The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe - Littérature étrangère en langue étrangère - Terminale L

The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe - Littérature étrangère en langue étrangère - Terminale L

Digishcool vous propose un cours de littérature étrangère en langue étrangère sur la nouvelle d'Edgar Allan Poe : The Telltale Heart. Notre professeur a rédigé ce cours de niveau terminale L.

Dans ce chapitre de littérature étrangère en langue étrangère anglais, vous étudierez à l'aide d'une petite introduction le contexte historique qui à inspiré cette nouvelle. Par la suite, vous travaillerez sur l'auteur : Edgar Allan Poe ; grâce à sa biographie. Ensuite, une analyse (en français) de ce texte sera mise a votre disposition, puis vous travaillerez sur la représention de la démence dans cette nouvelle ainsi que le sentiment de paranoïa et de solitude du narrateur qui le dirige vers une perte du contrôle et de la culpabilité. Pour finir, notre professseur évoque la fiabilité du narrateur.

Vous pouvez télécharger gratuitement ci-desous ce cours de LELE de terminale L sur The Telltale Heart.

The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe - Littérature étrangère en langue étrangère - Terminale L

Le contenu du document

 

 

 

L'IMAGINAIRE ET LA FOLIE

Edgar Allan Poe, « The Telltale Heart »

 

I. Introduction

« The Telltale Heart » (1843) is a short story by the famous American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe. The short story, due to the rules and constraints imposed by its length, is an efficient way to tell a surprising, dreadful story that will shake the reader and leave him deeply moved when he finished reading.

Poe was a master of the horror genre, using dark settings and stories, fantastic or even macabre elements. The short story is a great format to tell horror stories, as they need to be very dense, they can incorporate a lot of disturbing elements in a short text, which gives an impression of distress and of total immersion in the story.

This short story, of which the title is very important as it reveals, as we will say later on, the plot twist of the story, shows the slow loss of sanity of the narrator, as he relates his story. This text, very ambiguous, is a good example of Poe's work on dark psychology, madness and the complexity of reality.

II. Edgar Allan Poe: a short biography

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of the major American authors of the 19th century. Even though he had a short life, he is still remembered today as a prolific author, poet, editor and editor. He was born in Boston, but never knew his father and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was three. He was adopted by John and Frances Allan, and lived in Virginia. He had a difficult relationship with John, but got on very well with his foster mother Frances.

Poe started writing when he was a teenager. In 1826, he went to university but money issues led him to gambling and left him in debt. As a consequence, he had to leave university and spent some years moving to different cities and living in poverty. He published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in 1827, in Boston. He joined the US army and a Military Academy, and at the same time he had to face problems with his foster father, John Allan.

In the 1830s, Poe went to live with his aunt and his young cousin Virginia. His relationship with her developed and he married her in 1836, in a peculiar context: she was only 13 at the time, while he was 27. Virginia became his muse and an important inspiration in his writing, but she died of tuberculosis some years later, at a young age.

Poe turned to writing full-time, but never managed to properly make a living from it. His main activity was that of critic, as he wrote reviews in magazines. He also published some of his own works in magazines, which was a popular way for writers to share their work with the public in the 19th century.

Poe introduced the Gothic and horror genre to American literature, quite popular in England at the same time. He also started the detective stories tradition, with his short story « The Murders in the Rue Morgue » which is considered to be the first detective story and was published in 1841. At the time, detective novels were not yet a genre in itself, and Poe was one of the first authors to write crime stories.

In 1845, he published his poem « The Raven », which became popular very quickly. It was a poem about loss, death, in which the narrator shares about the death of his lover. « The Raven » was much talked of and became the most iconic of his works during his lifetime.

He died in 1849 at the young age of 40, in mysterious circumstances. Since the death of his wife Virginia in 1847, Poe had lived in distress, poverty and faced problems with alcohol. On his way to Philadelphia at the end of September 1849, he disappeared for a week, and was found days later in Baltimore, in a state of suffering. Taken to the hospital, he died there but the exact cause of his death remains a mystery.

