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The Tell Tale Heart Textual Analysis Essay

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Tell-Tale Heart Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Point of view is important to any story, because it can

help create the mood, and setting of a piece. “The Tell-

Tale Heart” is a good example of this. In “The Tell-Tale

Heart” Poe uses first person point of view to create

suspense and tension, while letting the reader try to

discover the thoughts of the narrator.

Throughout the story, Poe is careful how he portrays

his words. The way he does portray them creates a sense of

suspense that makes you feel as if you are observing the

whole event, frame by frame. In this story, Poe states “For

a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I

did not hear him lie down” (63). In this example his words

are described in such vivid detail that you picture this

scene perfectly. Another example includes when Poe uses

such phrases as, “It was open-wide, wide open-and I grew

furious as I gazed upon it” (63). The use of repetition in

first person point of view helps to stir some emotions of

the unknown. It creates the suspense of not knowing what

will happen next.

By using first person point of view, Poe was able to

show how the narrator feels. An example of this is when the

narrator uses the phrases at the beginning to question his

existence. The narrator wanted to know if he was mad, or

not. Phrases such as “I heard all things in the heaven and

in earth” (62), tells the reader that the narrator indeed is

mad, yet the narrator thinks himself not. In the following

statement, “If still you think me mad, you will think so no

longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the

concealment of the body” (64). This in turn helps the

reader form their opinion that this man is mad.

Poe brilliantly uses first person point of view to his

advantage in this story. It brings out many feelings in the

readers mind. Without the use of this point of view, this

story would not contain the clarity and suspense it does.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale Heart. Literature: An

Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Sixth ed.

Ed. Lisa Moore et al. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Other articles

Tell Tale Heart Critical Analysis Essay Research

Tell Tale Heart Critical Analysis Essay Research

Tell Tale Heart Critical Analysis Essay, Research Paper

The Tell Tale Heart is a story, on the most basic level, of conflict. There is a mental conflict within the narrator himself (assuming the narrator is male). Through obvious clues and statements, Poe alerts the reader to the mental state of the narrator, which is insanity. The insanity is described as an obsession (with the old man s eye), which in turn leads to loss of control and eventually results in violence. Ultimately, the narrator tells his story of killing his housemate. Although the narrator seems to be blatantly insane, and thinks he has freedom from guilt, the feeling of guilt over the murder is too overwhelming to bear. The narrator cannot tolerate it and eventually confesses his supposed perfect crime. People tend to think that insane persons are beyond the normal realm of reason shared by those who are in their right mind. This is not so; guilt is an emotion shared by all humans. The most demented individuals are not above the feeling of guilt and the havoc it causes to the psyche. Poe s use of setting, character, and language reveal that even an insane person feels guilt. Therein lies the theme to The Tell Tale Heart: The emotion of guilt easily, if not eventually, crashes through the seemingly unbreakable walls of insanity.

On the surface, the physical setting of The Tell Tale Heart is typical of the period and exceedingly typical of Poe. The narrator and the old man live in an old, dark house: (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers) (Poe 778). Most of the story takes place at night: And this I did for seven long nights-every night just at midnight (778). The physical aspect is not the most important component of setting for this analysis. More important are the mental and emotional settings. This clearly explains the personality of the narrator. One can assume the narrator is insane. He freely admits to his listener that he is -nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous (777). But he then asks, but why will you say that I am mad? (777). He also admits that, The disease had sharpened my senses (777). If not insanity, what disease does he speak of? The reason for his actions was one of the old man s eyes: -a pale blue eye, with a film over it (777). This is easily recognizable to the reader as an eye with cataract on it. This is nothing to obsess over, yet this eye haunted me day and night (777). Any sane person would take a physical defect of another with a grain of salt. One statement by the narrator sums up his mental state: You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me (777). What he is actually saying is: There are madmen who are clumsy in their actions, but not this madman! This is as close to a self-admission of insanity as possible. The mental setting is put into place by the narrator s own statements. This setting is pure chaos starting in the head of the killer and spilling out into the physical world around him resulting in an unnecessary death. When the narrator is explaining the end of his tale to the unnamed listener (presumably a jailor, or a mental health practitioner), he states the beating of the heart was unbearable on his conscious:

I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited by the

observations of the men-but the noise steadily increased I foamed-

I raved-I swore! the noise arose over all and continually increased.

It grew louder-louder-louder! They heard!-they suspected!-they

knew! I felt I must scream or die! (780).

The narrator proceeded to admit his killing of the old man. Obviously, his mental state was one of pure fear and disillusion. An auditory hallucination of a dead heart beating caused so much mental anguish in the narrator that it made him confess to the crime. This indeed shows insanity. Yet this insanity was not as strong as the guilt pushing through it.

