What Does the Heart Symbolize in Literature: Exploring Its Significance in Prose, Poetry, and Drama

Have you ever wondered why the heart is considered the ultimate symbol of love and affection in literature? From the pages of classic literature to modern-day romance novels, the heart symbolizes more than just a biological organ or a pumping machine that keeps us alive. For centuries, writers have used the heart to denote love, passion, empathy, and even the very essence of human existence. But what is it about the heart that has captured the imagination of writers and readers alike for generations?

The heart as a literary symbol has played an integral role in the interpretation of human emotions throughout history. It embodies feelings that are often difficult to express and provides a universal language for the expression of love and passion. From the heart-pounding romance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the introspective contemplation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the heart symbolizes the depth and complexity of human emotions. Through literature, the heart is often portrayed as a vulnerable and fragile organ that can be bruised and broken, just like our own hearts. It also represents courage and resilience in facing life’s hardships.

So, the heart symbolizes more than just a physical organ. Literature has taught us that it’s a sophisticated metaphorical representation of the depth of human emotions. It’s no wonder that writers and readers alike continue to use it as a powerful symbol. While the heart might be a simple and straightforward symbol, it holds within it a world of meanings that evoke feelings of love, fear, loss, resilience, and even hope.

The Heart Symbolizing Love in Classic Literature

The heart has long been used as a symbol of love in literature, dating back to ancient times. In classic literature, the heart is frequently portrayed as the source of all emotions, particularly love. Whether it is the heart of a lover or the heart of a character, writers often use the heart to demonstrate passion, desire, and devotion. In fact, some of the most famous lines in literature make reference to the heart as a symbol of love:

  • “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  • “I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

These quotes illustrate how the heart is used to depict the intensity and depth of romantic love. The phrase “I love you with all my heart” is a common expression in literature, as it captures the idea that love comes from the very depths of one’s being.

The heart as a metaphor for passion in romantic literature

When it comes to romantic literature, it’s hard to miss the abundance of heart metaphors scattered throughout the pages. The heart has become the go-to symbol for conveying emotions of love, desire, and passion, making it an essential literary tool for authors to evoke the reader’s emotions.

  • Heart as the center of emotions
  • Heart as the embodiment of love
  • Heart as a representation of yearning

One of the most common uses of the heart symbol in romantic literature is its representation as the epicenter of emotions. The heart is often used to signify the deepest feelings and emotions of the protagonist. For instance, in Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre, the protagonist’s heart is depicted as the center of her emotions. As Jane finally accepts her love for Mr. Rochester, she says, “I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap.” This use of the heart symbol conveys the magnitude and intensity of Jane’s love for Mr. Rochester.

Another way the heart symbol is depicted in romantic literature is as the embodiment of love. It is used to represent not just romantic love but also familial love and platonic love. For instance, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the heart symbol is used to represent the ardent love and deep desire between the two lovers. Juliet says of Romeo, “My boundless love for thee, O my lord, exceeds the power of my tongue to tell”; this striking use of the heart symbol indicates the intensity and unbridled passion of their romance.

Lastly, heart metaphors are often used to signify yearning, the longing for love and companionship. This use of the heart symbol is especially pronounced in poems and sonnets, as seen in John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The poem describes the longing of a lovelorn knight for a beautiful woman who entranced him and left him lonely and bereft of emotion.

Symbolism Literary Work
Heart as a vessel of desire The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Heart as a symbol of sacrifice The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Heart as the keeper of secrets The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

In conclusion, the heart symbol in romantic literature is an indelible representation of love, passion, and yearning. Through its use, authors have been able to capture the very essence of human emotion and convey it to their readers. Whether as a center of emotions, embodiment of love, or a representation of yearning, the heart symbol has stood the test of time and remains an essential literary tool up to this day.

The Heart Representing Loyalty in Friendship Literature

Throughout literature, the heart has been a symbol for many different things. One of the most common interpretations is that it represents love, but the heart can also symbolize loyalty, especially in friendship literature.

  • In William Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” the character Valentine says, “And in that love I draw your love’s portrait, Draw what I most cherish in the world.” Here, “love” refers to the friendship between Valentine and his best friend Proteus. The heart symbolizes the bond that exists between them and their mutual loyalty.
  • In “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, the character Anne Shirley says, “I’d rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne.” Her friend Diana Barry responds, “You mean you like me better than a dozen boys?” And Anne says, “Oh, don’t be foolish! I mean I’d rather have you than any other girl in the world.” The heart in this context represents the girls’ friendship, which is built on mutual trust, loyalty, and devotion.
  • In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the ultimate example of a loyal friendship. They stick together through thick and thin and are willing to risk their lives for each other. The heart in this context represents the unwavering loyalty that exists between them.

Friendship literature is full of examples of the heart symbolizing loyalty, and these stories serve as a reminder of the importance of loyalty in friendships. Just like the characters in these stories, we should strive to be loyal to our friends, to support them through thick and thin, and to always be there when they need us.

William Shakespeare The Two Gentlemen of Verona “And in that love I draw your love’s portrait, Draw what I most cherish in the world.”
L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables “Oh, don’t be foolish! I mean I’d rather have you than any other girl in the world.”
J.K. Rowling Harry Potter series “We’re with you whatever happens.”

In conclusion, the heart symbolizes many things in literature, but one of the most profound interpretations is its representation of loyalty in friendship. Whether it’s the bond between Valentine and Proteus, the friendship between Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, or the unwavering loyalty between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the heart serves as a reminder of the importance of being a loyal friend.

