The Tell-Tale Heart Write Up by Pearl, Emma W, and Erin

Summary Part 1, Pearl:
Our main character begins the story by insisting that he is and has been very nervous but is not crazy. He talks about the old man he lives with and talks about the man’s eye which the main character finds deeply disturbing. The character finally decides to kill the man and spends a week watching the old man sleep, slowly opening his bedroom door to poke his head through the frame. During the day the main character acts normal and hides his true intentions. On the eighth day the main character realizes that the old man has been lying awake in fear the whole week and laughs at his terror. Then he smothers the old man is his matress until he can no longer hear his heartbeat.

Summary Part 2, Emma:
On the eighth day, the old man wakes up while the main character is watching him and is absolutely terrified. The main character shines his light directly on the evil eye that he despises so much, which gives him the final push. So the MC runs into the room and suffocates the old man.

Summary Part 3, Erin:

After doing so the main character dismembers the old man and stuffs his corpse under three planks in the chamber, replacing the planks once he’s done. Three police officers come by and say one of the neighbours reported a shriek, and the main character manages to convince them all is ok, even leading them to the cellar with the old man. He hears the old man’s heart beating though and grows paranoid the others can hear, leading him to tear up the floorboards and confess his actions.

Pearl’s Analysis:

Pt.1 Important Details

In Tell-Tale Heart Edgar Allan Poe chooses specific details very carefully. Sometimes he leaves out seemingly important aspects of the story and replaces them with other details that initially seem random. I believe he does this to convey a deep sense of anxiety and to display the power of an unhealthy obsession.

For example we never find out the main characters age name or even gender. We don’t get a sense of their relationship with the old man, how they came to live close to each other or anything else that would normally be considered important exposition in a fiction story. Instead of describing the old man’s room that the main character spends eight nights studying the narrator talks instead about how slowly he opened the door and how intently he waited to catch a glimpse of the moonlight on the old man’s pale eye.

Poe focuses on two dominate details, the old man’s eye, and the main characters insistence that they are not crazy. He uses this feverish repetition to make the tone of the story almost hysteric.

The narrator talks constantly about the old man’s eye saying:

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 –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually….

They continue to speak about the eye and how it haunts them throughout the story and their unhealthy obsession with it is what drives him to kill the old man in the first place.

Then of course there is the narrator’s constant reminding that they are not crazy.

The very first line of the story starts off like this:

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It’s not telling us about the setting, it’s not introducing any motivation, and it’s not describing anything related to the world we are entering. Instead the narrator is taking this valuable space and using it to defend himself almost as though we’ve confronted him just by picking up his story to read. However the more the narrator tries to assure us of his mental soundness the more unconvinced we become, which leads us to be mistrustful of the narrator.

Ironically this need to remind us of their sanity in every paragraph makes the main character appear even crazier and make us trust them less. This immediate and persistent unease and anxiety is the most important emotion that this story is trying to convey and it simply wouldn’t hit as hard if the narrator didn’t focus so intently on the little things. The danger of obsession is one of the biggest themes in Tell-Tale Heart and so it’s no surprise that the text reflects it so intensely.


The heart is one of the most important symbols in this story. I mean it’s literally called the Tell-Tale Heart.

In the story the heart primarily symbolizes the narrator’s own guilt at his actions. We can see this for a number of different reasons.

First, the old man’s heart doesn’t become a major part of the imagery till after the murder. The first mention of the heart is when the narrator is smothering the old man underneath his pillowcase.

–now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

Secondly the heart becomes more persistent as the narrator’s guilt grows. At first it’s mentioned almost in a throwaway detail, then it becomes nagging, and finally it causes the main character to confess to his crime in front of the authorities.

We can see the guilt building in the narrator all through the last paragraph:

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased.

Finally his emotional guilt causes him to confess to what he is physically guilty for.

 “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”


  1. Why isn’t the gender or age of the main character ever revealed? Was the choice to not reveal these details effective?
  2. Why was the eye specifically chosen as a symbol?

Emma’s Analysis:

The Characterization of the POV Character in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”

The nameless protagonist and POV character from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is fascinating to me for a number of reasons, which I will address in the following few paragraphs.

