It is unclear what relationship, if any, the old man and his murderer share. It has been suggested that the old man is a father figure, or whether the narrator works for the old man as a servant, perhaps, that his vulture eye represents some sort of veiled secret, or power. The ambiguity and lack of details about the two main characters stand in stark contrast to the specific plot details leading up to the murder.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" is widely considered a classic of the Gothic fiction genre and one of Poe's most famous short stories.
"The Tell-Tale Heart" was first published in the Boston-based magazine The Pioneer in January 1843, edited by James Russell Lowell. Poe was likely paid only $10. Its original publication included an epigraph which quoted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "A Psalm of Life." The story was slightly revised when republished in the August 23, 1845, edition of the Broadway Journal. This edition omitted Longfellow's poem because, Poe believed, it was plagiarized. "The Tell-Tale Heart" was reprinted several additional times during Poe's lifetime.
The earliest acknowledged adaptation of "The Tell-Tale Heart" was in 1928 in a film of the same name directed by Leon Shamroy and starring Otto Matieson and Darvas. It stayed faithful to the original tale, though future television and film adaptations often expanded the short story to full-length feature films.
A 1953 animated short film produced by United Productions of America and narrated by James Mason is included among the list of films preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
A 1960 film adaptation, The Tell-Tale Heart, adds a love triangle to the story.
The film Nightmares from the Mind of Poe (2006) adapts "The Tell-Tale Heart" along with "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Premature Burial" and "The Raven."
The Radio Tales series produced the drama The Tell-Tale Heart for National Public Radio. The story was performed by Winifred Phillips along with music composed by her.
The Canadian radio program Nightfall presented an adaptation on August 1, 1980.
A 2009 thriller film, Tell-Tale, produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, credits Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" as the basis for the story of a man being haunted by his donor's memories, after a heart transplant.
In the 1972 film An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, four of Poe's short stories are recited by Vincent Price in front of a live audience, including "The Tell-Tale Heart."
Another adaption was by Steven Berkoff in 1991, and was broadcast on British television. This adaptation was originally presented on British TV as part of the acclaimed series "Without Walls." This version was later broadcast in the United States on the cable channel BRAVO as part of the Texaco Performing Arts series.