After his death, Poe's reputation was damaged by some authors because of his harsh critics and mysterious dark life. However, he was to become, and still is today, one of the most famous American writers. He started a tradition of horror and mystery literature that inspired many authors after him, and which still fascinates readers today.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

III. Summary of the text (in French)

« The Telltale Heart », dont le titre français est « Le Coeur Révélateur », est une courte nouvelle publiée en 1843. Le récit est mené à la première personne, par un narrateur qui dévoile son crime, comme une confession au lecteur pour soulager son esprit.

Le narrateur s'adresse directement au lecteur dès les premières lignes du texte, et commence son récit par « TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? » On ne sait pas exactement à qui il parle, ce qui donne l'impression qu'il s'agit d'un journal intime ou d'une confession orale, comme s'il faisait un monologue.

Dès le début de la nouvelle, le narrateur insiste sur le fait qu'il est sain d'esprit, et mentionne simplement qu'il est victime d'une maladie. Il se met ensuite à raconter l'histoire qui lui est arrivée.  Vivant vraisemblablement avec un vieil homme dont l'un des yeux, semblable à l’œil bleu d'un rapace, l'effrayait, le narrateur décide un jour de le tuer. Pour cela, il explique avoir mis en place un plan durant sept jours, pour préparer le meurtre de façon, selon lui, logique et réfléchie. Le narrateur semble fier de son plan et raconte en détail comment il s'est occupé du vieil homme chaque jour, se montrant gentil et agréable avec lui du lever au coucher, lui apportant du thé dans le jardin tous les après-midis et lui souhaitant une bonne nuit avant qu'il aille se coucher.

Il dévoile ensuite que chaque soir pendant ces sept jours, à minuit, il se rendait à la chambre du vieil homme et passait une heure à ouvrir la porte de la pièce, lentement et sans bruit, une lanterne à la main. Il cherchait ainsi à voir l’œil du vieil homme, qui était toujours fermé. Durant les sept nuits, le vieil homme dormit calmement et le narrateur ne pouvait voir l’œil maléfique ; il ne pouvait donc pas le tuer.

La huitième nuit, le narrateur recommence son rituel, ouvre la porte de la chambre du vieil homme, et celui-ci se réveille enfin. Se redressant sur son lit, il demande qui est là, mais ne voit pas le narrateur à cause de l'obscurité. Pendant une heure, le vieil homme reste alerte, les yeux ouverts, et le narrateur ne fait pas un bruit. Amusé par la situation, le narrateur joue avec le vieil homme, imagine ses pensées et montre sa fierté alors qu'il contrôle la situation et se réjouit de ce qu'il va se passer. Alors qu'il éclaire légèrement l'homme de sa lanterne, le narrateur aperçoit l’œil bleu qui l'effraie autant, et entend soudain le cœur du vieil homme battre. Le son se fait de plus en plus fort, et dans une pulsion pour faire arrêter le son de ces battements de cœur, le narrateur fait irruption dans la chambre et tue le vieil homme en le projetant à terre et en l'écrasant avec le lit.

The Telltale Heart - Edgar Allan Poe - Bac L - Cours de lele

Le narrateur se précipite sur le vieil homme pour le tuer

Le narrateur, satisfait de ne plus entendre le cœur du vieil homme et de ne plus voir son œil bleu, décrit ensuite la façon dont il démembre le corps et décide de cacher les morceaux sous le plancher, dans la chambre même où il l'a tué. Il précise n'avoir laissé aucune trace du meurtre, aucune tâche de sang qui puisse le trahir. Il insiste sur sa minutie, et presque le professionnalisme de son crime, pour prouver qu'il n'est pas fou ni impulsif. Néanmoins, sa folie transparaît dans ses paroles, ce qui donne au lecteur une impression de malaise, alors que l'on est témoin de ses terribles actions.

Celui-ci raconte enfin qu'au milieu de la nuit après avoir commis ce crime, des policiers se présentent à l'appartement et viennent enquêter, après qu'un voisin ait signalé avoir entendu un cri. Le narrateur dit d'abord n'avoir aucune crainte, étant sûr de lui et persuadé que personne ne pourrait jamais savoir ce qu'il a fait. Il invite les policiers, les laisser fouiller la maison, et discute avec eux en disant que le cri ayant été entendu avait été émis par lui-même. Il fait asseoir les policiers dans la chambre du vieil homme, juste au-dessus du plancher sous lequel le cadavre est caché. Il dit que l'homme est parti en vacances, et reste très calme.