Most apparent is the prominent internal voice from the protagonist in the story. And most prominent in his thoughts is his endless reassurance to the reader that he is not mad. The first line is a rhetorical question to the reader asking if him being dreadfully nervous about what he will be during in the story, which we know nothing about yet, makes him mad, followed by him strongly rejecting this idea and suggesting he has actually achieved a higher sense. He assures us that what may be considered madness has in fact, in his eyes, sharpened his senses and made him see the world more acutely. Now contrary to what this character is trying to say, it is very worrisome to the reader that this guy has to so straightforwardly promise that he’s most definitely not crazy and that this story will be totally logical guys I promise. And it goes on and on, he states that he is not mad, he is not mad. Then he starts adding “logic”, saying that no madman would be as clever and resilient as him, would a madman do this? would a madman do that? Then he starts justifying madness itself, or at least giving it new meaning. He says, quote:

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?

To him, now madness is not a terrible thing, it’s a sharpening of the senses. It’s a super power. But even after this evolution of how he feels about madness, it’s still obvious that he’s insecure that his actions will be perceived as crazy and illogical, thus the constant repetition that he’s not mad.

The next interesting thing is the portrayal of the relationship between the old man and MC. Specifically, the lack of nearly any information on this relationship is very mysterious. All we know is that they seem to live together (if this is permanent or not is unclear). The protagonist says that he even loves the old man. But most intriguing is that even though they seem on friendly enough terms, the protagonist despises one of the old man’s eye, saying it resembles a vulture and makes his blood run cold. So without passion or malice, almost as if it were the only logical thing to do really, he decides to kill him. It reveals that the MC is probably very disturbed by particular things, and is prone to following through with sudden ideas without applying reasoning to them. The tendencies of a psychopath you could say.

Another thing to highlight is how cunning he thinks he is. Multiple times he boasts about how cleverly he spied on the old man every night for eight nights, how wise he was to be so kind to him in the week leading up to his death, how thoughtful it was to mutilate the body in the way he did. He thinks he’s the smartest, most totally not crazy person alive. Something I mentioned when describing his madness is also how almost superpowered he is. He says that he can “hear things in heaven and hell”, he can hear the beating of the old man’s heart and can sense death hovering close in the moments before he killed him. And of course (though this is just his guilt and nerves) he hears the dead old man’s heart from beneath the floorboards.

More on psychopathic tendencies, the POV character really gives off a cold, calculating, and patient vibe. He is willing to stare at the old man for hours without moving a muscle, he’ll open the door moving “slower than a minute hand” as to not alert the old man. He’s extremely anxious too though (which is a symptom of psychos) which he also states repeatedly. But this is slightly juxtaposed with a line when he’s listening to the man’s groans of terror:

“I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart.”

Slightly, because he’s still chuckling at heart. And he’s actually polite and charismatic as well to the police officers. And of course, his guilt driving him mad (ha) in the climax of the story.

The last thing we see of him is his confidence, reaching its peak when he had the guts to sit right over the hidden corpse of the person he murdered while talking to the police.

The Narrative of “The Tell-Tale Heart”

TTH is great at building a slow creepy and mysterious narrative that keeps you with a cold sweat from the first sentence to the last.

The story starts cold with the MC strongly reassuring the reader that he is definitely not crazy or anything, and explaining the process that led him to killing the old man. The conflict  The rising action broadly consists of the extremely detailed and harrowing descriptions of the protagonist spying on the old man. Though it can be argued that the death of the old man is the climax, I think it’s only one more step in the rising action. Having done the deed, he mutilates the body and carefully hides it below the floorboards. And the highest moment of tension is when he confidently shows the police around the house. The reader at this point nearly wants the police to bust this crazy murderer! But then he starts hearing the heart beating, and beating, and beating, and getting louder. Of course, this is all in his own mind. But then he starts thinking that the police can hear it and are only messing with him by not acknowledging it. And with a shout, he reveals what he has done and curses the tell-tale beating heart of the old man.


What do you think the relationship between the nameless main character and the old man is? Do you think it matters what their relationship is and do you think the suspense/tension/horror could have been improved if more of their relationship was fleshed out?

