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Poe Reference Essay

1469 words - 6 pages

Reference.
    In my view, "The Tell-Tale Heart" foregrounds different stages of Ego-Evil as the narrator defines himself through the narcissistic eye, the malicious glare, and the enigmatic gaze of the other.  In the story, the narrator clearly grounds himself as a powerful Master who can determine all values. As a result, he sees that he is sane, and that his disease is good. His disease has merely "sharpened [his] senses -- not destroyed -- not dulled them" (91). He remains an absolute Master who has an eye for the ultimate Truth, hence he can "calmly tell [the readers] the whole story".
    This episode foregrounds the way of the eye, which is always on the side of the Subject and its ...view middle of the document...

 In fact, this deliberate (mis)recognition is typical of the politics of the eye -- for the self sees that my possessions are good, yours are bad, my rebelliousness is a virtue and your deviance is monstrous. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator simply looks at the old man and dislikes him based on his subjective response. The old man has to go because the narrator's "blood [runs] cold" whenever he sees the old man. He thinks his disease makes him a better person with an "over acuteness of the senses," but the old man's disease can only turn him into a freak with the "Evil Eye" (89).    
    Ironically, the gaze puts the self in an object position, only to lead to a different kind of Ego-Evil in the form of voyeuristic unease.  If the eye is self-sufficient, the gaze operates at two levels: to gaze and to be gazed at. In the story, the narrator gazes at and is gazed at by the old man. Let's talk about the first gaze. When the narrator is about to kill the old man, he cannot bring himself to do the deed.As long as the old man's eye is closed, the narrator finds it "impossible to do the work" (89). Even when the old man opens his eye, for some time the narrator remains inactive, and he "refrain[s] and [keeps] still" (91). Hoffman explains the narrator's inability to act on the grounds that the old man is a "father-figure." His presence makes the narrator feel the "surveillance of the child by the father" (223). Gita Rajan follows this argument and further suggests that the old man denotes "patriarchal scrutiny or social control" (292). However, I believe that the reversal of power takes place because of the voyeuristic gaze. Previously, the eye led the narrator to feel no fear before the paternal figure and so he handled the old man well; but the narrator feels increasingly powerless and fearful before the (sleeping) old man because the voyeur's position predetermines his status. The pleasure/evil of voyeurism lies in the fact that a voyeur loves to be in the position of power/powerlessness because of his scopic drive: he becomes a Subject (voyeur) because, paradoxically, he can dominate the other through his gaze, and yet he is subject to the object of desire/fear/power and feels hopelessly excited or anxious before the object at which he is gazing. In the story, the narrator is upset as gaze can also generate a sense of disorientation: he seeks something that repulses/fascinates him, and he ends up seeing something that he longs to see but cannot bear. He wants to see the phantasmal object, the "dull blue," "hideous veil" (91) which is hidden behind the eyelids; but, like all voyeurs, instead of controlling the object, the narrator becomes obsessive and is lost in the object, henceforth losing self-control. This loss of dominance does not imply giving up his project, though the narrator begins to attribute power to the old man. The old man's eye becomes the "vulture eye" (91).
Then comes the second gaze. The hero feels threatened because the...

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