8th February 2018

The Gothic Protagonist

#1 Contrasting qualities

The protagonist of “The Telltale Heart” holds the first descriptor of a gothic protagonist, which is having distinct contrasting qualities to the character. This means that the character holds one trait or characteristic and holds another which is the complete opposite of that trait. The use of juxtaposition is used in the beginning of the text when the protagonist states ” I did not hate the old man; I even loved him.” Though the protagonist loved the old man, this hatred theory of this evil eye overpowered this love, forcing him to act against this loving nature thus having two contrasting qualities, loving and cruel. Thought it was a reckless decision to kill the old man, he handles the body “carefully, so carefully that no human eye could see that they had been moved” giving two more contrasting qualities, reckless and careful. Since this is such a conflicting character, it is easy for him to have polar traits as throughout the story he is struggling with which side to pick, to be reckless or careful with his actions, or to be loving or cruel in his telltale heart.

#2 Usually upper class

This doesn’t apply to this story, as the class system isn’t a significant aspect of the story.

#3 Foreshadowed by something negative

The protagonist in “The Telltale Heart” holds the third descriptor of a gothic protagonist, which is that the character is often surrounded by devices that foreshadow something negative. This means that something bad or terrible is hinted at occurring through negative occurrences happening to the character. Something negative is foreshadowed with the use of juxtaposition when the protagonist claims “I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard sounds from hell”. This means that he was hopeful that he heard voices in his mind that were sane, good intentional voices from heaven that try to guide him into making good decisions such as admitting to the policeman that he did, in fact, kill the old man. These heavenly voices however are contradicted by the voices from hell, which coerce him into making insane decisions such as deciding to kill the old man because of the evil eye. The fact that he can hear voices from hell (which can be inferred to be much stronger and louder than the heavenly voices in tough times) foreshadows that he may not make the sanest or logical decisions later in the text. Early in the text the guilt experienced by the protagonist is foreshadowed with the use of balance, when “a cold feeling went up and down my back; even my blood became cold”. This means that foreshadows that he would later feel guilty and he already knew beforehand that he would feel cold once the deed is done. The negative foreshadowing builds up to the inevitable insanity and guilt that follows towards the end of the text.

#4 Driven by passion or strong emotions rather than logic or reason

The protagonist in “The Telltale Heart” holds the fourth descriptor for a gothic protagonist, which is that they are driven by strong passion or emotion as opposed to logic or reason. This means they go with what their heart tells rather than making a rational decision with their mind, an example of this is investigating the horrid scream coming next door. The protagonist has a strong passion for emphasizing and reiterating that he is sane, through repetition and exclamation marks. He denies he is mad or out of his mind and suggests that this illness his sense of hearing has “became more powerful” rather than thinking logically, in that he is hearing these voices and sounds in his mind and they, therefore, become more commanding and intrusive. The logical reasoning that others can see, is that he doesn’t think like a normal person would. Later in the story, personification is used to suggest “it was the eye, his Evil eye” that could be killed as if it had a life of its own. The protagonist believes the eye is an evil entity in itself rather than believing the logical reason, that the eye is just an eye with a watchful stare. He is passionate about this theory, that killing this eye would rid this irremovable dread rather than believing the logical reason that this eye isn’t a disconnected entity and is in full control by the old man. In reality, these beliefs are all in his head but the guilt he experiences later is a reasonable thing to experience, meaning he does regain some form of sanity.

#5 Generally secretive, has an air of mystery

The protagonist in “The telltale Heart” holds the fifth descriptor that makes a gothic protagonist, which is that they are generally secretive and have an air of mystery. This means that they hold dark secrets in their past that they would prefer to remain a mystery, an example of this is that they are presumed to be a “hero” when they are hiding an involvement in a crime. The use of the personal pronoun of “I” and through a first-person narration, the protagonist’s gender remains unknown, suggesting that a woman or man could be experiencing such insanity and this character isn’t subjective to one gender. This leaves a general secretive and mysterious nature to the protagonist, along with the fact that we don’t know why he is looking after this old man and how he came into this position with these abnormal beliefs. Perhaps this is because the protagonist doesn’t know himself as he mentions that “it is impossible to say how the idea first entered my head”. To other characters in the story, the protagonist maintains this air of mystery, most notably the two policemen, who are investigating the situation. Through the use of word connotations, the protagonist compares the confrontation to “playing a game with them”. This can be associated with playing a board game such as poker or Cluedo in which you must maintain a secret or lie. During the beginning of this confrontation, the protagonist’s lies deceive the policemen into believing that the old man was visiting a friend and he was in fact the one screaming, and therefore he is winning. As the guilt coerces the protagonist into admitting that he killed the old man, the policemen are winning the game as “it was they who were playing a game” with the protagonist. In the end, the protagonist succumbs to the guilt and loses by revealing his secret, thus revealing his telltale heart.

#6 Has a need to know

The protagonist in “The Telltale Heart” holds the sixth and final descriptor of a gothic protagonist, which is that they have a need to know things, or have a generally curious nature to their character. This means they tend to investigate dangerous or ominous situations, fueled by an urge to know what is lurking in the shadows. The protagonist makes it clear at the beginning of the text that he must desperately need the reader’s input on his sanity as he is curious himself on whether he is a “madman”. This constant use of rhetorical questioning such as “can you not see that I have full control of my mind?” and “is it not clear that I am not mad?” showcases his confusion of his own mental state. He seeks validation from others, needing to know that though he is ill, his mental state is healthy, suggesting that he is in denial of his insanity. The protagonist is curious about this evil eye and the grave intentions it holds for him, so curious that he cannot just dismiss the idea and must take action. He believes that this eye “was like the eye of a vulture, the eye of one of those terrible birds that watch and wait while an animal dies, and then fall upon the dead body and pull it to pieces and eat it.” This use of simile is to inform the reader, just how formidable this eye is to the protagonist and why he cannot just simply leave it alone. For 7 days every midnight, he visits the man to take an interrogative peak at the eye, to know if this “vulture eye” is watching, waiting for him to die. The protagonist is determined to prove to himself that he had to “kill the old man and close the eye forever!” and only after will this daunting threat of death no longer be. He needs to know that he is safe, that this eye will no longer be an issue, so as an extra precaution, the protagonist “cut off the head, then the arms and legs… careful not to let a single drop of blood fall on the floor” in order to prevent the discovery of the body.


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About Lucas

"Writing gives you freedom to create your own world, your rules, your characters and your imagination"