The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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How does Edgar Allan Poe use imagery to characterize the narrator of "The Tell Tale Heart"?

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Laurine Herzog eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The image which the narrator returns to again and again in this story is the image of the old man's eye. It is the eye that causes the narrator's blood to boil and that drives him to murder the old man. The eye is described as "the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it." A vulture is a scavenging bird of prey. It has a rather beady eye, which usually appears rather stern and judgmental. The fact that the narrator imagines the old man's eye in this way suggests that he, the narrator, is perhaps paranoid about being watched and maybe being judged. However, the fact that the narrator says, "I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!" could suggest that he is simply fumbling for an excuse after the murder, in retrospect, to lend some sort of rationale to the murder beyond his own madness.

Another key image that recurs throughout the story is the image of darkness. The narrator almost seems to luxuriate in the darkness of the old man's room:

I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out . . . His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness.

The narrator likes the darkness because it hides him. If he cannot be seen, then he also cannot be judged. This links back to the idea that the narrator is not comfortable exposing himself to the judgement of others. Darkness is also a common motif, in literature and film, to connote evil. The witch in Disney's Snow White , for example, wears black to indicate her evil character, and the evil characters...

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