Another element that supports the theme is character. Poe never states if the narrator is male or female. The reader generally assumes that the narrator is male. A statement like would a madman be so wise as this? (777) supports this assumption. The narrator is obsessed with the old man s eye: I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; I made up my mind up to take the life of the old man (777). Anyone who decides to kill someone because their eye looks strange to them is clearly mentally unstable. His methodic ways of watching the old man sleep are also strange: It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!-would a madman have been so wise as thi

s? (777). Under the circumstances, a madman would surely be as wise as that. Only a madman would bother to look at an old man sleep when it is his eye that torments him: And I did this for seven long nights-every night just at midnight-but found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye (778). Why would a sane person bother to do such a worthless task for eight nights in a row? The answer is: A sane person would not perform this task. Even though the narrator was insane he expresses some sort of compassion in the statement: I knew how the old man felt, and pitied him, (778). He then solidified his insanity by finishing the statement with, although I chuckled at heart (778). In his confession of the post murder actions taken, the narrator states to his listener,

If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe

the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body First of

all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the

This statement was, in his mind, clearing him of any possible connections of insanity. Would an insane man take the necessary actions to avoid getting caught? Unfortunately, for him, the answer is yes. There is no hiding his insanity. The narrator thought his calm demeanor had fooled the officers called to his house to investigate: My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease (780), that is until he heard the heart beating. However, there was no heart beating. Any sane person knows that a dead heart does not beat: I found that the noise was not within my ears (780). The sound was in his ears, and more so in his head. The sound of the beating heart was guilt knocking on his door causing him more mental anguish. After cursing, arguing and carrying on violently, the narrator truly believed the officers knew of his guilt. They were oblivious of his torment talking to each other: -they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think (780). The narrator admits here of his insanity (and subsequently his guilt) at the time of the confrontation, and at the time of his re-telling of the account.

The language used by the narrator in the story shows signs of insanity as well as guilt. He uses repetition of wording often. People with mental and/or psychological problems sometimes repeat words or phrases. When speaking of a lantern s state of darkness he says it was, closed, closed, so that no light shone out, (777). On moving the lantern, he did it slowly-very, very slowly (777). When he was ready to shin the light he undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously-cautiously (777). Again in explaining the lantern, I resolved to open a little-a very, very little crevice in the lantern .-you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily (778). When he finally did get a look at the eye, repetition was again used: It was open-wide, wide open-and I grew furious as I gazed upon it (779). When the narrator speaks of the man s live heart beating he says, It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder louder, I say, louder every moment! But the beating grew louder, louder! (779). When talking of the attack on the man the narrator repeats again: He shrieked once-once only Yes he was stone, stone dead He was stone dead (779). The narrators language is not better used to describe insanity and guilt than in the following passages when he feels as though he is caught:

Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those

hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -and

now-again! -hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!- Villains! I

shrieked, dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks!

-here, here!- it is the beating of his hideous heart! (780).

These final two lines in the story beautifully demonstrate how language was used to show insanity being overturned by guilt.

Three elements of literary work that truly sum up the theme of The Tell Tale Heart are setting, character, and language. Through these elements we can easily see how guilt, an emotion, can be more powerful than insanity. Even the most demented criminal has feelings of guilt, if not remorse, for what he has done. This is shown exquisitely in Poe s writing. All three elements were used to their extreme to convey the theme. The balance of the elements is such that some flow into others. It is sometimes hard to distinguish one from another. Poe s usage of these elements shows his mastery not only over the pen, but over the mind as well.

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Tell Tale Heart Critical Analysis Essay Research

The Tell Tale Heart is a story on the most basic level of conflict. There is a mental conflict within the narrator himself (assuming the narrator is male). Through obvious clues and statements Poe alerts the reader to the mental state of the narrator which is insanity. The insanity is described as an obsession (with the old man s eye) which in turn leads to loss of control and eventually results in violence. Ultimately the narrator tells his story of killing his housemate. Although the narrator seems to be blatantly insane and thinks he has freedom from guilt the feeling of guilt over the murder is too overwhelming to bear. The narrator cannot tolerate it and eventually confesses his supposed perfect crime. People tend to think that insane persons are beyond the normal realm of reason shared by those who are in their right mind. This is not so; guilt is an emotion shared by all humans. The most demented individuals are not above the feeling of guilt and the havoc it causes to the psyche. Poe s use of setting character and language reveal that even an insane person feels guilt. Therein lies the theme to The Tell Tale Heart: The emotion of guilt easily if not eventually crashes through the seemingly unbreakable walls of insanity.