Do you think the heavy use of the main character’s internal thoughts helped elevate the suspense/tension/horror? Do you think the story could have worked without it?

Erin’s Analysis

Part 1. Point of view choice

In Edgar Allen Poe’s story, ‘The tell-tale heart,’ we view the story through the eyes of a man with no specific name. We never learn the name, age, or gender of the main character, only being referenced to with words like ‘I’ or ‘my.’ In the beginning of the story we are introduced to the main character’s mentality.

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

In this passage we get an introduction to our main character. From the start and through the story we get the repeated message that our character isn’t ‘mad,’ or crazy. It is a point emphasized over and over, the repetition something to take note of. It brings up the question as to why the main character is so adamitely set on reassuring us. He says his ‘disease’ has sharpened his senses, asking how that makes him mad. We are show the story through his eyes, and we get to hear his thought process.

 You should have seen how wisely I proceeded,

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings.

In these three excerpts we get a better understanding of our character and his ambitions. He finds himself to be clever and sneaky. It shows the reader just how much of a crazy person this character really is. The themes like the murder of the old man and how he concealed the body show that. The repeated theme of the character not being mad puts the it into the readers mind often enough so that we begin to question it. The character wants to kill the old man because of his eye. It sends a chill down his spine, and repeated over and over is the description of the ‘vulture-like eye with the film over it.’ He goes into his room every night, taking an hour just to open the door. He then checks to see if the man is awake by shining a stream of light on the eye of the old man. He does the same process for several nights until he finds the man awake, killing him and stuffing him underneath three boards in a cellar. All of this shown through the repeated mentality of the character leads the reader to believe that the main character really is mad. The most prominent thing, though, is that paragraph that ends the story.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

Through this paragraph the main character gets more and more paranoid. He is hearing the beating of the old mans heart in his ears and head, assured and convinced that the officers are acutely aware of what it is that he’s done, and are only mocking him. The old man is dead, and the main character cannot be hearing the heartbeat of the old man. This is the strongest implication we gat that our character is, in fact, mad, the conclusion of the story letting the reader draw their own conclusions.

Pt.2 The eye symbolism

The main conflict of the story is the main character’s desire to murder an old man he presumably works for. The reason, however, is the old man’s eye.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. 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 –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

In this excerpt we learn the reason for the main character’s motivation. The old man’s eye deepy unsettles our main character. We get no further explanation from the narrator why he hates the eye so much other than the fact that it sends chills down his spine. Through the story we get the repeated theme that the main character isn’t mad. It is shown however, through his thoughts and actions that he is. He called himself ‘diseased’ and heard the beating heart of a dead man when nobody else is showing any sign that they can hear it. To me the eye symbolizes an understanding of the main character. The narrator has an aversion to being called out on his craziness, and the eye is doing just that. He’s afraid the eye can see through him and into his mind, see his crazed ambitions and capability for unfathomable deeds. The main character, of course, wants to get rid of any suspicion or doubt of his mental state, leading him to take away the eye completely.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the narrator make one of the main focuses of the story the mental state of the character?
  2. What do you think the eye symbolizes?


“The Passenger” Write Up by Isobel, Alessa, and Michael

Summary Part 1: Alessa
Babe is a limo driver with piercings and a boss/dispatcher (Ruthanne) she has never met in real life. Today, she was going to pick up two Chins by international baggage at LAX, which causes Babe to start complaining because that means she’ll have to circle the airport multiple times before she picks them up. After a couple rounds, people start coming out and she somehow knows who she needs to pick up. She tries to put their suitcase in the trunk because of company policy but is unable to do so because they don’t understand English.

Babe starts to have a flashback of when her mother first attempted suicide. Babe addressed her mother by first name and discovered that she had taken an entire bottle of Xanax. Fortunately, her mother threw it all up before Babe entered the apartment.

At the end of part one, Babe and the Chins are caught up in some traffic.

