The Symbolism of a Beating Heart
With a descriptive epistle of murder and insanity, “The Tell Tale Heart” threw itself into history as a classic. The narrator tells of his plot to murder an old man with a “vulture eye.” Although he sneaks into his bedroom, night after night, he still cannot murder the old man, because he loves the man, but hates the eye. When seeing the vulture eye on the eighth night, he murders the old man and dismembers his body. While insisting upon his sanity he hears the old man’s heart beating under the floorboard. Because of a neighbor’s complaint, the police show up to investigate, but he quickly quells their suspicion with his smooth talk and calmness. If the heart stopped its loud beating, the murderer would walk away, scot-free. However, he cannot take it anymore, and confesses to the officers. In “The Tell Tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe uses symbolism to describe this murder.
The most obvious symbolic object in this story appears as the “vulture eye.” Because the eye represents punishment, almost as a parental figure watching over the narrator, it engenders the stress and ill feelings of secret guilt. Although he loves the old man, he says that whenever his vulture eye “Fell upon me, my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually” (Poe 1206). Because the narrator plotted the old man's murder, something he knew was wrong, he could feel the eye continually staring down his back. “I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (Poe 1206). Because vultures represent cold heartedness, Poe used one to describe the eye. Creating a mental image of death and savagery, they cause fear and disgust; exactly how the old man’s eye made the murderer feel. When speaking of the eye, the insane man says, “I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones” (Poe 1207). Allowing his hatred of this eye to overwhelm his love for the...
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