The stakes were higher than ever in Shmoop’s Fall 2010 Essay Contest. We asked students to argue whether or not the narrators in “The Raven” and The Tell-Tale Heart were insane. We received hundreds of entries from around the globe.
Grand Prize: winner gets an iPad 3G… the champ’s entire high school wins one free year of Shmoop Test Prep (PSAT, SAT, and AP Exams) and Teacher’s Editions.
Ken Li, Old Tappan High School, Old Tappan, NJ. Read Ken’s Essay Below
- Christine Kim, Old Tappan High School, Old Tappan, NJ
- Hansol Park, Old Tappan High School, Old Tappan, NJ
- Morgan Crago, Village Christian Academy, Fayetteville, NC
- Bishop Verot High School, Fort Myers, FL
Old Tappan is not messing around, folks. Out of hundreds of entries, three students from Ms. Dee’s English class nabbed spots in our top five.
Says the rightfully proud Ms. Dee, “I work my students hard. To have their work validated by someone other than me is truly an extraordinary and appreciated gift.”
Oh, and Old Tappan’s football team just played in the NJ state championship game. It’s a good time to be a Golden Knight.
Read Ken’s Prize-Nabbing Essay
On a murderous night, two young men entwined in an infinite loop of emotion ultimately destroy themselves. In Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven”, these two men are the narrators who demonstrate their incapacity to cope with personal feelings, characterizing their insanity. Each story does not merely inform of the crazed preoccupations of two men, but effectively reveals their insanity by showing their vain attempts to cure themselves of this ailment and the paradoxical self destruction that results.
The narrators’ recognition of their obsessions and attempts to cure themselves indicate their insanity. The narrator of “The Raven” immediately demonstrates recognition of his craziness by introducing himself as a sorrow laden man who reads books to relieve his excessive sorrow over the death of a loved one, “Lenore”. When a raven lands “on the…bust of Pallas”, it symbolizes enlightenment, since Pallas is the Greek God of wisdom, reminding the man of reality, in which Lenore will exist “nevermore” and the necessity to pursue normality. Ironically, the narrator’s initial attempts to relieve himself foil the raven’s beneficial motive. He has been reading “many…curious volume[s] of forgotten lore” to relieve his instability, yet these books have likely been associated with paranoid depictions of evil forces, leading him to dub the raven an “ominous bird of yore” and a “prophet” of the devil. Due to his rising paranoia of the harmless bird, his heightening insanity culminates in trapping his soul under the “shadow [of the raven]”. The man, in trying to cure himself, further traps his mind under the “shadow” of paranoia and despair.
Likewise, the “The Tell Tale Heart” illustrates recognition of insanity and failure to cure it. The narrator is consistently aggravated by a man’s “pale blue eye with a film”. Superficially, the man’s fogged eye frustrates the narrator, yet symbolically, it represents the fogged view of the narrator himself due to his insanity. Consequently, in frustration, the narrator attempts to clear his own mind by destroying this obscured eye, and pursues an “over-acuteness of the senses” as an indication of normality, reflected through his constant insistence on possessing this quality. However, his attempt to cure himself involves killing the man, and in doing so, he becomes culpable of a murder. The “over-acuteness of the senses” that the narrator previously pursued causes him to hear a “ringing” in his ears, and the narrator becomes afflicted with a new form of mental illness: paranoia. Hence, the vain attempts of the narrator to cure himself of insanity oppositely result in its heightening.
Through showing the vain attempts of the narrators to cure themselves, “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Raven” truly reveal the insanity of these two men. As the night ends, the two young men who began it with some hope of alleviating their insanity end in a worse condition. One is crazed on the verge of death, as “I must scream or die!”, while the other finishes in a tone of complete hopelessness.