Summary Part 2: Isobel
Babe is in the limo with the Chins and Ruthie informs her about a fare at a recording studio. Babe takes it and exits the freeway she’s on, so she can jump onto a shorter route. However, this route is backed up with traffic because of an accident that took place hours ago. We have another flashback that takes place in Cleveland. Babe and her mother go to a coffee shop and a man and his daughter sit with them during lunch. The group don’t really talk until Babe’s mother converses with the man’s daughter. The girl’s long hair is brought up and after a brief conversation, Babe and her mother leave the coffee shop without touching the bill. Babe is brought back to the present due to flashing lights in front of her. She calls a policeman over to the limo who she begins to converse with, learning that the accident involved a car full of kids. The Chins are in the back and they seem to be a little nervous. Babe hears moaning coming from their suitcase and the policeman acknowledges their presence. Once he leaves, the Chins hop out the limo as the traffic is moving forward without paying Babe. She turns her attention to the abandoned suitcase.

Summary Part 3: Michael
She opens it carefully and through fear with a stick. As she opens the case she screams without realizing that the words are coming from her mouth. There is a baby in the suitcase, very small and fragile. She holds the child close to her face, she rushes the baby to the emergency room. Once she gets there the baby is taken and she treated as a criminal. Many of the nurses believe Babe is the reason for the baby’s condition. Babe has a flashback to the time her mother tried to slit her wrists yet missed the vein. She continues to clean up her mother and tend to her needs despite her obvious will not to live. She is taken from the waiting room to a locked closet containing a metal table. She is spoken to by many different officers and eventually realizes how serious the situation is. She is eventually released and reflects upon her life and the child’s past. About the mother’s dreams and hopes for the child’s life.

Alessa’s Analysis:

Conflicts (pink)

People make assumptions about me

When it comes to interacting with authority and people of higher class, she is most likely painted out to be a criminal or immature because of her appearance and age.

They don’t understand a word I’m saying.

This makes it difficult to interact with her customers, specifically when she tries to put the luggage in the trunk of the limo and when she’s trying to make them get back inside the car. This also pisses her off when she finds out that they can speak English.

My mother tried to kill herself

Growing up with a suicidal mother seems to have made Babe very blunt and honest. Perhaps her use of rude sarcasm is a coping mechanism that she uses to protect herself.

She doesn’t believe a word I say.

Babe could possibly go to jail if she doesn’t convince the cop that what she’s saying is the truth, especially since she didn’t even any proof she could provide them with at the time.

Scene (green) VS Summary (blue)

In paragraph fifteen, the main character leaped from telling the story to describe things about herself. She revealed that she lived on Lincoln Boulevard and that she used to have a boyfriend. Babe is also a limo driver with a nose piercing. She’s twenty-three years old and doesn’t really want much from life. Ruthanne is her boss and dispatcher, which she has never met in real life. The main character builds up our knowledge about her and, in turn, makes herself more relatable to the reader.


I’m twenty-three. I live alone in a second-story box on Lincoln Boulevard. I had a boyfriend for a while. I liked him, then I didn’t. I have a few friends left over from high school, and we go drinking sometimes, but lately I’m not sure why. We get together and moan about rent, or we get worked up telling stories we’ve told before. We end up staring into our drinks because facing each other is like looking into a mirror in bad lighting.

Babe picks up two Chins outside international luggage at LAX. Babe complains about this because it means she’ll have to drive around multiple times before picking up her customers. She somehow knew that the Asian couple by the curb were her customers. After she collects the couple, she notices that they don’t understand English.


Then I see a man and a woman standing at the curb with a very large black suitcase between them, and for some reason I know that they are my Chins. She’s wearing a neatly cut jacket and a matching skirt. Her black high heels are so polished they reflect the lights overhead. He wears a double-breasted suit that hangs loosely over his thin body. His hair is swooped back into a gentle pompadour, and it’s shiny with whatever goop he put into it.

The first time her mother tried killing herself was when the main character was nineteen and already living on her own. The mother had swallowed a bunch of sleep pills before throwing them all up. It is also revealed that Babe addresses her mother by her first name whenever she was trying to get her attention. The following is how the main character found her upon entering the home and what happened once she returned to work.


When I got to her shabby rental in Laurel Canyon, she was sitting on her couch with her legs crossed underneath her. Her orange dress, missing half its sequined flowers, covered her knees like a tent. Bubbles of spit shone on her chin and there was vomit on her dress.


