Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"The Single Thin Ray That Fell upon the Vulture Eye": Systemic Grammar and Its Use in Edgar A. Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"The Single Thin Ray That Fell upon the Vulture Eye": Systemic Grammar and Its Use in Edgar A. Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper argues that Edgar Allan Poe applies many linguistic techniques in his short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" in order to express the dilemma of a character caught up in the trap of a confused identity, lost subjectivity, and uncontrolled performances. Poe's story is analyzed in detail to examine the psychology of the performed actions. We analyze some aspects of clause construction, paying attention to 'who is doing what to whom.' This analysis is twofold: defining clause construction and discussing why this analysis is relevant and why Poe's story was chosen for this kind of analysis. In addition, we prove through the grammatical and linguistic choices made by Poe the madness and the instability of the main character in the story. We will be selective in choosing the lines to be discussed, as we focus on the lines that show the main character's detachment from himself and the rational world he belongs to. The language Poe uses in describing the mad act of killing the old man is highly committed to the psychology and ideology of the text along with its complexities in defining why a man would do what the narrator did.

Key words: Grammar; Stylistics; Poe; Fiction; "The Tell-Tale Heart"; Madness; American Literature; Psychological Fiction; Ideology

"Even the most trivial behaviors-biting your nails, disgust at the skin on the surface of warm milk, anger and impatience in traffic-are the focus and expression of the most plural and deep psychological complexity" (Freud, p.29).

Madness is hard to define, and it is hard to decide who is mad and who is sane. Some acts seem mad, some words said by some people appear to bear madness in them, but it is really hard to judge them to be pathological. On the surface, we try to interpret people's bizarre actions by analyzing them, by relating them to a certain theory of psychoanalysis, and we try to color our analysis with evidence from books of theory. All of this seems satisfying and efficient in representing a major part of the truth. But the question is: Is it always easy to judge a certain character in a novel or a short story as representing confused, mad thoughts and actions just because their actions say so? Or do words in such case speak louder than actions? What about the character itself and the words that were put in their mouth by the author? All those questions and more are found somewhere else away from psychology, though not so far.

We have always heard of the saying that it does not matter what you say, that what really matters is how you say it. That is the case when we, as literary researchers, try to connect language and its effects on the ideology of the text. Sometimes language serves this ideology, sometimes it betrays it, and sometimes it meticulously hides it so that the reader pays a lot of effort to unravel its mysteries. Being familiar with the linguistic structure of a text significantly helps to penetrate it and understand what the subjects are and what functions they perform. Still, grammar alone cannot do the trick. A researcher must take into consideration the internal and the external framework of the text, i.e. observing and analyzing the social, psychological, ideological and linguistic aspects that surround the text as well as its grammatical rules and structures.

It is quite essential to take into consideration the practical analysis and the discussion of the language in a particular text; no writer remains neutral and "objective" in his writings as Deidre Burton puts it in her stylistic analysis of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (Carter, 1982). Thus, certain writers try to express their ideology and psychology in what they write, resorting to language as a tool of expression. Edgar A. Poe applies many linguistic techniques in his short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" in order to express his dilemma of having a character caught up in the trap of a confused identity, lost subjectivity and uncontrolled performances. …

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