On the surface the physical setting of The Tell Tale Heart is typical of the period and exceedingly typical of Poe. The narrator and the old man live in an old dark house: (for the shutters were close fastened through fear of robbers) (Poe 778). Most of the story takes place at night: And this I did for seven long nights-every night just at midnight (778). The physical aspect is not the most important component of setting for this analysis. More important are the mental and emotional settings. This clearly explains the personality of the narrator. One can assume the narrator is insane. He freely admits to his listener that he is -nervous-very very dreadfully nervous (777). But he then asks but why will you say that I am mad? (777). He also admits that The disease had sharpened my senses (777). If not insanity what disease does he speak of? The reason for his actions was one of the old man s eyes: -a pale blue eye with a film over it (777). This is easily recognizable to the reader as an eye with cataract on it. This is nothing to obsess over yet this eye haunted me day and night (777). Any sane person would take a physical defect of another with a grain of salt. One statement by the narrator sums up his mental state: You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me (777). What he is actually saying is: There are madmen who are clumsy in their actions but not this madman! This is as close to a self-admission of insanity as possible. The mental setting is put into place by the narrator s own statements. This setting is pure chaos starting in the head of the killer and spilling out into the physical world around him resulting in an unnecessary death. When the narrator is explaining the end of his tale to the unnamed listener (presumably a jailor or a mental health practitioner) he states the beating of the heart was unbearable on his conscious:

I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides as if excited by the

observations of the men-but the noise steadily increased I foamed-

I raved-I swore! the noise arose over all and continually increased.

It grew louder-louder-louder! They heard!-they suspected!-they

knew! I felt I must scream or die! (780).

The narrator proceeded to admit his killing of the old man. Obviously his mental state was one of pure fear and disillusion. An auditory hallucination of a dead heart beating caused so much mental anguish in the narrator that it made him confess to the crime. This indeed shows insanity. Yet this insanity was not as strong as the guilt pushing through it.

Another element that supports the theme is character. Poe never states if the narrator is male or female. The reader generally assumes that the narrator is male. A statement like would a madman be so wise as this? (777) supports this assumption. The narrator is obsessed with the old man s eye: I think it was his eye! Yes it was this! Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold; I made up my mind up to take the life of the old man (777). Anyone who decides to kill someone because their eye looks strange to them is clearly mentally unstable. His methodic ways of watching the old man sleep are also strange: It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!-would a madman have been so wise as this? (777). Under the circumstances a madman would surely be as wise as that. Only a madman would bother to look at an old man sleep when it is his eye that torments him: And I did this for seven long nights-every night just at midnight-but found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye (778). Why would a sane person bother to do such a worthless task for eight nights in a row? The answer is: A sane person would not perform this task. Even though the narrator was insane he expresses some sort of compassion in the statement: I knew how the old man felt and pitied him (778). He then solidified his insanity by finishing the statement with although I chuckled at heart (778). In his confession of the post murder actions taken the narrator states to his listener

If you still think me mad you will think so no longer when I describe

the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body First of

all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the

This statement was in his mind clearing him of any possible connections of insanity. Would an insane man take the necessary actions to avoid getting caught? Unfortunately for him the answer is yes. There is no hiding his insanity. The narrator thought his calm demeanor had fooled the officers called to his house to investigate: My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease (780) that is until he heard the heart beating. However there was no heart beating. Any sane person knows that a dead heart does not beat: I found that the noise was not within my ears (780). The sound was in his ears and more so in his head. The sound of the beating heart was guilt knocking on his door causing him more mental anguish. After cursing arguing and carrying on violently the narrator truly believed the officers knew of his guilt. They were oblivious of his torment talking to each other: -they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought and this I think (780). The narrator admits here of his insanity (and subsequently his guilt) at the time of the confrontation and at the time of his re-telling of the account.

The language used by the narrator in the story shows signs of insanity as well as guilt. He uses repetition of wording often. People with mental and/or psychological problems sometimes repeat words or phrases. When speaking of a lantern s state of darkness he says it was closed closed so that no light shone out (777). On moving the lantern he did it slowly-very very slowly (777). When he was ready to shin the light he undid the lantern cautiously-oh so cautiously-cautiously (777). Again in explaining the lantern I resolved to open a little-a very very little crevice in the lantern .-you cannot imagine how stealthily stealthily (778). When he finally did get a look at the eye repetition was again used: It was open-wide wide open-and I grew furious as I gazed upon it (779). When the narrator speaks of the man s live heart beating he says It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder louder I say louder every moment! But the beating grew louder louder! (779). When talking of the attack on the man the narrator repeats again: He shrieked once-once only Yes he was stone stone dead He was stone dead (779). The narrators language is not better used to describe insanity and guilt than in the following passages when he feels as though he is caught:

Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those

hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -and

now-again! -hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!- Villains! I

shrieked dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks!

