Due: February 25, 2010
Poe has captivated readers with his terrifying, tragic stories, but few have questioned his skills. Every student has read Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” at some point in their schooling history. Students interpret that tale as the narrator’s original confession, but the narrator confesses in the ending of the story. The narrator is obviously recounting the events for someone. This is the point where the few begin to question Poe’s rhetoric skills. Some believe that Poe was just a bad rhetorician while others, like Brett Zimmerman essayist of “Frantic Forensic Oratory: Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, ...view middle of the document...
Rhetoric was saturated in American culture during the time and was in the school curriculum says Kenneth Cmiel, a source of Zimmerman’s (2). Poe constantly had great orators of his time, like Jefferson, and of the past presented to him. In school he studied Latin, a necessity in learning ancient rhetoric (3, Zimmerman). In college Poe later joined the debate team, and according to Zimmerman, there is no “better forum for the practice of rhetoric” (3). His teachings in rhetoric are evident in other works, such as “Some words with a Mummy” notes Zimmerman. Poe’s character in “The Tell-Tale Heart” seems to be aware of the same things about rhetoric oratory that Poe does and is putting up a defense rather than just a flat out confession.
In the second part of his essay, Zimmerman focuses back to the Poe’s story. He gives a brief analysis of the narrator. He states the narrator is a paranoid schizophrenic who is so worried about being deemed as a madman that he in facts makes himself look mad by being preoccupied with disproving that he is indeed insane rather than proving his innocence (5). Zimmerman continues writing to explain how the narrator goes about creating his defense against the accusation of insanity. The madman uses several parts of classical speech, something Poe would be aware of. He uses the introduction with its appeal to emotion or ethos, then moves on to the confirmatio and confutatio, where reason is taken up, but fails to keep his composure in the ending. He uses praeparatio in his speech, which is preparing the audience to a story and tries to make things seem better than what they are with the story. This is called a paradiastole (6-8, Zimmerman) Poe ends his story just like every other one he wrote- with tragedy. He watches as his character fails. It is not that Poe is incompetent at making a case using rhetoric oratory; however, it is his fascination with tragedy. He wants his character to fail. What would be a better ending for a murderous madman who thinks he is sane?
I agree with Zimmerman‘s thesis that Poe is indeed a master of rhetoric. Given the background of Poe’s history it is hard to believe that he would not have mastered it or at least had been well oriented with it. He studied Latin and Horace and...