In Edgar Allan Poe's "A Tell-Tale Heart" what does the eye symbolize?

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The eye symbolizes the narrator's fear of death. Though the narrator claims to have no grudge against his roommate, ("He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire") he is disturbed to madness by the sight of him.

Poe's skin-crawling descriptions say it all: "One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever."

Vultures are death-predators, feeding on carcasses. They circle around a dying or wounded animal, waiting for death. The narrator seems to feel that the eye fixes on him like a vulture.

The eye also may symbolize the narrator's fear of aging, period. That same description, "pale blue eye with a film over it" is a very common and accurate description of the eyes of elderly people, who, (to put it not-nicely at all, but after all this *is* Poe!) are coming along in the process of body shutting down.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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