Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Whirlpool

In “MS. Found in a Bottle,” the whirlpool symbolizes insanity. When the whirlpool transports the narrator from the peaceful South Seas to the surreal waters of the South Pole, it also symbolically transports him out of the space of scientific rationality to that of the imaginative fancy of the German moralists. The whirlpool destroys the boat and removes the narrator from a realistic realm, the second whirlpool kills him.


In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator fixates on the idea that an old man is looking at him with the Evil Eye and transmitting a curse on him. At the same time that the narrator obsesses over the eye, he wants to separate the old man from the Evil Eye in order to spare the old man from his violent reaction to the eye. The narrator reveals his inability to recognize that the “eye” is the “I,” or identity, of the old man. The eyes symbolize the essence of human identity, which cannot be separated from the body. The eye cannot be killed without causing the man to die. Similarly, in “Ligeia,” the narrator is unable to see behind Ligeia’s dark and mysterious eyes. Because the eyes symbolize her Gothic identity, they conceal Ligeia’s mysterious knowledge, a knowledge that both guides and haunts the narrator.


In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe uses Fortunato’s name symbolically, as an ironic device. Though his name means “the fortunate one” in Italian, Fortunato meets an unfortunate fate as the victim of Montresor’s revenge. Fortunato adds to the irony of his name by wearing the costume of a court jester. While Fortunato plays in jest, Montresor sets out to fool him, with murderous results.