Symbols are used in literature to represent something more than the literal aspect itself. They can come in the form of phrases, colors, objects or events. Through this, the writer can effectively suggest unsaid ideas and meanings within the audience. The use of symbolism serves as clues by the author, to infer something more or a deeper meaning. Edgar Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Joseph Conrad’s “Youth”, both use symbols to convey larger ideas and emotions from the audience but in each case they serve different meanings.

One of the most important symbols in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is the old man’s. “One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture-a pale blue eye, with film over it. ”(1) The literal meaning is a man with a certain medical condition with his eye. With a certain film over it, it is essentially blind which creates an certain spook to the story. Poe uses this eye as a symbol to create a deeper meaning. Describing it as a vulture’s eye he creates a certain mystery of a evil eye watching over the narrator.

As the evil eye watches over, it hints to insanity of the narrator making the reader question how trustworthy the narrator’s perspective is. The narrator comes off as a bit mad, as he implies that the eye could see his hidden secrets. “Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold. “(1) With the eye as a symbol Poe created a sense of insanity within the narrator as well as the audience. Joseph Conrad writes a tale about the love of one’s youth. A main symbol Conrad uses as a tool to represent a deeper meaning is the ship the Judea.

As the ship burns and sinks, it could be interperted as Marlow’s dissolving youth. The Judea never reaches it’s destination as it goes through a tale of struggle. The ship unsaid, tells a story of Marlow’s discovery and achievements. It crumbles apart to a burning fire, so does Marlow’s life, as he sits around a table reminising about his past. The Judea only serves as memories that Marlow could have only experienced aboard the vessel. With the envy of youth, the boat shows how naive and young one is in their past. The two stories indulged in the same methods; using symbols.

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With these methods they gave clues to the reader to infer something more than the text. Poe created a feeling of insanity and madness within the reader, while Conrad created an image of envy. They both brought more to the reader with a feeling rather than just a story. With the two short stories, one can conclude that with the use of symbols in literature, the author can represent additional feelings in the reader. Decifering past the literal meanings these symbols, the audience can see true insanity in the form of an eye, or have a whole perspective on life with a smoldering boat.


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