Cours LELE Edgar Allan Poe - Bac L

Le narrateur et les policiers dans la chambre du vieil homme

Soudain, le narrateur commence à entendre un bruit et se rend compte qu'il pâlit. Il se sent mal à l'aise et souhaite que les policiers s'en aillent. Malgré tout, il essaye de cacher cet état et continue à discuter, mais le son devient de plus en plus fort et il ne parvient pas à l'ignorer. Le son semble venir de tout autour de lui, et l'homme parle donc plus fort pour essayer de le cacher, ayant peur que les policiers l'entendent aussi. Ils ne semblent cependant rien entendre et continuent à discuter tranquillement. De plus en plus fort, le son rend le narrateur très anxieux, et il se lève soudain, marchant dans la pièce et faisant de grands gestes en espérant distraire les policiers. Enfin, le son devenant encore plus assourdissant, le narrateur semble pris d'une crise de folie, et, ne pouvant plus supporter le battement et l'indifférence des policiers, il panique et révèle aux policiers ce qu'il a fait : le bruit qu'il entend est le battement du cœur du vieil homme, et dans un cri désespéré, le narrateur avoue aux policiers le meurtre et leur annonce que le corps est caché sous le plancher.

Il termine son récit sur cette révélation, hanté par le son du « cœur abominable » (« hideous heart » dans la version originale) de l'homme qu'il a tué.

IV. The representation of madness

The story depicts, in a very straight-forward way, the madness of its narrator. The first-person narrative gives access to his thoughts and feelings, giving a sense of reality and truthfulness that the reader would not have with an external narrator. Furthermore, the narrator addresses the reader directly from the very beginning, which catches his attention immediately. The short story almost starts as a conversation between narrator and reader, with an emphasis on the subject pronouns « I » and « you », so the voice of the narrator is very distinctive from the start.

In the first paragraph, the narrator mentions madness twice, in rhetorical questions: « How, then, am I mad? » This leads the reader to doubt the narrator's point of view, as he continues by promising to the reader that he is not mad. This beginning in medias res is a strong, powerful start, that directly addresses the main issue of the story: the narrator's mental state. Of course, the narrator himself thinks that he is sane, and repeats it several times during the story. Instead of madness, he talks about a « disease » he is victim of. However, we can see that he contradicts himself from the start without noticing it: on the very first line, he says « nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am », but in the next paragraph, he adds « observe how healthily --how calmly I can tell you the whole story. » In very few lines, he uses two antithetic adjectives to describe how he is feeling, showing that he has no control over his mind and that he doesn't realise his own mental state.

Indeed, madness is depicted, in this text, as a state that the narrator is not at all aware of. As the story advances, he drifts more and more into insanity. If he seems in control of the situation at the beginning, his madness takes over and completely overwhelms him at the end, where he ends up shouting and showing distress: « Almighty God! - no, no! They heard! - they suspected! - they knew! » We can see that even though he seems to be trying to persuade the reader of his sanity, he is in fact trying to persuade himself. Madness is seen as a state between two extremes, two voices in one person's mind.

Poe uses the antagonism between how the narrator describes himself, and the strong emotions he feels, to picture madness. Thus, the reader can say from the start that the narrator is mad, which gives to the reader a certain superiority over the crazy narrator.

V. Persecution: the narrator's solitude and paranoïa

In the story, the narrator seems to suffer from solitude, which affects him on a psychological level. Indeed, the only other character he mentions is the old man, whom he seems to live with or work for. There are no mentions of family or friends, and the narrator doesn't seem to be interested in the outside world. All that preoccupies him is what happens in his head. He is focused on his mind, not on the external world. This shows right away his solitude and confinement, he is stuck in the house, stuck with the old man, stuck with his dark thoughts (with the impression of being threatened by the man's eye), and later on he is stuck with his crime. This solitude, coupled with the evident madness which changes his perception and influences his actions, leads to the narrator being lost in paranoïa and feeling persecuted.

