28 pages 56 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1835

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Symbols & Motifs


In this story, teeth symbolize an obsession that transforms beauty into horror. Berenice’s teeth are the only part of her body unaffected by her disease. Therefore, they remain flawlessly beautiful while the rest of her body decays. They are also consistently described as white, a color often associated with purity and female beauty. However, the story subverts this association by portraying their color as disturbing. The narrator describes the teeth as “long, narrow, and excessively white” (335), suggesting that their whiteness is too much, rather than ideal. The teeth are often framed as shining out from the darkness, using the contrast of light and dark imagery to portray them as frightening and ghostly, rather than beautiful. When Egæus goes to see Berenice’s corpse, the teeth frighten him: “Through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice” (335). The final image of the teeth scattering across the floor indicates that while they remain “white and glistening” (336), the situation and their context as objects stolen from a woman believed to be dead make it impossible for them to be beautiful.