Symbolism in the Tell Tale Heart

12 December 2016

The Tell-Heart by Edgar Allan Poe is a piece of American literature that is world renowned. This short story is about a man, the narrator, which slowly becomes physiologically insane while tending and taking care of an older man. The narrator begins to become mad and eventually plots and murders the old man in his bedroom. From beginning to end of this murderous short story there are implications and symbolic meanings of objects. Symbolism can be found in this story within the ticking clock, the “evil eye”, and the dreadful heartbeat, that gets louder and louder.

Reading and analyzing this short story, you will surely find and realize the symbolism and meaning behind Poe’s writing. The first, but not only, sign of symbolism in Poe’s short story is the ticking clock. The clock is not only a visually symbolic element, it is also a metaphorical representation. The narrator mentions several times of the ticking clock he hears while waiting and watching the old man.

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The ticking time clock is very symbolic in this story. The watch symbolizes not only the time and life the old man has left to live, but it also represents the countdown and leading up of the narrator’s murderous actions and crime.

Overall the ticking of the watch is symbolic of time and the wait the narrator, as well as the old man, must endure before the inevitable end. One of the most descriptive and evident pieces of symbolism in Poe’s short story in the eye of the old man. The “evil eye” is the center and source of the narrator’s madness and peril. The narrator says the eye makes his blood “run cold” and he also refers to the eye as a “damned spot” and “vulture eye”. The eye is undoubtedly the motive behind the mad narrators murder and crimes.

This eye is not merely a disgusting feature of the old man, or just a gross defect. The eye is a symbol and representation of evil within the story and narrator. It brings out the hatred and evil in the narrator and causes him to go insane. The “evil eye” is the central cause and plot the whole short story. This is without a question symbolism in the story and Poe uses this to convey his overall theme (Tucker). The last symbolism in Poe’s short story is the dreadful heartbeat. After the narrator murders the old man, he cuts the limbs and appendages up and stores them under the floorboards.

When the police officers come to investigate the next morning, the narrator begins to hear the old man’s heartbeat under the floorboard, it begins as a faint noise, but ends as a loud roar that the narrator can no longer stand. The heartbeat that the narrator hears getting louder and louder, is only in his own mind, and is a symbol of his guilty conscience in the story. The heart beat the narrator hears correlates with the burden of murder he has on his mind. This is clearly a symbol of the narrator guilt he has from just the night before, that he can no longer take.

The symbol of the guilt, the heartbeat, makes the narrator even crazier and more insane, causing him to tear up the floorboards and confess to his treacherous crime. In all, in the story The Tell-Tale Heart, there is without a doubt symbolism. Anyone knowledgeable reader can interpret at least some symbolisms in this short story. In this story symbolisms and representations are overflowing and abundant. Poe uses, cleverly, all the symbolisms to tell his story, as well as, to tell his underlying theme.

The use of the ticking time clock, the “evil eye” of the old man, and the dreadful sound of the heartbeat make The Tell-Tale Heart a classic of Poe and American Literature as a whole, and the use of symbolism is inevitable.

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Symbolism in the Tell Tale Heart. (2016, Dec 31). Retrieved May 24, 2019, from
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