First, he seems to feel alone against the whole world. His paranoïd thoughts make him think that the old man's blue eye is watching him and terrified him. This thought doesn't make any sense, as the old man appears to be quite passive and inoffensive, in the way the narrator describes him. It is just his eye that torments the narrator, so it seems that instead of a real threat, he is just projecting his anxiety and paranoïa on the old man. Furthermore, his paranoïa also appears in the scene with the policemen. When the beating he hears gets louder and louder, he goes into a fit of madness and immediately thinks that the police officers are making fun of him by not reacting: « they were making a mockery of my horror! », « I could bear these hypocritical smiles no longer! » Again, he feels oppressed by other invidivuals, just as he felt oppressed by the old man's eye. This reveals a distorted perception of reality, the narrator feels alone and misunderstood against the rest of the world, which is another sign of madness as his mind, twisted by paranoïa, makes him see danger and personal attacks. He is a solitary, paranoïd man and this is what leads to the murder and later on his avowal of the crime.

VI. Loss of control and guilt

If the narrator seems very sure of himself at the beginning of his narration, he quickly loses control over his crime and his feelings, which ultimately leads him to feel guilty and admit the murder.

When he kills the old man, the narrator mentions several times how clever and rational his attitude was. He seems almost proud of his deed: « You should have seen how wisely I proceeded --with what caution --with what foresight --with what dissimulation I went to work! », « I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. » Because he feels in control of the situation, and has the advantage over the old man, the narrator is sure of himself and can do what he wants. Thus, he follows his plan carefully and manages to kill the man exactly how he wanted. This feeling of control is very satisfying to him, and shows a need for power over his life.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that the murder seems to be achieved in cold blood, without any feeling of remorse. This display of dark cruelty participates in the effect of unease the reader feels as the narrator tells his story. He seems to find cruel happiness in the old man's death: « With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once --once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. » This apparent cruelty is however difficult to understand, as the narrator also says that he loved the old man, and indeed he took care of him every day: « I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. » Just as with the antithesis between sanity and madness, here the narrator shows two conflicting feelings: he loves the old man, but he still rejoices in killing him.

However, during the meeting with the police officers, the narrator stars showing some guilt. This guilt is involuntary and psychological, and he has no control over it. This is where his perfect crime is starting to crumble, as he is caught up by his acts.

Indeed, if the narrator first feels comfortable with the policemen and even have them seat in the old man's bedroom, just above the dismembered body, he soon starts to hear the beating of the man's heart in his head. He quickly loses control of the situation and is overwhelmed by the sound, which seems to resonate all around him. This beating, which eventually leads him to admit his crime, represents the guilt he starts feeling. He is oppressed by the thought of the crime he has committed and can't help but tell the police officers the truth.

As soon as he loses control, the narrator feels threatened by the old man again, hearing his heart loudly even though the man is dead and, rationally, his heart cannot beat anymore. The narrator is disturbed by the police, who are entering his small, enclosed and solitary world. This violation of his mental and physical space makes him lose all control, and causes his mind to imagine the heartbeat of the old man and eventually giving up on his genius plan by admitting what he has done. He only feels guilty when he is facing other individuals, when his twisted sense of reality is confronted to the world.

VII. An unreliable narrator

In this short story, the narrator is unreliable. He is giving his own point of view, his own version of the story. We don't hear the old man speaking, nor the police officers speak either; the narrator used indirect speech, so that they don't have a voice of their own. The only voice we hear, telling the story, showing his emotions and expressing himself in the text, is that of the narrator.

As he clearly shows signs of insanity, we can wonder how accurate his version of the story is and to what extent he is saying the truth about what happened. As we sink in the story, thanks to the narrator's technique of writing, we only see one side of the crime, and one psychological account of the narrator's mind.

The way the narrator describes his thoughts gives a hint of how unreliable he is: he says that « [he] heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. [He] heard many things in hell. » This sentence, devoid of rationality, shows from the beginning that the narrator's vision of the world is distorted and can't be trusted.

Unreliable narrators, in horror stories like « The Telltale Heart », add to the uneasiness of the reader, making them more uncomfortable and showing a total absence of rationality and control over the story. Poe, through this poignant and realistic account of madness and guilt, depicts a frightening story, that looks like a real confession of murder.

Useful words:

  • gambling : jeux d'argent
  • foster father : père adoptif, de famille d'accueil
  • fit of madness : crise de folie
  • distorted : déformé
  • deed : acte, geste
  • cold blood : de sang froid
  • unease : malaise
  • guilt : culpabilité
  • a hint : un indice
  • devoid of : dénué de
Fin de l'extrait

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