Reading the murder confession sent a chill through my spine: “Villains! ” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed? --tear up the planks! --here, here! --it is the beating of his hideous heart” (Poe 407)! These are the words of a man who murdered another person whom I believe to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. It is my duty as a highly experienced criminal psychiatrist to explain the motive behind this murder as a psychological disorder, thus making this person not responsible for his actions. However, my esteemed colleague Dr.
Mertz disagrees with my diagnosis stating this person does not suffer from a psychological disorder and should in fact be held responsible for his actions. The narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart” displays delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized behavior, three classic symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, which led to the murder of an old man. Delusions are one of the primary symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. According to the doctors from the Mayo Clinic staff, people who suffer from this disorder have distorted views of their experiences.
They believe these misinterpretations to be true even if they are proven to be wrong. The narrator shows delusional symptoms by saying the old man’s eye is “evil” and “resembles that of a vulture” (404). This vulture eye infuriated and agitated the narrator. Becoming obsessed with this vexing object he announces, “I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever” (404). The narrator makes this decision because he feels threatened by the eye alone and not the old man, which is highly illogical and symptomatic to this disorder.
Hallucinations are also a primary symptom of paranoid schizophrenia. The National Institute of Mental Health states that these hallucinations are imaginary and only the suffering individual can see, hear, smell, or feel. Auditory hallucinations are the most common; hearing things that other people can not. The narrator shows signs of auditory hallucinations from the very beginning of the case claiming, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell” (404).
Adding to the paranoia, the narrator thinks he hears the increasingly loud sound of the old man’s heart beating: “It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant” (405). After being taken over by the hallucinations and paranoia, the narrator exclaims: “the sound will be heard by the neighbors” (405)! Before the murder confession, the narrator again claims to hear the heartbeat. These details give added proof of the distorted perceptions and irrational fear that is associated with this type of schizophrenia. Disorganized behavior is the final symptom the narrator displays that is associated with paranoid schizophrenia.
The narrator exhibits this by cutting up the body and hiding it under the floor boards of the house. When the police arrive to investigate the scream heard from the house, the narrator states: “I smiled,--for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome” (406). As the police began to question the narrator, he offered the police chairs and purposely placed his over the body, and I quote: “I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim” (406).
Nonchalantly, the narrator continued answering their questions. As his hallucinations of the heart beating come about once more, the paranoia comes back and believes the police can hear it and thinks they are taunting him: “Was it possible they hear not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror” (406)! It is at that moment he looses all control and confesses. This kind of behavior shows the narrator’s incompetence. He is completely unaware that his actions are wrong. My colleague Dr.
Mertz, fellow psychiatrist with also many years of experience, is opposed to my diagnosis. He believes the narrator does not suffer from a psychological disorder and killed the old man in cold blood. He claims the narrator cleverly planned out the murder, like an animal stalking its prey. An example of this is the narrators comment about sneaking into the old man’s room every night for eight nights: “I moved it slowly--very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed” (404).
Dr. Mertz believes he became excited at the idea of finally following through with his plan to commit murder. The narrator hears the beating of his own heart, gets a rush of energy from this stimulating sensation, kills the old man, and carefully disposes of the evidence. Dr. Mertz states that it is out of sheer guilt the narrator confesses to the murder, and he should be held responsible for his actions. Although Dr. Mertz sees the narrator’s actions as intentional, my diagnosis proves he is clearly suffering from a psychological disorder.
Believing the old man’s eye is evil and vulture like, hearing the sound of a person’s heartbeat, and confessing to murder out of extreme paranoia is all proof of his psychosis. Delusions, Hallucinations, and disorganized behavior are classified by the National Institute for Mental Health as positive symptoms which are “easy to spot behaviors not seen in healthy people and usually involve a loss of contact with reality” (NIMH). This loss of reality became evident from the very beginning. The narrator began to perceive things around him in a negative and unrealistic way.
The combination of his symptoms drive him deeper into a schizophrenic state making him unable to rationalize and think correctly. I have had many experiences with cases like this, and it is my belief that he was overwhelmed by this psychosis, and he felt murdering the old man was his only escape. It is my recommendation that the narrator undergo treatment with medication and psychosocial therapy immediately. He will need this treatment for the rest of his life, but hopefully with time he will once again be able to take back control of his life.