Psychoanalytic literary theory or criticism concerns mainly the unconscious mind. The actions and responses of a person or character in a story or even the way a reader interprets a story. According to Ross C Murfin it could be said that the psychoanalytic approach started with Freud. A psychoanalytic critic like Freud would think of literary works of fiction as something that resembles a dream. Freud thought of dreams as repressed wishes and fears. The same can be said of literary works of fiction. The symbols in a fiction story can interpreted as a writer’s repressed wishes and fears. “Not what the story is really about, but what it makes you keep on thinking or wanting to say.” (Adam Phillips) The reader might also pick up on the symbols and interpret them in a way that fits their own wishes and/or fears.
Edgar Allan Poe is an American writer best known for his gothic works of fiction usually dealing with death. One of his best known and popular works is called The Tell-Tale Heart. The story is told by an unknown narrator. It is unclear in the story if the narrator is man or woman but many assume the narrator to be a man. “Language, the system of difference which articulates identities” (Lacan). The choosing of the gender according to the reader can be of great interest to a psychoanalytic critic because in choosing a man or a woman as the narrator can reveal some of the readers’ thoughts, wishes and fears, repressed or not. The narrator seems to be confessing (also to an unknown) about what he does with the old man that the narrator lives with. The narrator claims to have loved the old man but the only thing that bothered, scared and drove the narrator crazy was the old man’s “pale blue eye with a film over it”, that resembled a vultures eye. The narrator calls it the old man’s “evil eye”. The way the narrator calls it the “evil eye” is interesting because you can almost say that the narrator is scared of the eye. Why? Perhaps because this person (narrator) might have done something that he is ashamed of and he/she may think that the “evil eye” sees right through him, to the truth.
The eye causes the narrator such distress that he/decides that it is time to get rid of the eye by killing the old man. Every night for a week the narrator went into the old man’s room and took a lantern which the narrator used so that “that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye” of the old man. On the eighth night the narrator went in as usual but this time he noticed that the old man was awakened by a noise. "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes he has 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. 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.” The old man is clearly scared and this seems to excite the narrator by the way he tells it.
This story is filled with ambiguity which would be very interesting to a psychoanalytic critic. The relationship between the narrator and the old man is unknown. This man could be anyone to the narrator like an uncle, grandfather, father, or even a friend.