Poe creates tension in several ways. First, his use of the first person narrator helps build suspense. For example, right away our narrator address the reader, "True! -- nervous -- very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?" Here the reader is drawn right in to the story and its tension. The reader must decide is the man really mad? Is he reliable? What can be believe and what might be lies? All of these put the reader on edge.
Next, Poe's syntax, or word choice, is another way he creates tension. It is written as if the narrator is confessing to us. His uses of repetition and asides again draws the reader in and helps build suspense.
Poe also uses plot structure to create tension. Look at the scene where our narrator spies on the old man at night. Our narrator slowly opens the door a crack and each night after a little farther until the light falls on the man's face. Then when he finally is about to enter, after the eighth night, the man wakes up and startles our narrator. What tension!
Also, look at the methodical nature with which the narrator goes about covering up his crime. That builds tension.
Finally, look at the narrator's arrogance. How he seats himself right over the old man's body buried in his floor boards. The reader cannot help but wonder will he get away with it? Will he crack? Is he insane? What will happen?
In this story, Poe states “For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down” (63). In this example his words are described in such vivid detail that you picture this scene perfectly. Another example includes when Poe uses such phrases as, “It was open-wide, wide open-and I grew furious as I gazed upon it” (63). The use of repetition in first person point of view helps to stir some emotions of the unknown. It creates the suspense of not knowing what will happen next. By using first person point of view, Poe was able to show how the narrator feels. An example of this is when the narrator uses the phrases at the beginning to question his existence. The narrator wanted to know if he was mad, or not. Phrases such as “I heard all things in the heaven and in earth” (62), tells the reader that the narrator indeed is mad, yet the narrator thinks himself not. In the following statement, “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body” (64).
This in turn helps the reader form their opinion that this man is mad. Poe brilliantly uses first person point of view to his advantage in this story. It brings out many feelings in the readers mind. Without the use of this point of view, this story would not contain the clarity and suspense it does.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale Heart. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Sixth ed. Ed. Lisa Moore et al., New York, NY: Harper Collins. 1995. 61-65.