Conflicts, Themes and Symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart

What defines a mad or insane man? Within “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe we come face to face with symbolism and internal conflicts which are also the themes in which the young man is facing a pair of themes of internal conflicts while symbolizing ourselves and the old man is our future. The story tells us about a man who confesses to the murder of the much older gentleman he was staying with and was his master. Though it is unclear if he did kill the old man or if it were a dream.

In the story "The Tell-Tale Heart", we have to come face to face with a theme of an internal conflict within the story which appears as the narrator's mental health as it plays with him being sane or insane. As the story progresses, we can see his mental health decrease as he works hard to convince the audience that he is of sound mind. Though we see him, lose his mind as no one would describe a glass eye as though it was a vulture’s eye. “His eye was like the eye of a vulture” (Poe) This line is where he mentions a vulture's eye that reminds him of the old man and his own eye. This is not a normal comparison by any means.

As we read on with the story the more, the conflict starts to arise. We watch as the man faces an inner conflict of sanity. We are only starting to scratch the surface as we start to question if this crime occurred, is it some dark and twisted dream or are we hearing him tell us the crime he had been released out on which he tells us this tale on his deathbed. Has this tale ever actually occurred or this is the vision of a mad man? “His obsession with conveying to his audience that he is sane only amplifies his lack of sanity.” (Wilson 1) the narrator ends up contradicting himself as we notice towards the end then that is where he cries out being guilty yet only because of insanity. 

Within the story there is a lot of symbolism. One example of this is the man’s heart still beating long after his death. This can symbolize the man’s guilty chewing away at him even longer after he has done something he regrets. The old man’s heart beating can also represent hearing things that are not there like a ghost or a phantom. “And the sound, too, became louder. It was a quick, low, soft sound, like the sound of a clock heard through a wall, a sound I knew well. Louder it became, and louder.” (Poe) this phrase shows that the heartbeat is like a clock going to continue to tick in the background. “Yet after killing the old man, the narrator says that for “many minutes, the heart beat on.” (Wilson 2) this is showing how time can seem like it hasn’t passed by when in the harsh reality it has. While the man is aware of it, no one else can hear it meaning it could all possibly just be inside of his head. Another way the dead beating can be used as symbol to represent secrets hiding deep down or desires that the man has that he wishes to fulfill yet is unable to due to his own heart holding him back. His inner desire could be to finally get free from the world he was trapped in or perhaps he is looking back upon his life. Wishing that things were different or that when he was younger he had the strength to do something he yearned to do.

Another symbol in the story could be the fake eye and the old man interestingly enough. Our future may seem easy to see yet at the same time it is foggy and unclear while also seeming to be crystal clear. Then the smallest thing can change everything we do or what happens to us. Just as the old man was murdered without any warning. With one eye clear we can see our goals and hopes while with the other we can see what our future may hold. Things are only clear for so long and we can never fully know what will happen in the future. On one hand we can set up all our goals. We can watch others achieve their goals as ours pass us by much too quickly for some peoples own tastes. No matter what we will have to face obstacles that come across our path to help us overcome each of the obstacles we face in life. We just have to make sure that we do not wait and stand by to achieve our goals that we take the chances we are given the first time around. For if we wait too long then for our goals we can die before ever fully achieving our goals.


However, if we examine the young man or the narrator as a symbol of ourselves in our youth. He watches as the future somehow is not passing by yet not grabbing at it as soon as he can. He soon decided to grab something in an attempt to secure his future yet instead he destroyed his future. As he killed the old man, it was as if he was getting rid of any chance of having a bright future as soon as he felt as though it was unattainable. We must be alert and careful in order to grab a hold of the future we wish to obtain. Though we must take it the first chance, we get and not delay or risk losing it.

This story is important as we see symbolism in the places we would never expect plus there are several internal conflicts in the themes. We are being thrown back and forth between what is happening with the young man if it is happening. We also see how mental health and guilt can eat away at a person as time passes by. This story is important for writers in not only the horror genre but also everyone who is having to learn the elements of great writing. The author and short story are very important as they help us see how works were not only written in the past but what horror stories were like in the time period in which Edgar Allen Poe lived and died. 

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allen “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, 14th Edition. Pearson, 2016.

"The Tell-Tale Heart." Short Stories for Students, edited by Kathleen Wilson and Marie Lazzari, vol. 4, Gale, 1998, pp. 343-359. Gale eBooks,,apps,doc,CX2695100029,GVRL?u=lincclin_socc&sid=GVRLξd=97032fb5. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021.


We are glad that you like it, but you cannot copy from our website. Just insert your email and this sample will be sent to you.

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails. x close