In the story The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, an unnamed narrator opens the story by addressing the reader and claiming that he is a nervous person with heightened senses, but he is not mad. He explains that he is going to tell a story in which he is going to defend his sanity and justify how he killed an old man, not out of hatred but of obsession. In the story he goes on to say that he loved this old man dearly, he had no desire for his gold, or hatred for him, it was his eye. His eyes resembled that of a culture- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold” (Poe 83). The narrator explains that over time he makes up his mind to take the life of the older man so that he can rid himself of the eye. In the mind of the narrator, he doesn’t differentiate between real world problems, like the crime of murder, and just the simple aspect of wanting to get rid of the eye that was haunting him. Edgar Allen Poe uses many symbols in this short story to get across hidden meanings of the character.
For example, he uses the eye, the watch, the lantern, and the beating heart. When Poe introduces the eye into the story he plainly describes the eye as what it looks like, and says that is the reason he wants to kill the man. If you take a look further into what Poe is saying you will realize that the eye symbolizes much more than just a vulture. How he compares it to a vulture is the first hint that it means something more. A vulture is a bird that preys on the dead. This leads the reader to conclude that the eye represent death.
The narrator sees that the old man is nearing the age of death and this scares him. The narrator is afraid of death and wants to get the “eye” away from his as soon as possible so that he can avoid the fear of awaiting to die. The eye also symbolizes freedom. He wanted to get rid of the eye so that he was free of the fear of death and morality, but once he was free he couldn’t handle the guilt, which lead him to confess everything. The eye represents not only freedom, but the truth of freedom, which is: you always want what you can’t have, until you have it.
The narrator mentions a “watch” four different times in the story, which every time it is brought up it, is a visual representation of time. “A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers” (Poe 83). Poe is trying to show through the twisted mind of the man, that he felt so empowered, that his time was actually more prominent than the time in which it was truly occurring in. That the time in which his world was moving was different than that of the world he was living in. t can also be said that time in this story is like watching death, up in the distance. Like time is a countdown of time you have left in your life. That is why the watch is always “watching” the elderly man.
Each tick symbolizes a movement closer to the death that all humans will eventually face. The lantern is one of the symbols that is most hidden throughout the text. Whenever the lantern is brought up in text he explains how he only lets a ray of light out through the hinges, but he keeps the rest of the light kept hidden. I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye” (Poe 83). The hidden light shows the truth, the truth that the narrator is purposefully trying to suppress. The heart, in the story also symbolizes the truth and the guilt that the narrator realizes and feels. The truth the heart represents is the realization that the freedom he had gained from killing the man only left him more insecure. It didn’t make him feel better to rid himself of what he was scared of coming, because he knew it was inevitable whether the elderly man was alive or dead.
The beating of the heart when the police were sitting in the room represents guilt. The narrator knows what he did was wrong and feels that he is going to be haunted by this heart if he doesn’t confess. “But anything was better agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bare it no longer” (Poe 84). Poe uses symbols in most all of writing to make his readers think. He uses it to portray real objects in an abstract way. He also uses them to portray his characters thoughts and feelings in ways other than coming right out and telling us.