-here here!- it is the beating of his hideous heart! (780).

These final two lines in the story beautifully demonstrate how language was used to show insanity being overturned by guilt.

Three elements of literary work that truly sum up the theme of The Tell Tale Heart are setting character and language. Through these elements we can easily see how guilt an emotion can be more powerful than insanity. Even the most demented criminal has feelings of guilt if not remorse for what he has done. This is shown exquisitely in Poe s writing. All three elements were used to their extreme to convey the theme. The balance of the elements is such that some flow into others. It is sometimes hard to distinguish one from another. Poe s usage of these elements shows his mastery not only over the pen but over the mind as well.

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Tell Tale Heart analysis essays

MegaEssays.com Tell Tale Heart analysis

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe deals with a man’s mental deterioration and his descent into madness. The story focuses on the narrator and his obsessions. It is told from a first person point of view by the protagonist himself. The point of view of the story is important because the reader only has one side of the story to work with. Therefore, the reader only knows what the narrator thinks and sees. This complicates things in deciding why the narrator goes insane. However, the narrator does reveal his insanity, and he reveals it through his obsessions. The narrator’s obsessions include; his obsessions with his own sanity, the old man’s evil eye, and the old man’s beating heart.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a story about a man, in this case the narrator, who for eight consecutive nights goes to the bedroom of another man. He stands at the door watching the man sleep with a single ray of light pointing directly at the sleeping man’s eye, an evil eye according to the narrator. On the eighth night, the man is sitting up in bed with his eye open, and the narrator, consumed by the “evil eye” and the sound of the man’s beating heart races into the room and kills the man in his bed. After the murder, the narrator dismembers the body, and buries the old man under his floor. As the story progresses, the narrator continually expresses that he is not mad. The way that he says this leads the reader to believe that the narrator is trying to convince him or her that he is not insane. However, he is really trying to convince himself that he is “not mad.” For instance, the narrator, at one point simply says, “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.” The narrator is obviously under some deranged notion that it’s normal to.

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Tell tale heart essay

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Poe - s Short Stories The Tell-Tale Heart Summary and Analysis

Poe's Short Stories Summary and Analysis of The Tell-Tale Heart

Before beginning his account, the unnamed narrator claims that he is nervous and oversensitive but not mad, and offers his calmness in the narration as proof of his sanity. He then explains how although he loved a certain old man who had never done him wrong and desired none of his money, the narrator could not stand the sight of the old man's pale, filmy blue eye. The narrator claims that he was so afraid of the eye, which reminds him of a vulture's, that he decided to kill the man so he would no longer have to see it.

Although the narrator is aware that this rationalization seems to indicate his insanity, he explains that he cannot be mad because instead of being foolish about his desires, he went about murdering the old man with "caution" and "foresight." In the week before the murder, the narrator is very kind to the old man, and every night around midnight, he sneaks into the old man's room and cautiously shines a lantern onto the man's eye. However, because the eye is always closed and the narrator wishes to rid himself of the eye rather than the man, the narrator never tries to kill him, and the next morning, he again enters the chamber and cheerfully asks how the old man has slept, in order to avoid suspicion.

On the eighth night, the narrator is particularly careful while opening the door, but this time, his thumb slips on the lantern's fastening, waking the old man. The narrator freezes, but even after an hour, the old man does not return to sleep because he feels afraid and senses someone's presence. At length, the narrator decides to slowly open the lantern until the light shines on the old man's eye, which is wide open. The narrator's nerves are wracked by the sight, and he fancies that because of his oversensitivity, he has begun to hear the beating of the old man's heart.

The beating firms his resolve as he continues to increase the intensity of the light on the man's eye. The beating grows louder and louder until the narrator begins to worry that a neighbor will hear the noise, so he decides to attack. The old man screams once before the narrator drags him to the floor and stifles him with the mattress. When the narrator stops hearing the beating, he examines the corpse before dismembering it and concealing it beneath the floorboards. He laughs somewhat hysterically as he describes how the tub caught all the blood, leaving no stains on the floor.

