What are two main symbols in the story and what does each one represent in "The Tell-tale Heart"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A symbol is an object that stands for something, and has greater meaning that its literal purpose in the story.  Two symbols in “The Tell-tale Heart” are the heart and the eye.

The most obvious symbol in the story is the beating heart.  It symbolizes guilt.

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!” (p. 6)

The narrator hears the heart beating as he is talking to the police, because he is eaten up with guilt.

Another important symbol is the eye.  The narrator is obsessed with this old man’s eye.  He calls it an evil eye, and when he saw it his “blood ran cold” (p. 4).

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. (p. 4)

The purpose of these symbols is to increase the suspense and horror of the story.


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