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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Poe’s Short Stories!