Some people believe that most murderers have a mental illness which causes them to commit their crime. This belief is strongly disagreed with by the authors Edgar Allan Poe and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, ?The Tell-Tale Heart?, ?The Black Cat?,and ?The Cask of Amontillado? are very similar in this contradiction. Each murderer takes a specific journey that has been illustrated in each case. The psychological make-up of each murderer shows that he is a normal person up to the point at which something compels him to commit this horrible crime, and after that his conscience usually leads to his own downfall.
Before the murder has been committed the character is a regular human being. In most cases the characters that end up carrying through with this crime are above average people. Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment is “… quite an extraordinarily handsome young man…” (Crime and Punishment, pg.21) Raskolnikov is a very gifted university student, with a very good talent for figuring people out. Raskolinikov takes great pride and care for his family. On receiving a letter from his mother
…he quickly raised the letter to his lips and kissed it; then he spent a long time poring over the handwriting on the envelope, over the small, slanting handwriting, so familiar and dear to him, of his mother who had once taught him to read and write. (Crime and Punishment, pg.47)
Raskolnikov’s mother, who taught him how to read and write did this job quite well. This resulted in a very gifted and brilliant university student. This point is illustrated throughout the novel from the planning and carrying out of the murder, to interactions with the police.
The narrator from the short story “The Black Cat” describes his “tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of his companions.” (”The Black Cat”, pg.390) He is quite a regular human being who is “…especially fond of animals…” (”The Black Cat”, pg.390) The narrator also has a great wife whom he describes as being quite similar to himself, which shows that he must be quite normal if a good woman chooses to marry him. Much alike is the narrator from the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Again this character is full of love. The victim of his crime had done no wrong and for that the narrator “…loved the old man.” (”The Tell-Tale Heart”, pg.384) The narrator shows the same brilliance in planning the crime that Raskolnikov exhibits. People with great intelligence, great lives, possessions and friends must be normal people. This seems to hold true in the short story “The Cask of Amontillado”. The narrator is a man with great wealth. He has many friends which would signify that he is quite a normal character. He lives in a nice house with servants and fine wine. This all seems to show that his mind is intact, if he obtains and keeps these symbols of success. It seems as if each and every character discussed is quite a normal human being. In most cases the wealth, knowledge, or love of others is far above average than most other human beings.
The normal psychological make-up of a murderer has to
change before the crime is committed. Something must happen
in the character?s life that causes them to alter their
reasoning ability into something that maybe considered as
insanity. It is seen quite clear that the loving character
from “The Black Cat” “experienced a radical alteration for
the worse.” (”The Black Cat”, pg.391) The turning point in
his mind was explained by the narrator. “But my disease
(”The Black Cat, pg.392) This problem with alcohol is
clearly the point at which the reasoning of the character
In Raskolnikov’s case this change is also quite
clear. For an above average university student it would be
devastating to see education slip through his fingers
straitened circumstances had ceased to worry him lately.”
(Crime and Punishment, pg.19) The poverty causes
Raskolnikov to leave university. Upon leaving university he
is left alone with his thoughts. “At that moment he was
fully aware that his thoughts were at times confused and
that he was very weak: for two days now he had had hardly
anything to eat.” (Crime and Punishment, pg.20) Poverty is
clearly what changes Raskolnikov?s psyche.
The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” has a bizarre
reason for this change to occur.
He had never wronged me. He had never given me
This figurative meaning of the old man?s eye can be
interpreted in the broad view that the narrator dislikes the
selfishness and uncaring of the old man. The narrator of
?The Cask of Amontillado? takes a change that occurs for the
has passed a certain point at which his thoughts have
changed as to compel him to carry through with this crime.
In each work the murder has been committed it certainly
takes a great psychological effect on each character. The
narrator of ?The Tell-Tale Heart? experiences this as he is
conversing with the police.
?The ringing became more distinct: – it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness – until, at length , I found that the noise was not within my ears.? (?The Tell-Tale Heart?, pg.389)
It is shown that the narrator?s conscience is ringing
and it is driving him insane. He gets more insane as time
passes ?It grew louder – louder – louder!? (?The Tell-Tale
Heart, pg.389) This seems to be how his mind alters and is
being punished for this alteration for the worse.
Cat?. After the first murder of his cat, the narrator?s
to destroy it with one blow, I was yet withheld from doing
so, partly by a memory of my former crime.? (?The Black
Cat?, pg.396) It seems as if his conscience of his former
crime is restricting him from choices he once might have
made. The narrator?s feeling of guilt is eased by the
discovery of a new cat. This turns out to be too much for
him to take. As the narrator is trying
to kill the second cat, his wife gets in the way and he
kills her instead of the cat. After this happens his guilt
is very unnoticeable. A cry is heard as the police are
searching hi house and eventually reach the tomb in which
his wife is hidden. It was ?Quickly swelling into one long
, loud, and continuous scream… a wailing shriek, half
horror and half triumph…? (?The Black Cat?, pg.400) Again
good over the evil deed that the character has attempted to
The novel Crime and Punishment deals with this same
idea of the role that guilt plays in the downfall of a
murder. Raskolnikov begins his dealings with his conscience
very soon after the crime. Raskolnikov leaves clues around
?…because all his mental faculties were weakened and
shaken – his mind was clouded.? (Crime and Punishment,
pg.109) This cloud of judgment causes Raskolnikov to attempt
to avoid his conscience. He explains ?What is it? Am I
still delirious or is it all real? I think it?s real?… oh
I remember now I must run.? (Crime and Punishment, pg.146)
Raskolnikov continues to sway back and forth between
admitting his guilt, and trying to escape it. It is shown
through several events that Raskolnikov?s crime has led him
to the solitude of delirium and it gradually eats him away
inside. The realization is finally made that he is not the
extraordinary man that he thought he was. He states,
I am a louse?, he added, grinding his teeth, ?because I myself am perhaps worse and nastier than the louse I killed, and I knew beforehand that I would say that after killing her!? (Crime and Punishment, pg.292)
As the Raskolnikov?s deterioration continues, he finally
comes to the realization that his conscience cannot deal
with this any longer. ?It was I who killed the old woman
money-lender and her sister Lisaveta with a hatchet and
robbed them.? (Crime and Punishment, pg.542) The confession
given at to end his ordeal is a direct relation
to his conscience.
This is much like ?The Tell-Tale Heart? in which the
narrator also confesses, ??Villians!? I shrieked, ?dissemble
no more! I admit the deed – tear up the planks! – here,
here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!? (?The
Tell-Tale Heart?, pg.389) It is not stated that the narrator
admits his guilt but is certainly is symbolized by the
scream. This also leads to the downfall of this character,
much like the others. It is truly obvious that each
characters conscience leads them to insanity which in turn
leads to their own downfall.
A murderer?s journey includes several distinct stages.
These stages: being a normal human being, taking a turning
point to cause the murder, and dealing with his conscience
are all followed in each and every case of study. The
character that has committed the murder travels through this
process. This journey is a process that is happening in
everyday society, and is clearly illustrated through each
piece of literature.
Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Cask of Amontillado?. Great Short Works of Edgar-Allan Poe. G. R. Thompson. New York. Perennial Library, 1970. 496-503.
Poe, Edgar Allan. ?The Tell-Tale Heart?. Great Short Works of Edgar-Allan Poe. G. R. Thompson. New York. Perennial Library, 1970. 384-390.