Poe's Stories

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Eyes Symbol Icon
Body parts are obviously part of the gory, gothic nature of Poe’s world, but eyes are especially noticeable as the medallion of many of the haunting figures in the stories. Ligeia is at first known to us by her large, strangely powerful eyes and it is these ‘orbs’ that come back to haunt us at the end. In The Black Cat, it is the cat’s gouged eye that begins the spiral of crime that eventually condemns the narrator. And in The Tell-Tale Heart, without any further explanation of the narrator’s moral opposition to the old man, it is his evil, vulture-like eye that provokes the whole grisly tale. Eyes appear often as part of the other-worldly realm of Poe’s stories and suggest a window to the soul gone-wrong.

Eyes Quotes in Poe's Stories

The Poe's Stories quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Poe's Stories published in 2006.
Manuscript Found in a Bottle Quotes

The crew glide to and fro like the ghosts of buried centuries; their eyes have an eager and uneasy meaning; and when their fingers fall athwart my path in the wild glare of the battle-lanterns, I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of Allan columns at Balbec, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.

Related Characters: Narrator (M.S. Found in a Bottle) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story meets the crew of his new ship. The crew members are gaunt and intimidating--almost like ghosts. It's also in this passage that we learn that the narrator is a collector of antiques--in other words, the relics of bygone centuries, once owned by people who are now dead. He also describes his own soul as a "ruin," making an important connection between the aging, frightening settings of the Gothic and the psychologies of Poe's characters.

The passage is important because it establishes the macabre mood of the story (and the entire book) by blurring the line between the past and the present. Although the narrator is trying to focus on the here and now, he has a strange sense of being "pulled" into the supernatural; i.e., the world of the dead. Poe will repeat such a dynamic many times in his stories: a lonely, rational narrator will be swallowed up by the sheer bulk of the Gothic world of sinister settings, ghosts, and monsters.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Poe's Stories quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Ligeia Quotes

They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race. They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad. Yet it was only at intervals – in moments of intense excitement – that this peculiarity became more than slightly noticeable in Ligeia.

Related Characters: Narrator (Ligeia) (speaker), Ligeia
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, we're introduced to a narrator who's peculiarly obsessed with his bride, Ligeia. Ligeia's eyes are the very embodiment of the uncanny. Traditionally, the eyes are the most human, recognizable thing about a person--they're the "window to the soul," after all. Ligeia's eyes, however, aren't comforting or humanizing at all. On the contrary, they seem alien and bizarre. Thus, Ligeia's eyes are both familiar and disturbingly unfamiliar--in short, they're uncanny.

Ligeia's eyes are an important symbol in the story, because they suggest a strange combination of attraction and repulsion. Much like the whirlpool in the previous story, Ligeia's eyes are both seductive and terrifying to the narrator; they hypnotize him, even as he fears for his life. The narrator's simultaneous attraction and repulsion mirror that of the reader--we're frightened of reading any further, and yet we can't help but read on.

The Murders in the Rue-Morgue Quotes

The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. To look at a star by glances -- to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the star distinctly -- is to have the best appreciation of its lustre -- a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Murders in the Rue Morgue; The Purloined Letter) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolic passage, the narrator makes an interesting analogy for understanding the world. The best way to understand a star in the night sky isn't to look at it directly. Indeed, when staring directly at a star, the star's light is dimmer. The best way to truly observe the star is to look just to the side of the star, allowing the greatest amount of light to enter the eyes.

The narrator's description of the stars is a clever metaphor for the way that Dupin goes about solving crimes, and perhaps for the way that Poe understands the universe. Total rationality (looking directly at the stars) simply isn't enough. Rather, the greatest insights can be achieved through intuition and free imagination (look to the side of a star). Dupin solves his cases by allowing his imagination and intuition to interact with his conscious mind. By the same token, Poe's stories are so evocative and memorable because they're full of events that have no rational explanation--i.e., they can only be understood if one surrenders some rationality in favor of imagination and emotion.

The Tell-Tale Heart Quotes

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) (speaker), The Old Man
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story tries to explain why he killed an old man. The narrator's explanation is that he didn't like the man's eye--which, according to the narrator, resembles the eye of a vulture.

For Poe, the eye is the ultimate symbol of man's irrationality and unpredictability. The eyes are the window to the soul, and thus for the narrator to be repelled by an eye is for him to be frightened by an inexplicable, irrational fear of another person's soul. Put another way, there is no rational motive for the narrator's act of murder--as he makes very clear, he doesn't kill the old man because he hates him, or to get his gold. As with so many of the bizarre and frightening things in Poe's stories, there is no real reason for them to happen; and yet they happen all the same, making them all the more uncanny.

The Black Cat Quotes

I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Black Cat) (speaker), The Black Cat (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story tortures his own cat by gouging out one of its eyes with his knife. What's interesting to notice in this passage is that the narrator seems both remorseful and remorseless as he describes how he tortured his pet. On one hand, the narrator describes the cat as a "poor beast," and claims that he shudders as he writes about his own actions. On the other hand, the narrator seems to have hurt his cat without any real remorse at the time-it's only later that he begins to regret his actions.

In short, the narrator is a deeply divided person--simultaneously good and evil, attracted and repelled by crime. In Poe's stories, the narrators' greatest enemies are themselves--they're trapped by their own divided natures, and can't commit a crime without later being wracked by their own self-hatred.

Get the entire Poe's Stories LitChart as a printable PDF.
Poe s stories.pdf.medium

Eyes Symbol Timeline in Poe's Stories

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eyes appears in Poe's Stories. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Ligeia
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...Greek Goddesses to the narrator. But one aspect shines above the rest – Ligeia’s large eyes. (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
These eyes are larger than human eyes usually are – there is something animal about them. They... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...the most thrilling human feelings. He has felt this way about the expression of Ligeia’s eyes. Sometimes an image will come to his mind that is an exact analogy for the... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...calm but has outbursts of temper like no other, and at these moments, her large eyes became huge and her voice took on a melodious, powerful energy. (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...lost child. As illness took her strength away, she read less and her once wild eyes grew dim. The narrator knew that she was about to die and struggled to reckon... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...that enshrouds her, letting loose raven-colored hair, and then revealing a pair of large, wild eyes. The narrators shrieks. It is Ligeia. (full context)
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...see that the man is completely changed, has become very pale and thin and his eyes have a strange luster. Usher's features are so fearful that the narrator doesn’t even recognize... (full context)
The Tell-Tale Heart
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...was a strange feature of the old man he lives with, that one of his eyes was different from the other and had an evil, vulture-like appearance, which convinced him to... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
...he opens the shutter of the lantern so that a single ray falls on the eye. Every night, he is annoyed to find the eye closed, because it is its stare... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...shutter a tiny bit and emits a ray upon the man, and sees that the eye is open! The narrator's old fury is stirred at the sight. The narrator reminds us... (full context)
The Black Cat
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...is ashamed to write it, he attacked the cat and gouged out one of his eyes with a quill pen. (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
...also hates a particular coincidental feature of the cat: that it too only has one eye, though this only endears the cat to his wife. As the narrator’s loathing for the... (full context)