English 2, T/TH 5:15
1 June 2015
In Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a narrator lives under the watchful gaze of the eye
of an old man with whom he lives. This eye haunts the narrator and he murders the old man. Officers
are dispatched to the scene after a scream coming from the property is reported. After temporarily
convincing them that no crime was committed, the narrator breaks down and confesses. Paranoia
always seems to be the downfall of those with a guilty conscience. Recently, in an out of character fit
of anger, I punched a hole in the basement door of my apartment complex which leads to the building
parking lot. The old building in which I live has no security cameras, no guards. Despite the fact that no
one could know it was I who left the crater, the scene replays in my head every day as I leave my
apartment and head for my vehicle. Just to glance upon it fills me with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
I fear punishment. I am paranoid as to who knows my secret. But isn't this paranoia deserved? Isn't it a
side effect of my actions? If I had not damaged the door, I would not feel the burden of paranoia.
Therefore, can paranoia exist if we have nothing to feel guilty about in the first place? In “The Tell-Tale
Heart,” Poe uses symbolism by way of the old man's eye, pale color, the bed and bedroom, and the
number three to spotlight the theme of guilty paranoia. He uses these symbols to suggest we cannot
experience paranoia unless we have something to hide.
The narrator is immediately consumed by the old man's eye, a symbol that indicates the narrator
feels seen and exposed. The symbolic eye hints that the narrator already has a secret, something that
has caused a guilty conscience. The eye is a gateway into the soul of the narrator. He describes the
chilling feeling of being watched: “I think it was his eye! . . . Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran
cold” (42). To suggest that his blood chills when gazed upon suggests he feels seen for who he truly is
and fears having to confront his true self. The narrator convinces himself he is wrongfully judged,
suggesting it was “a pale blue eye, with a film over over it.” (42) If the eye is the window to the soul,
then the narrator feels its perception is skewed. He feels the old man's eye has a blurred perception of
whatever the narrator has done. The film is misunderstanding. His descriptions of the eye rapidly
harshen: “a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye.” (43) With the narrator's paranoia developing
around the symbol that casts judgement, he paints the picture that he is a victim. The eye now belongs
to a bird of prey, circling him, waiting for him to die. It feeds on his guilt, the cause of which we are
still uninformed. The eye has progressed from being described as having distorted vision to being
vulturous. Paranoia grows to where “it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who
vexed me, but ...