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Reference. In my view, "The Tell-Tale Heart" foregrounds different stages of Ego-Evil as the narrator defines himself through the narcissistic eye, the malicious glare, and the enigmatic gaze of the other. In the story, the narrator clearly grounds himself as a powerful Master who can determine all values. As a result, he sees that he is sane, and that his disease is good. His disease has merely "sharpened [his] senses -- not destroyed -- not dulled them" (91). He remains an absolute Master who has an eye for the ultimate Truth, hence he can "calmly tell [the readers] the whole story". This episode foregrounds the way of the eye, which is always on the side of the Subject and its narcissistic fantasy. In the Lacanian context, the eye allows the self to see itself as a unified creature and as a judge, hence the eye is essentially related to the imaginary "identity-building" process. However, as the eye sees what it wants to see, "sight" or "insight" can mean bias. As noted by Ellie Ragland, the eye gives a narcissistic perspective of "unification and fusion" that does not guarantee truth, though it certainly offers a personal "principle of law or judgment" (95). In the story, the eye's bias shows itself when the narrator immediately views the old man's disease in a negative light. The old man's cataract is seen to be the "Evil Eye" (89). If we borrow Martin Buber's concept, we may as well call it the "I-Thou difference." John Cleman believes that the narrator's mental condition is crucial in leading to this conclusion. He quotes Isaac Ray and points out that "madness is not indicated so much by any particular extravagance of thought or feeling, as by a well-marked change of character or departure from the ordinary habits of thinking, feeling and acting, without any adequate external cause”. However, humans do not need to be mad to slight others and prefer the self. In fact, this deliberate (mis)recognition is typical of the politics of the eye -- for the self sees that my possessions are good, yours are bad, my rebelliousness is a virtue and your deviance is monstrous. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator simply looks at the old man and dislikes him based on his subjective response. The old man has to go because the narrator's "blood [runs] cold" whenever he sees the old man. He thinks his disease makes him a better person with an "over acuteness of the senses," but the old man's disease can only turn him into a freak with the "Evil Eye" (89). Ironically, the gaze puts the self in an object position, only to lead to a different kind of Ego-Evil in the form of voyeuristic unease. If the eye is self-sufficient, the gaze operates at two levels: to gaze and to be gazed at. In the story, the narrator gazes at and is gazed at by the old man. Let's talk about the first gaze. When the narrator is about to kill the old man, he cannot bring himself to do the deed.As long as the old man's eye is closed, the narrator finds it "impossible to do the work" (89). Even when the old man opens his eye, for some time the narrator remains inactive, and he "refrain[s] and [keeps] still" (91). Hoffman explains the narrator's inability to act on the grounds that the old man is a "father-figure." His presence makes the narrator feel the "surveillance of the child by the father" (223). Gita Rajan follows this argument and further suggests that the old man denotes "patriarchal scrutiny or social control" (292). However, I believe that the reversal of power takes place because of the voyeuristic gaze. Previously, the eye led the narrator to feel no fear before the paternal figure and so he handled the old man well; but the narrator feels increasingly powerless and fearful before the (sleeping) old man because the voyeur's position predetermines his status. The pleasure/evil of voyeurism lies in the fact that a voyeur loves to be in the position of power/powerlessness because of his scopic drive: he becomes a Subject (voyeur) because, paradoxically, he can dominate the other through his gaze, and yet he is subject to the object of desire/fear/power and feels hopelessly excited or anxious before the object at which he is gazing. In the story, the narrator is upset as gaze can also generate a sense of disorientation: he seeks something that repulses/fascinates him, and he ends up seeing something that he longs to see but cannot bear. He wants to see the phantasmal object, the "dull blue," "hideous veil" (91) which is hidden behind the eyelids; but, like all voyeurs, instead of controlling the object, the narrator becomes obsessive and is lost in the object, henceforth losing self-control. This loss of dominance does not imply giving up his project, though the narrator begins to attribute power to the old man. The old man's eye becomes the "vulture eye" (91).
Then comes the second gaze. The hero feels threatened because the old man keeps gazing at him in the dark, implying the reversible position of the subject/object, observer/observed, or how the blind can see, while the one with sight seems to be blind and powerless. Even though the old man cannot catch sight of anything, he can sense that someone is in his bedroom and that he is in danger. The old man becomes very alert, and the narrator feels more and more anxious due to the old man's intense gaze. Davis noted long ago that many of Poe's heroes are reactive instead of active characters, for they "wish to escape the gaze of another who... would transform them into being mere objects of attention" (993). In "The Fall of the House of Usher," Roderick Usher has a deadly fear of his sister's gaze. The protagonist has to brick his enemy up in a vault in "The Cask of Amontillado." In "The Black Cat," the narrator walls up the black cat and the wife in order to avoid facing a further accusing gaze. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," after placing himself in the old man's room, the narrator cannot avoid responding to the potent gaze of the old man. This gaze petrifies the narrator, for he can no longer view the old man from a safe, subjective angle. In addition, the old man's uncanny gaze leads to split identification. Instead of simply hating the old man, the narrator cannot help identifying with and feeling for the old man. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the operation of Ego-Evil is related to the visual dialectic: the eye subjectifies the "I" to challenge the other; the gaze elevates the other to excite, frighten, and objectify "me"; finally, the glare rouses the self to aggression, to put aside all feelings and eliminate the other. The glare thus captures the third stage of Ego-Evil: the self is quick to see the faults of the neighbor, but it has to orbit around and watch the neighbor. As a result, the glare implies the presence of three elements -- the angry self, the eye's obsession with the neighbor, and a blatant rejection of the neighbor. It operates on the basis of ressentiment and generates a powerful agency to scrutinize and hunt down the other. Glare -- the act of "watching you" -- implies an "identity war" between the self and the other, and the emphasis is not on restoring the self's unity but on condemning its enemy. Poe intends for the narrator to want to capture the most unsightly moment, to obtain the gratification that affirms his negative opinion of the old man. This is a common device in Poe's stones. In "Hop-Frog," Hop Frog the jester can only kill the much-hated King and the seven ministers after inviting them to dress like apes.He then happily sets them alight. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator actually rejoices at the old man's horrid look. It takes the narrator "seven long nights" in order to get that look. The old man's previous power is now defied, and the narrator, though feeling "an uncontrollable terror," has good reasons to glare at the old man and conclude that "the old man's hour had come!" (92). It is natural that the destruction of the old man takes the form of suffocation, for it implies the ego's denial of witnessing the other's suffering. In Martin Buber's terms, it highlights the "I-it" relationship between the narrator and the old man. Ki, Magdalen Wing-chi. "Ego-Evil And 'The Tell-Tale Heart'." Renascence: Essays On Values In Literature 61.1 (2008): 25-38. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

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