Here is the answer and explanation to the question What does the opening paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart" imply about the narrator’s reliability?
What does the opening paragraph of “The Tell-Tale Heart” imply about the narrator’s reliability?
The narrator is likely insane and unreliable, as his comments indicate that he is experiencing a “disease” that has made him hear all things in heaven, earth, and hell.
The narrator begins by agreeing with someone he is speaking to and admitting that he is dreadfully nervous. In the opening sentence, the narrator also uses backward syntax by saying, “dreadfully nervous I had been and am,” which heightens the angst and tension of the speaker before he questions the person he is talking to about his sanity. The narrator proceeds to say that the “disease” had sharpened his senses. It is also interesting to note the numerous pauses in the sentences, which create a staccato effect that once again depicts the speaker’s anxiety. The narrator then mentions that he had a heightened sense of hearing and was able to hear all things in heaven, on earth, and in hell. The speaker’s comments are a red flag and the audience immediately begins questioning his sanity. The narrator once again questions the person he is speaking to about his sanity and challenges the audience to observe how easily he can tell the story, which will prove that he is sane. The narrator’s unorthodox syntax, constant pauses, ominous diction (“dreadfully,” “mad,” “disease,” “hell”), and repetitive questions regarding his sanity indicate that he is probably insane and unreliable. The most telling indication of his sanity is the comment he makes regarding his ability to hear all things in heaven and hell. Given the narrator’s insistence on his sanity, the reader can assume that he is unreliable.
When the narrator opens with the words that he is “very,very dreadfully nervous” and asks the reader why he thinks he is “mad”, this obviously produces some doubt in the narrator’s reliablity. The narrator continues by saying that he “heard all things in the heaven and in the earth.” That comment alone casts doubt about his sanity because no one hears everthing, especially everything in heaven. Finally, the narrator has to call our attention to “how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” By this time we are convinced that something is dreadfully wrong with the speaker because he is implying that he is usually not calm, but agitated.
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