Although there are two characters involved in the story—an old man and the younger man who lives with him—it is really about a single character. An examination of the nature of the narrator's obsession shows how Poe sets up this story about a split psyche. The narrator insists that he loves the old man, has no personal animosity toward him, does not want his money, and has not been injured by him. Instead, he says he wishes to kill the old man because of his eye! Although there is no way to understand this obsession, the reader must determine the method and meaning of the madness. For Poe, there is no such thing as meaningless madness in fiction.
It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.
To understand what the old man's eye means to the narrator, it is necessary to examine the relevance of other themes and ideas. Besides the theme of the "eye," there are two primary motifs: the idea of time, and the identification of the narrator with the old man. The narrator says at various points in the story that he knows what the old man is feeling as he lies alone in bed, for he himself has felt the same things. He says the moan the old man makes does not come from pain or grief, but from mortal terror that arises from the bottom of the soul overcharged with awe. "Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening with its dreadful echo, the terror...
(The entire section is 498 words.)