, he instigates the changes at the sanitarium and teaches the inmates to be sane.
A thirty-one year old man, psychologically an adolescent, is still under the control of his mother. McMurphy finds a way to bring out his manhood.
Schizophrenic, and as narrator, holds a key position. He is a tall and strong Native American who feigns muteness and deafness to protect himself from pain. McMurphy rescues him from his silence.
Big Nurse, described as ‘enormous, capable of swelling up bigger and bigger to monstrous proportions. She is the ward superintendent, the ultimate authority demanding obedience and perfect order from everyone
The best educated of the men on the ward, Dale Harding is president of the Patients’ Council when McMurphy is admitted to the hospital. He serves a useful purpose, both for McMurphy and for us: while the Chief with his hallucinations may give us an unusual insight into the hospital, Harding gives us the sorts of rational explanations we’re used to hearing. It’s Harding who tells McMurphy how Nurse Ratched is able to maintain her power, how electroshock therapy works, what a lobotomy does to people. It’s Harding who helpss the new patients and the reader understand the matriarchy directed bt Nurse Ratched. His change and cure is complete, thanks to McMurphy.