I never liked “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Not in junior high or in high school and not even in college, when it turned social and we discussed the concept of The Perfect Crime and the role of religion in society. It’s not the texture of the language that bothers me so much as it is the story itself. It doesn’t resolve. It’s all conflict and build-up and a flat climax with no resolution. Nothing is solved. Nothing is finished. It’s sex without cuddling afterward.
My students took the lack of resolution as a gift. A few of them debated whether or not the character was justified in killing the old man and if maybe the evil eye represented power and oppression, not from the person himself but for what he represented. Could have been Big Brother or Joe Arpaio. Others debated whether or not it was really his conscience that got him so much as it was his own narcissism. They didn’t use the term itself. I think they chose “pride” instead.
Others focussed on the question of freedom and violence and whether or not it was okay to kill a person if it meant personal freedom. They got into arguments about war and revolution and whether or not our nation was founded on the blood of the innocent.
I step back and listen to the groups discuss the information. ELL, gifted, mainstream – the labels become meaningless in this moment as they move from generating questions to actually arguing their points with the text itself. Some of them yearn for resolution, realizing that I can’t answer their questions and desperately search Wikipedia for a decent answer.
There’s a beauty in the meandering dialog. It’s a rhizome, interconnected without ever stopping, strong and messy and confusing. I think it’s what Poe would have wanted.
When I pick up the papers from the turn-in bin, I see an anonymous poem. I don’t know whether to cringe at the sloppy grammar and poor imitation of hip hop or smile at the use of two of our vocabulary words (emancipation and interpretation) and a clear understanding of the story. Excuse the language if you’re easily offended, but it made me laugh. We read “The Tell-tale Heart” yesterday and I found this little anonymous gem in the turn-in bin:
“I’m Edgar Allen Poe, bitch”
Yo my name is Edgar Allen Poe
My story’s gonna creep you out fo sho
With a plot that will fuck with yo mind
A clear theme you ain’t never gonna find
Gonna warn you before you ever start
There’s no answer to the Tell-tale Heart
It’s all left up to your interpretation
Well just call it a mind’s emancipation
And that’s why we read “The Tell-tale Heart.” Emancipation. Songs of Freedom.