I went to work, where I unloaded soggy restaurant tablecloths and hospital sheets from the washing machines and crammed them into carriers strung from the ceiling. After eight hours, my apron was soaked and my hands were waterlogged, and I was a little high off the dryer fumes. When I walked out onto Highland, I had the feeling I was swimming. The noise of the traffic was like the rubbery sounds you hear underwater.

The narration returns to present time, where Babe is stuck in traffic because of an accident that happened up ahead and around two hours ago. She was originally going to pick up a few more people from a recording studio, but the traffic prevents her from doing so. Babe has to inform Ruth that she was going to be unable to pick up the clients.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was the main character’s mother suicidal?
  2. What significant detail stood out to you the most?
  3. Was the main character passive?

Isobel’s Analysis:

Techniques tracked:

  • The artistic purpose of the flashbacks
  • Symbolism that was shown throughout the story

When we first begin “The Passenger,” we learn that our main character, Babe, is a limo driver. She talks about how other people were content with past jobs and how they wanted to be doing something else, but then Babe shocks us by saying that she is perfectly content with being a limo driver. As the story unfolds, we see that while Babe drives, memories that have escaped her mind seem to float back to her, thus allowing her to see them vividly as the surrounding area just flies by. Also, near the end of the story, Babe realizes that she doesn’t remember most of her life.

I really have no idea about the things that went on in my life.

When I read this, I began to think that the limo could symbolize a way for her to get back to her past because it’s only when she’s driving that she really remembers the little things that went on in her life.

Driving sometimes puts me in this dreamy place where I remember strange details from my life.

Her limo is like a teleportation device to the parts of her mind that she’s suppressed and most of these parts involve her mother during her childhood and young adolescence life.

Another thing that we learn from Babe’s story is about her dispatcher, Ruthie. Ruthie is never actually seen by Babe in person, but Babe has seen her red jacket in the office once.

…her red jacket hanging off a chair at the office. It had a dog appliquéd across the back. Normally someone who would wear that jacket would have nothing to say to me…

Also, Ruthie never follows the rules about using the numbers that correspond to each driver, choosing to use their real names instead.

We’re required to use our call number, but Ruthie never does.

Due to those two little details, I thought that the red jacket could symbolize the social classes in L.A. Babe says herself that someone with that type of jacket would never talk to her and that could be because a person with that type of jacket has more wealth or a higher status that her. Also, the fact that Ruthie never uses call numbers can be interpreted as Ruthie thinking that she is above those rules. I also thought that L.A. itself could symbolize something.

Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

I thought that L.A. could represent lost hope or maybe just hope. I thought that line just made it seem like the mother of that baby had hope of her little baby living a better life but obviously it didn’t work out. Also, Babe continues to live there so maybe she still has hope of something good happening.

When Babe picks the Chins up, she notices a “very large black suitcase” in between them. Once I learned that there was a baby inside of that suitcase I saw the suitcase as representing secrets. I thought that the specific detail of the suitcase being in between the couple showed that it was a shared secret and that it was very large showed that it was a large secret (it was). The Chins are also very protective of the suitcase and keep it close to each other which is something people do when they have secrets, they keep it close and in between themselves.

When Babe’s mother tries to commit suicide for the first time, she is described as wearing a very specific dress.

…orange dress, missing half its sequined flowers…

This description of the dress made me think that the dress could symbolize the mother. I’m sure the dress was once very beautiful but now, it’s seen as falling apart. This is just like the mother who is now suffering from the demons inside of her head that are causing her to feel suicidal. When people are suicidal, they are often depicted as dolls that are unraveling and falling apart at the seams but maybe what the author was trying to get across was that the mother wasn’t just a doll. The mother was an orange dress, something beautiful and cheery but that is now losing its sequined flowers. Also, during this scene in the story, Babe’s mother asks about Babe’s current job, as a person who washes clothes. She asks how the clothes are and Babe responds with:

It’s like dirty sheets getting clean.

I saw this as foreshadowing for when the mother goes with that group in the desert. She is the dirty sheet that is now getting cleaned. Also, if you think about it, the mother is getting helped by Babe most of the time, so Babe’s job could symbolize her helping her mother getting through her darkest hours.

