In-depth analysis of some of the most popular short stories including summaries, character analysis, narrative technique, symbolism and much more.

You are watching: What does the eye symbolize in the tell tale heart


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The Eye in "The Tell Tale Heart" symbolizes the part of the narrator"s identity that he refuses to accept or confront. Eyes are often viewed as representative of one"s true nature, and as being able to reveal an aspect of one"s personality that the other senses may hide. The narratorbelieves this is the casewith his victim, believing the eye reveals something of the old man, that no one else was able to see. The narrator even reduces the old man"s identity to his eye, when he states "I saw with perfect distinctness...I could see nothing else of the old man"s face or person;". The reader is able to realize, however, that it is not the old man, but the narrator himself that the eye represents. Looking at the words that the narrator uses to describe the eye prove this. The narrator describes the eye as "evil" and comparing it to that of a "vulture". These words, however, better describe the narrator. The narrator can be described as "evil" when without reason or motive, he kills the old man, dismembers his body, hides it under the floor, and even boldly allows the police to sit over the site of the old man"s body, and converses with them. He can also be described as a "vulture" when like an animal he stalks his victim, relying on instinct, and forgetting all human qualities. It is also evident that the narrator has a problem accepting himself and his actions. The story opens with him rejecting the notion that he is crazy, and he remains adamant throughout. This problem accepting his identity also explains why, whenever he looks at the old man"s eye he becomes angry, and why he felt the need to get rid of it.
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The lantern in "The Tell Tale Heart" symbolizes the lack of insight on the part of the narrator, and acts as a support for his beliefs. Lanterns are objects that provide light, and light is often associated with uncovering truths. In this context, however, the lantern acts as an extension of the narrator"s worldview, allowing him to see things as he sees them, and not necessarily as they are. It is interesting to note that the lantern remains dark most of the time, though the narrator uses it to guide him in a sense, pushing the lantern first through the door. Once the lantern is turned on,the light it emits does not show the old man as the kind human being the narrator describes him as in the beginning, but instead shows him as the "evil eye". The lantern actually aids the narrator in his intent to murder, and further reinforces his views toward the old man.

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The beating heart in "The Tell Tale Heart" symbolizes the human like aspect of the narrator. Throughout the story the narrator presents himself as an animal, void of any emotions, and lacking the ability to show sympathy. He takes pride in his act, in stalking the old man like an animal, and even brags about committing the perfect murder. He becomes human, however, when he begins to feel guilty about what he has done. He begins to hear the dead man"s heart, and not being able to continue with the reminder of his deed, he confesses. The heart reveals his conscience, and after hearing it, it is the only time he is presented as having some sort of moral code.