Like the Saxon king Alfred the Great, the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” hears “with both his ears.” However, whereas Alfred's chronicler, Bishop Asser, describes Alfred's talent for listening as a complement to the king's eager rationality, the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” who also hears “with both his ears,” is eager but not rational. He characterizes his acute hearing as a happy byproduct of an unnamed “disease,” arguing that it validates his claim of sanity, but his hearing is actually a vehicle for Poe's irony. While drawing on prior criticism, this article stresses how Poe's artistic control throughout the tale undermines the narrator's pretense of self-control. Thus, where the narrator calmly claims that mysterious vibrations from an old man's “Evil Eye” drove him to murder, Poe ironically emphasizes that sound is the character's undoing, ultimately producing a kind of aural nausea that the narrator re-experiences in the present as he tells an unidentified auditor how he murdered the old man. This nausea is what caused him to spew forth his confession of murder for the police originally and what causes him to do so again in the telling of events for his auditor. Poe particularly displays his artistic control with repetitions, rhetorically mocking the narrator's claim that heightened hearing demonstrates his sanity through the text's insistently repeated versions of the word “ear,” but he also displays his control through the rhetorical device of deixis, which derides the storyteller's inability to separate the narratorial past from the narratorial present.

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