Later, in the story while Babe and her mother are in Cleveland we hear about a temple that the mother works at. The temple is described as the only nice things for blocks in Babe’s neighborhood. I thought that the temple could symbolize hope in hardships because of its niceness. The temple has a gold roof and Babe often wonders if the gold is real or not. This could be Babe wondering if she should trust this hope or if this is just a false sense of hope.

When the Chins are trying to leave the car, they are shown as being frantic and messy compared to their previous cool and classy personas.

Mrs. Chin follows, her skirt sliding up her thighs…

…scrambling awkwardly…

Earlier on in the story, the couple seemed very calm and very polite. Mrs. Chin slid into the car gracefully and Mr. Chin followed. The author including the couple leaving in the way they did just seemed to show how anxious they were to leave. This foreshadowed the upcoming events of Babe finding a baby in the suitcase which is probably why the Chins were so eager to leave.

The final bit of symbolism that I saw was the baby in the suitcase.

It’s lying on a soiled yellowish cloth, making weird stuttery noises that don’t exactly sound like breathing. A small tank lies next to it, and an oxygen mask that must have once covered its nose and mouth hangs down around its chin. A rank, rotten smell reaches me, and I see that the baby’s legs are caked with mustardy shit…

In either case, some mother gave that baby away. Maybe she needed the cash, or maybe she thought her baby would do better without her. Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

Once I read these paragraphs that talked about the baby, I thought that the baby could represent Babe. One, their names are similar: The baby and Babe. Also, the description of the suitcase that the baby was found in could be the neighborhood that Babe had lived in when she was younger. The neighborhood was apparently a “bad” neighborhood and the suitcase that the baby was found in was bad. Also, the air tank that was found with the baby could be someone trying to keep it alive during the trip. I saw this as Babe’s mother trying to raise her daughter despite all the hardships they faced. Finally, the baby being given away and taken to L.A. also reminded me of Babe because she was taken to L.A. by her mother and she had to raise herself while she was there.

In “The Passenger,” Babe has flashbacks from her past. Based off information from the story (that I’ve previously mentioned in the symbolism section), we learn that Babe finds it easier to remember her past while driving. She has four flashbacks during the duration of the story and all four involve her mother. The first flashback is of her mother’s first time she tried to commit suicide.

She said she had taken an entire bottle of Xanax. She was getting yawny and slurry as we were talking, and I couldn’t get her to tell me how many pills had been in the bottle. But, since she usually avoided taking her pills when she needed them, I figured that “entire” might be the truth.

Babe rushes to her mother’s side and finds her mother alive, sitting on the couch, covered in throw up. The two talk but Babe’s mother isn’t entirely there. Babe’s mother asks if Babe wants to stay for lunch or for some tea but Babe declines, bringing up her job.

I have to go back to work,” I said. “They’ll dock my pay.”

“Okay,” she said, pouting.

Just based off Babe’s reaction to her mother trying to commit suicide and her mother’s reaction to Babe’s disinterest, I started to think that Babe’s mother might be doing this to get Babe’s attention. Maybe she wants her daughter back. In fact, proof of Babe’s mother doing this to see her daughter can be seen in the third flashback.

…she used a razor blade to cut her wrists fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to go over for dinner-which gave me some idea of how serious she was…

“If you really mean it, you use a gun.”

“Oh,” she said, shuddering, as if the idea made her think of snakes or spiders. “I could never fire a gun.”

To me, this sounds like the mother is sad and does feel suicidal, but she might be like this because she misses Babe who seems to maybe be ashamed or disinterested in her mother’s life. Babe’s mother doesn’t want to finalize her suicide by using a gun and Babe responds with a “well then we’re in luck.” Also, in the first flashback, when Babe brings food to her mother, she doesn’t wake her up and instead chooses to just turn the TV on so her mother has someone/something to wake up to in the morning.

I watched her breath a few times, then turned on the TV so she would have company when she woke up.

Babe’s attitude towards her mother’s suicide could just be a coping mechanism because she doesn’t know how else to deal with this.

