The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What are the two main symbols in the story "The Tell-Tale Heart"? What does each one represent? What is one other symbol Poe might have chosen?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write9,524 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The eye and the heart, both body parts, are the main symbols in the story. The narrator is particularly repelled by the old man's "vulture" eye. A vulture is a bird that feeds on dead flesh, so the eye represents both death and preying on another. The eye is also blue, a color that often symbolizes coldness. The eye, which seems to be watching the narrator, is specifically what the narrator wants to snuff out. It is also a symbol of light, intellect, and wisdom, so while the narrator casts it in evil terms, it is difficult to know why he kills it (and the old man with it).

The heart represents the emotions and the conscience. The loudly beating heart that the narrator believes is coming from the dead man (though it may be his own heart pounding) is what causes the narrator to confess. It symbolizes the lack of closure murder brings and the way our crimes can haunt us even when we believe they are dead and buried.

Other symbols to use instead would need to encompass the same ideas as the eye and the heart. A book that the old man insists on reading might also symbolize evil, coldness, intellect, light, and wisdom, and could creep the narrator out as much as does the eye. A ringing church bell could also be a sound that represents conscience—if the narrator hallucinated it ringing louder and louder, it might symbolize being tortured by guilt.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write9,467 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

The main symbols in Poe's classic short story "Tell-Tale Heart" are the old man's "Evil Eye" and the beating heart. The old man's eye is described as having a film or veil over it, and the narrator refers to it as a "vulture eye." The old man's eye also has an enormous influence over the narrator, who seems tortured and bothered by it to the extent that he feels compelled to murder the old man. The old man's dull eye symbolically represents his perception, which is obscured and prevents him from realizing that he is in imminent danger. The old man's beating heart symbolically represents the narrator's guilty...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 693 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Domenick Franecki eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write4,282 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial