The Labovian theory of a developed narrative contains six mandatory components. These components help the reader, or listener to a broader understanding of the thoughts and motivation of the internal narrator and the external storyteller. The abstract gives a representation about the story. The orientation draws a picture to familiarize the reader/listener of the necessary w's; who, what, when, where. The complicating action is the turn of events on which the story hinges. The resolution determines the outcome and usually leaves the reader/listener aware of a feeling of closure. The evaluation is the most essential component of the Labovian theory. It permeates throughout the narrative in hopeful attempts to keep the interest of the reader/listener peaked. The coda compliments the evaluation and brings the narrator and the reader/listener back together on common ground in order to bring the story to a close. Edgar Allan Poe's short story of a passionless crime undone by the heart incorporates the Labovian components. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a masterly written narrative, full of subtle nuances quick to deceive the senses. Poe sends the reader spinning into a world of symbolism, questioning the art of madness, and fearing the depravity of reason.
The "The Tell-Tale Heart" is, at a glance, seemingly about a man plotting to kill another man in cold blood. Looking further into the words, the reader can find a story of a man obsessed with senses and the ability to have complete control over them. The narrator uses reason to overwhelm the morality of his actions. His obsession takes over his whole being, thus bringing on the madness which over powers his world. The focus of the abstract is first seen as the narrator describes his idea as, "haunting him day and night"(226). Only an obsessed person could let something get to the point where they cannot think of anything else. Poe uses strategic wording to pinpoint the abstract. Poe blatantly announces the point, and the narrator confesses, "Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded . . . "(226). He was a coldly calculating man, obsessed that reason can conquer any sense, which in the end he finds is a never-ending battle.
A natural narrative needs facts to fill in the gap between the time the story is being told and when it actually happens. Without getting too far in-depth, Poe orients the reader enough with the situation that one can decipher that the plan to kill the old man, although took awhile to formulate, takes the narrator only a week to put into action. The narrator recalls "And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it-oh so gently!"(227). The narrator, quite narcissistically, incorporates his mental prowess over the situation when he repeats over and over again that he knew exactly how the old man was positioned, that he knew the "groan of mortal terror." The narrator thrives off the fear emanating from the old man, "although I chuckled at heart"(227). This phrase is particularly interesting because it is the first time that the narrator makes a reference to the heart. The connotation of the cold emptiness of the heart in comparison to the old man's deafening beats, leads the reader into the realization that it could and in fact is important to the complicating action.
The narrator, unable to stand the sound of the old man's heart or the sight of the Evil Eye, kills the old man with a swift movement. He calmly tells of the extremely rational precautions which he took to dispose of the body. But, the complicating action does not stop there. His fear of the neighbor's hearing (note again the reliance of the senses) moves the natural narrative along. As he answered the door "with a light heart"(229), The narrator invites the three policemen to come and search the house fully for any disturbance. This is his downfall. He is so assured by his reasoning capability that he assumes he is under no threat. But, the senses betray him once again when, "at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears"(229). This is the action that pulls the story to a climax. Without the lingering, or the perceived lingering of the beating heart within the room, the narrator's reason surely would have won, and he never would have been found out.
The use of evaluation in "The tell-Tale Heart" is ingenious. Poe manipulates the narrator into focusing the attention on the listener instead of the reader at key moments. By this I mean the reader, myself, am left as a side observer of seemingly casual interjections. The narrator begins his monologue by shouting "True-." He continues in the same sentence to say, " . . . But why will you say I'm mad?"(226), thus giving a task to the listener. He refers back to the task when he says, "If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer . . . "(228). Poe's uses of the present to future tense reflects the focus of the mentality of the narrator to the listener or the reader. Poe strategically places questions and sentence breaks for the continual interaction of the narrator and listener, "I smiled - for what had I to fear?"(229). This places the reader in an intense situation. Almost as though one is eavesdropping on a closed conversation. Undoubtedly, this is a key element in keeping the reader interested in the narrative.
The narrator tries throughout the story to portray himself as sane by rationality. The resolution is that he, whether true or not, felt that the policemen were mocking his fear. Ironically, this is exactly what he did to the old man. This challenges his omnipotent theory. One can say that he got what he deserved. Poe ties this relationship together, or the use of the coda, is seen through the disbelieving questions thrown out by an obviously agitated narrator. "Why would they not be gone?" "Was it possible they heard not?" "They heard!-They suspected!-they knew!" (229). The derision he felt from the policemen can merely be a projection of the contemptuous beating heart, which did not allow him to feel or reason, unscathed. This leaves the reader with a borderline satisfactory feeling that he is punished in some way. He can never escape the sickness of his feelings, or horror of his mind.
Poe's natural narrative, 'The Tell-Tale Heart," is a suspenseful story filled with symbolic twists and turns. The Labovian components of a complete narrative, abstract, orientation, evaluation, complicating action, coda and resolution, are all represented in Poe's story, no matter how vauge. Poe's use of abstract is by far the most advanced. The reader is lead to believe that the story is a mere anecdote about a man plotting to kill another. One soon can see that Poe uses the narrator to show how when both sense and reason are distorted, it causes a frighteningly erie effect on the individual. This being a sickly cold and meticulous obsession to control the perception of the senses. The narrator comments in the opening paragraphs, "Passion there was none." I leave you with this, if this man had acted in the fit of passion, would he still have been undone by the heart?
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