Symbols in The Tell-Tale Heart

Symbols Examples in The Tell-Tale Heart:

The Tell-Tale Heart 8

"still dark as midnight..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

Now that the old man has died, precise time seems to matter less to the narrator. He conflates two hours - midnight and four am - and presents them as if they were the same time. This conflation of time suggests that with the old man's murder time has symbolically stopped.

"watch ..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

Here the motif of the watch appears to symbolize time moving forward. While the narrator was able to conflate hours of the day and symbolically stop time after he killed the old man, he is now unable to block out the sound of the heartbeat which he compares to a ticking clock. Time has symbolically started and he once again realizes that he is moving towards death.

"watch ..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

The narrator reinvokes the motif of the watch in order to compare it to the old man's heartbeat. Using this comparison, the narrator links the watch, a symbol of time, to the heartbeat, a symbol of life. In this way, time and lifespan becomes inextricably intertwined.

"vulture eye...."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

Vultures are birds that feed on dead carcasses and gather around sick or injured animals in anticipation of their death. Vultures are a symbol of coming death or immanent death. In characterizing the eye as a "vulture," the eye becomes a symbolic omen of death. This suggests that the original thought that drove the narrator to kill the old man is his fear of death.

"hour ..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

Notice how attentive the narrator is to documenting time. He gives precise amounts of time spent doing each activity, suggesting the narrator has a fixation with time.

"watch's minute hand..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

The "watch" is a motif that comes up four times throughout this story. Since a watch is both a physical and auditory reminder of time, this motif could symbolize the narrator's conscious understanding that his time is running out. Each time the watch is mentioned, or the watch ticks, the narrator remembers his own mortality.

" it was not the old man who vexed me..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

Notice that the narrator keeps insisting that he bore no ill will towards the old man. He keeps hinting at his motive to murder by invoking the symbol of the eye. However, this symbol continues to create suspense as the audience still does not know what idea the eye stands for.

"eye ..."   (The Tell-Tale Heart)

The old man's "eye" is symbol for the idea that haunts the narrator. Though Poe does not reveal what this symbol means to the narrator, the reader can understand that this murder is not a response to something the old man did but rather a response to something inside the narrator's mind.