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Reading Fiction: 'The Tell-Tale Heart'

In this worksheet, students study texts from different cultures and traditions by analysing the language in American writer Edgar Allan Poe's short story 'The Tell-Tale Heart'.

'Reading Fiction: 'The Tell-Tale Heart'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

Curriculum topic:  Reading

Curriculum subtopic:  Read a Wide Range of High-Quality Texts

Difficulty level:  

down

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

You are now going to read the opening to a short story published in 1843 by an American writer, Edgar Allan Poe. The Tell-Tale Heart is a story in which the narrator tries to convince the reader of his sanity whilst describing a murder he has committed.

 



Read the following extract from the opening to the story and answer the questions that follow.



'The Tell-Tale Heart'



TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night about midnight I turned the latch of his door and opened it oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern all closed, closed so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly, very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then when my head was well in the room I undid the lantern cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- cautiously (for the hinges creaked), I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight, but I found the eye always closed, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

 

 

Now answer the questions about the text. You can refer back to this page at any time by pressing the 'Help' button.

How is the tale narrated and what is the effect of this narrative style? Choose two correct answers.

in the first person

in the second person

in the third person

This creates a flawed narration where the reader is constantly forced to question what they are reading.

This creates an omniscient narration where the reader can take at face value everything they are told.

Reread the opening line:

 

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad?

 

Which words are repeated and what is the effect of this repetition? Select three correct answers from the options below.

'True'

'very'

'nervous'

'mad'

This shows that the state of mind of the narrator is nervous and that we should question what he tells us.

This shows that the state of mind of the narrator is calm and that we can trust what he tells us.

What is the effect of the rhetorical question in the opening paragraph?

It makes the reader trust the narrator.

It makes the reader feel important.

It makes the reader become involved in the narrative and question the sanity of the narrator.

Read the final line of the opening paragraph again.

 

Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

 

Which word contrasts with the tone of the rest of the paragraph? What does this tell us about the narrator? Choose two correct answers.

'Hearken'

'calmly'

This word suggests that really the narrator is not mad and that we should trust what he tells us.

This word suggests that the narrator is trying to appear sane when really he isn't, so we shouldn't trust what he says.

Read the second paragraph again. What is the main effect of the short sentences?

They make the narrator seem in control.

They emphasise the nervousness of the narrator.

They make the story develop quickly.

Why does the narrator decide to kill the old man?

Because he hates him.

For his gold.

Because of his blind eye.

Read the line below again.

 

One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it.

 

Why do you think the writer uses the image of a vulture when describing the old man's eye?

 

It suggests the old man looks like a vulture.

It suggests the old man is a scavenger.

It suggests that the old man has some hidden power as a vulture is a powerful bird of prey.

Here are a selection of words and  images from the opening two paragraphs:

 

nervous

mad

hell

haunted

a pale blue eye with a film over it

my blood ran cold

 

What genre do they suggest the short story is?

Romance

Horror

Comedy

Now read the final paragraph again. 

 

In this paragraph the writer creates tension. How does he do this in the first few sentences?

He uses long sentences.

He uses short sentences.

He uses repetition.

The narrator describes the contrast in his behaviour towards the old man at night and in the day so that the old man does not suspect his murderous intentions.

 

Look at the following quotations from the final paragraph and decide whether they refer to his behaviour towards the old man at night or in the daytime. Hover your mouse over the quotations to read them in full.

Column A

Column B

I turned the latch of his door and opened it oh, s...
Day
Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I ...
Day
I went boldly into the chamber
Night
I undid the lantern cautiously -- oh, so cautiousl...
Night
spoke courageously to him
Day
calling him by name in a hearty tone
Night
I moved it slowly, very, very slowly,
Night

Taking the opening as a whole, are we as readers supposed to trust our narrator?

Yes

No

Which term refers to a narrator that the reader isn't supposed to trust?

Omniscient narrator

Flawed narrator

Bad narrator

  • Question 1

How is the tale narrated and what is the effect of this narrative style? Choose two correct answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
in the first person
This creates a flawed narration where the reader is constantly forced to question what they are reading.
EDDIE SAYS
The story is written in the first person and this creates a flawed narration where the reader is constantly forced to question what they are reading.
  • Question 2
Reread the opening line:

 

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad?

 

Which words are repeated and what is the effect of this repetition? Select three correct answers from the options below.

CORRECT ANSWER
'very'
'nervous'
This shows that the state of mind of the narrator is nervous and that we should question what he tells us.
EDDIE SAYS
The words that are repeated are 'nervous' and 'very'. These words show that the state of mind of the narrator is nervous and that we should question what he tells us.
  • Question 3

What is the effect of the rhetorical question in the opening paragraph?

CORRECT ANSWER
It makes the reader become involved in the narrative and question the sanity of the narrator.
EDDIE SAYS
It makes the reader become involved in the narrative and question the sanity of the narrator.
  • Question 4

Read the final line of the opening paragraph again.

 

Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

 

Which word contrasts with the tone of the rest of the paragraph? What does this tell us about the narrator? Choose two correct answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
'calmly'
This word suggests that the narrator is trying to appear sane when really he isn't, so we shouldn't trust what he says.
EDDIE SAYS
The word 'calmly' is in direct contrast to the nervous tone of the rest of the paragraph. This word suggests that the narrator is trying to appear sane when really he isn't, so we shouldn't trust what he says.
  • Question 5

Read the second paragraph again. What is the main effect of the short sentences?

CORRECT ANSWER
They emphasise the nervousness of the narrator.
EDDIE SAYS
The writer uses short sentences to emphasise the nervousness of the narrator.
  • Question 6

Why does the narrator decide to kill the old man?

CORRECT ANSWER
Because of his blind eye.
EDDIE SAYS
The narrator wants to kill the old man because of his blind eye.
  • Question 7

Read the line below again.

 

One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it.

 

Why do you think the writer uses the image of a vulture when describing the old man's eye?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
It suggests that the old man has some hidden power as a vulture is a powerful bird of prey.
EDDIE SAYS
The comparison to a vulture suggests that the old man has some hidden power as a vulture is a powerful bird of prey.
  • Question 8

Here are a selection of words and  images from the opening two paragraphs:

 

nervous

mad

hell

haunted

a pale blue eye with a film over it

my blood ran cold

 

What genre do they suggest the short story is?

CORRECT ANSWER
Horror
EDDIE SAYS
They suggest a horror genre.
  • Question 9

Now read the final paragraph again. 

 

In this paragraph the writer creates tension. How does he do this in the first few sentences?

CORRECT ANSWER
He uses short sentences.
EDDIE SAYS
The writer creates tension through short sentences.
  • Question 10

The narrator describes the contrast in his behaviour towards the old man at night and in the day so that the old man does not suspect his murderous intentions.

 

Look at the following quotations from the final paragraph and decide whether they refer to his behaviour towards the old man at night or in the daytime. Hover your mouse over the quotations to read them in full.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

I turned the latch of his door an...
Night
Oh, you would have laughed to see...
Night
I went boldly into the chamber
Day
I undid the lantern cautiously --...
Night
spoke courageously to him
Day
calling him by name in a hearty t...
Day
I moved it slowly, very, very slo...
Night
  • Question 11

Taking the opening as a whole, are we as readers supposed to trust our narrator?

CORRECT ANSWER
No
  • Question 12

Which term refers to a narrator that the reader isn't supposed to trust?

CORRECT ANSWER
Flawed narrator
---- OR ----

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