By the time he finishes the clean-up, it is four in the morning, and someone knocks on the door. In a cheerful mood, the narrator answers the door only to find three policemen who have come to investigate because a neighbor heard the old man's shriek and alerted the police to the possibility of foul play. The narrator invites them inside, knowing that he has nothing to fear, and he explains that he had been the one to yell as a result of a bad dream and that the old man is currently out visiting the country. He shows the policemen the house and confidently allows them to search it before bringing out chairs which he, in his assurance, places on top of the floorboards that hide the corpse.

The narrator's lack of suspicious behavior convinces the policemen that nothing is wrong, and they sit down on the chairs and chat with him. However, after a while, the narrator begins to wish that the policemen would leave, as his head aches and he hears a ringing in his ears. The ringing increases in volume, for which the narrator compensates by chatting more jovially, but it finally turns into a dull beating which also begins to rise in volume. The narrator becomes more and more agitated in his behavior, gesturing wildly and pacing back and forth, but the policemen hear and suspect nothing.

Soon, the narrator begins to suspect that the pleasantries of the policemen are merely a ruse to ridicule his distress. However, he cannot stand the intensity of the beating and grows tired of what he perceives as the mockery of the policemen. He feels that he "must scream or die," so he finally shrieks the truth, telling the policemen to tear up the floorboards and reveal the beating of the old man's heart.

The protagonist of the "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a classic example of Poe's unreliable narrator, a man who cannot be trusted to tell the objective truth of what is occurring. His unreliability becomes immediately evident in the first paragraph of the story, when he insists on his clarity of mind and attributes any signs of madness to his nervousness and oversensitivity, particularly in the area of hearing. However, as soon as he finishes his declaration of sanity, he offers an account that has a series of apparent logical gaps that can only be explained by insanity. In his writings, Poe often sought to capture the state of mind of psychotic characters, and the narrator of this story exhibits leaps of reasoning that more resemble the logic of dreams than they do the thought processes of a normal human being.

The narrator's emotional instability provides a clear counterargument to his assertions of good judgment. In almost no cases does he respond in the manner that one would expect. He is so bothered by the old man's vulture-like eye that his loathing overcomes his love for the man, leading him to premeditate a murder. Later, when he finally succeeds in killing the victim, he becomes positively cheerful, feeling that he has accomplished his goal cleverly and with the rationality that he associates with sanity. However, the unsuspecting behavior of the policemen suggests that the narrator has become essentially unaware of his behavior and his surroundings. Because he cannot maintain the distance between reality and his inner thoughts, he mistakes his mental agitation for physical agitation and misinterprets the innocent chatter of the policemen for malevolence. Nevertheless, he imagines the whole time that he has correctly and rationally interpreted all the events of the story, suggesting that in Poe's mind, the key to irrationality is the belief in one's rationality.

The irony of the narrator's account in "The Tell-Tale Heart" is that although he proclaims himself to be too calm to be a madman, he is defeated by a noise that may be interpreted as the beating of his own heart. Because of the unreliability of the narrator, it is impossible to know for certain if the beating is a supernatural effect, the product of his own imagination, or an actual sound. However, a likely logical explanation is that when the protagonist is under stress, he hears the sound of his heart, "a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes enveloped in cotton," and he mistakes it for the sound of the old man's heart. This lack of understanding parallels his lack of awareness of his actions as he chats with the policemen and highlights the lapses in reason which belie his claims of sanity.

In order to create a narrative which will convince the reader of the protagonist's instability, Poe uses vocabulary that is consistently ironic or otherwise jarring to provoke a reaction contrary to that which the narrator desires. The rhetorical technique that he uses in his account is to manipulate the connotations of words, but he is never subtle enough to hide his attempt to spin the argument. Where an outside observer might describe him as having plotted to observe the old man as he sleeps, the narrator tells the reader that "you should have seen how wisely I proceeded--with what caution--with what foresight--with what dissimulation I went to work!" By exploiting his choice of words such as "wisely" and "caution," he seeks to deceive the reader and explain his actions as those of a prudent, clever individual. However, the blatancy of his attempt at deception enlightens rather than hoodwinks his audience.

Much as the minute depiction of the prisoner's experiences and senses creates an atmosphere of anticipatory terror in "The Pit and the Pendulum," Poe's manner of describing sound becomes a particularly important vehicle for conveying the mood of "The Tell-Tale Heart." His description of the sound in the last few paragraphs of the tale is marked by repetitions that are clearly intended to imply the crescendo of noise. When he says, "The ringing became more distinct:--It continued and became more distinct," we sense the building tension. The increasing intensity of the beating is again emphasized by the three repetitions of the phrase "but the noise steadily increased." Finally, as the narrator's sentences turn rapidly into exclamations, his repetition of the word "louder" echoes the sound of the beating heart, and his final shrieks shatter the tension with his confession.

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