In the second flashback, Babe and her mother are in Cleveland despite her mother hating the city. The two live in a bad neighborhood and the only thing good about it is the temple that Babe’s mother works at. While they’re there, Babe and her mother go to a coffee shop and sit at a booth. A man and his daughter come in and ask if they could join the two.

…when he got to our booth he stopped and asked if they could sit with us. My mother said yes, if they wanted. The man sat down. The girl looked upset, but he told her to sit, and she did…

The interactions between the two parties seem innocent enough but underneath all of that, something for sinister seemed to be bugging Babe. The coffee shop wasn’t full, yet the man still wanted to sit with her and her mother. As the groups sits, eating in silence, the man’s daughter’s hair gets stuck in her sandwich the mother comments on that and the daughter responds with “I brush it a hundred times every morning and night.”

 “Somebody must have taught you that,” my mother said. I wasn’t sure whether she was asking of telling. The girl didn’t say anything.

Babe and her mother finish their food, then leave without paying. Babe notices this and brings it up.

“I think we forgot to pay,” I said once we were headed into the freezing wind towards the bus stop.

“We paid, all right,” she said.

This scene seemed a little off in my mind, so I began to think about it. Initially, nothing seems too wrong with this scene, but the man’s daughter’s reaction and Babe’s mother’s ending sentence made me think that the man and Babe’s mother had some sort of relationship or contact that Babe was unaware of. In relations to the whole story, I think that this flashback comments on how Babe is having to do jobs that others don’t want to so she could get by, just like her mother had to. Her mother had to live in a city she hated, and she worked at a temple just to get by. Although Babe is content with her job, I’m sure she wouldn’t say no to a better job.

In the third flashback, we see that Babe’s mother has tried to kill herself once again, this time using a razor blade. Babe comes to help her mother and the two are talking about the mother. Babe’s mother feels worthless and Babe tries to comfort her but doesn’t really understand. Once Babe gets her mother a band aid, her mother asks if Babe will stay.

“Stay for a while,” she said.

“Eventually I’ll have to go.”

“That’s always the way.”

I believe that this flashback shows Babe’s mother finally coming to terms with Babe being an adult who has her own life.

The final flashback is of Babe’s mother moving to the desert sanctuary, so she can properly heal. A couple of quotes stuck out to me that helps me understand why these flashbacks were included.

I shrugged. “It’s no different than anyplace else. So what’s the point of leaving?”

“I wish I felt that way. I really do. But somehow, after a while, a place starts to feel like a splinter to me, you know? Like something you have to get rid of before it gets infected.”

Earlier on in the story, Babe is stuck in traffic and thinks of this:

You can be stuck or you can be going places…

I think that another reason the mother is suicidal is because she needs to keep moving, if she ever stops, like she told Babe, it feels like a splinter to her. She can’t stand the same place for too long so that’s why Babe and her kept moving. I think that this is one of the reasons that Babe has trouble remembering her past, so much happened and so fast, she has trouble or she just gave up trying to remember. Also, the last line of the story stuck out to me like a sore thumb:

Maybe she’d once seen a postcard of a palm tree or a movie star and thought that in Los Angeles, USA, her little girl would find paradise.

I feel like this is a comment on the baby that was in the suitcase and a comment on Babe and her mother. Maybe her mother moved to L.A. with Babe with hopes of finally being able to find a place that wouldn’t feel like a splinter. As Babe said before, L.A. isn’t all pools and palm trees. There’s a lot of things going on there. By the end of the story, I was able to intertwine the past and the present of the story by one main theme: Mother-daughter relationships. In the past, it’s Babe dealing with her mother and in the present, it’s the baby (who is the daughter of some mother that abandoned her). So, I believe that the story is sort of like a commentary on that topic.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Silver intertwine Babe’s past with the present situation that she’s in?
  2. What is your opinion of Babe’s mother? Is she a good mother or a bad mother?

Michael’s Analysis: 

Elements of Fiction:


Sepulvelda BLVD Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles International Airport

A hospital building

Her mother’s desert community

Point of View

This story is retold from the view of Babe, She is a young woman who is well traveled. She has multiple piercings and has lived a troubled life.