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The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart

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Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Literary Device Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers—of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back—but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers), Literary Device and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily. I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out—"Who's there?" I kept quite still and said nothing. Stop and Think! For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;— just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the deathwatches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh, no!—it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul Literary Device when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept , Literary Device it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself—"It is nothing but the wind in the chimney—it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. Literary Device And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel—although he neither saw nor heard—to feel the presence of my head within the room.

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Monty's Thoughts

The phrase 'death watches in the wall' seemed peculiar to me. I checked the glossary to learn what 'death watches' means.



Monty's Response

I asked about the phrase 'death watches in the wall,' since I didn't know what it meant. I learned from the glossary that 'death watches' are a kind of wood-eating beetle that makes a sound like a ticking watch. I wonder if the narrator believes the superstition that the sound is an omen of death.

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Hali's Thoughts

When I stop to ask a question, I look for points that will help me understand the characters' actions and feelings.



Hali's Response

I asked myself why the narrator says he knows the sound well when he hears the old man groan in the darkness. When I looked at the rest of the passage, I realized the narrator has had many of his own experiences with fear during the night.

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Pedro's Self Check

Do your questions—

Ask about something important, not trivial?

Get to the point?

Often start with a question word (who, what, when, why, how)?

Focus on parts of the text or illustrations?

Require a substantive answer, not just a 'yes or no'?

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Monty's Thoughts

The phrase 'death watches in the wall' seemed peculiar to me. I checked the glossary to learn what 'death watches' means.

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Hali's Thoughts

When I stop to ask a question, I look for points that will help me understand the characters' actions and feelings.

Close Window


Pedro's Self Check

Do your questions—

Ask about something important, not trivial?

Get to the point?

Often start with a question word (who, what, when, why, how)?

Focus on parts of the text or illustrations?

Require a substantive answer, not just a 'yes or no'?

Ask about character, setting, key events, lessons learned, objectivity, bias, or perspective?

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Monty's Thoughts

I find it helpful to stop and ask myself questions about the story, especially when I see something I don't quite understand. Sometimes I notice clues in the surrounding text that help me find an answer. If I want some help, I check the Resources, Strategy Support, and Author's Craft sections, or I talk to a friend or teacher.

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Hali's Thoughts

When I visualize a scene in a story, I like to use all of my senses. I imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes. I imagine the temperature of the air. I even think about how it might feel to be doing the characters' actions and gestures.