The heart symbolizing courage in adventurous literature

In literature, the heart can represent various emotions and concepts. One of the most prevalent meanings is the heart symbolizing courage in adventurous literature. Numerous stories depict heroes who embark on perilous journeys, battles, and challenges to protect their loved ones and fight for what they believe in. In such tales, the heart signifies the bravery, determination, and resilience required to overcome adversity and achieve victory.

  • Heart as the source of courage: In many works of literature, the heart is portrayed as the organ that generates courage and strength. Writers often describe how characters’ hearts pound with excitement or fear before or during a significant event. This visceral reaction underscores the emotional investment and stakes of the story, highlighting the hero’s inner struggles and triumphs as they face their obstacles.
  • The heart as a symbol of loyalty: Another way the heart symbolizes courage in literature is by representing loyalty and devotion. Often, characters are driven by their deep commitment to a cause, person, or ideal, compelling them to endure hardship and danger. This unwavering dedication shows the depth of the character’s courage and inspires readers to appreciate their own commitments and loyalties.
  • The heart as a source of inspiration: Courageous characters are often motivated by their hearts’ desires and passions, driving them to overcome obstacles and succeed. In literature, the heart is presented as a source of inspiration and a force that enables heroes to exceed their physical and mental limits. Through such characters, readers witness the power of passion and how it can propel you to feats of greatness.

Overall, the heart symbolizes courage in adventurous literature, demonstrating how the human spirit can overcome adversity and achieve greatness through bravery, loyalty, and passion. Below is a table showcasing some examples of courageous characters in literature and the role their hearts played in their stories:

Character Story Heart’s Role
Odysseus The Odyssey Driven by his love for his wife and homeland, Odysseus battles monsters, survives storms, and endures years of captivity to return home.
Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit Despite his fear and inexperience, Bilbo embarks on a dangerous quest to help the dwarves reclaim their homeland, driven by his desire for adventure and a sense of duty.
Katniss Everdeen The Hunger Games Driven by her love for her sister and her desire for justice, Katniss endures the brutal Hunger Games, battling other contestants and the corrupt government.

These examples showcase how the heart symbolizes the bravery, loyalty, and passion that underpin courage in literature. They demonstrate that stories about courageous characters resonate deeply with readers, inspiring them to overcome their own obstacles and find the courage to pursue their dreams.

The Heart as a Symbol of Emotional Pain in Tragic Literature

The heart has been a recurring symbol in literature for centuries, representing a wide variety of human experiences such as love, passion, and emotion. However, in tragic literature, the heart is often portrayed as a symbol of emotional pain and suffering. The heart’s association with agony and anguish is prevalent in the way it is referenced in well-known tragic works such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the heart symbolizes the pain of forbidden love.
  • The character of Juliet speaks about her heartache when she can’t be with Romeo, and the motif of the heart is used in their conversation to describe how she feels.
  • Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart uses the symbol of the heart to represent the emotional turmoil and madness of the protagonist.
  • The narrator’s obsession with the old man’s heart throbbing under the floorboards is a direct representation of his own inner-torment and emotional pain.
  • Even the term “heartbreaking” has become synonymous with overwhelming emotional pain and suffering in literature and everyday language.

In tragic literature, the heart symbolizes the deepest emotions of love, loss, and pain, all rolled into one. It captures the essence of what it is to be human, to feel joy and sorrow, and to experience the highs and lows of life. The symbol of the heart in tragic literature reminds us of the power of human connection and the depths of our emotional experiences.

Tragic literature often portrays the heart as being broken or shattered, representing the emotional pain that is felt after a significant loss. The heartbreak is used as a way to convey the magnitude of the tragedy and the utter despair that the characters are experiencing. The use of this symbolism also allows the reader to empathize and feel the emotions of the character, which makes the tragedy resonate on a deeper level.

Examples of Tragic Literature and Heart Symbolism Explanation
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare The heart symbolizes the pain of forbidden love.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe The heart represents the emotional turmoil and madness of the protagonist.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald The character of Jay Gatsby dies from a broken heart symbolizing his love for Daisy and the tragic end to their story.

The heart symbol is often used in tragic literature to showcase the depth of the characters’ emotions and experiences. It is a powerful and versatile symbol, conveying the range of human experiences, from unbridled joy to intense pain and sorrow. The portrayal of the heart in tragic literature reminds us of the complexity of the human condition, and the fragility of our emotional well-being. It speaks to the universal experiences of love, loss, and grief and allows readers to connect with the characters and story on a deeply emotional level.

The Heart as a Representation of the Soul in Spiritual Literature

In spiritual literature, the heart often serves as a symbol for the soul, representing the core of a person’s being. This symbolism can be found in various religious texts and spiritual philosophies across the world.

  • In Christianity, the heart is often mentioned as the center of one’s emotions and desires, as well as the place where God resides within believers.
  • In Hinduism, the heart chakra, or Anahata, is seen as the connection between the physical and spiritual realms, representing compassion and love.
  • In Sufism, the heart is referred to as the organ of understanding and the seat of the soul.

Even in non-religious spiritual practices, the heart is often looked to as a symbol of the soul and inner wisdom. Meditation and mindfulness exercises often focus on tuning into the heart space, where intuition and inner guidance can be accessed.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of the heart representing the soul in literature comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Annabel Lee.” The speaker describes the love he shared with Annabel Lee as being so profound that “the winged seraphs of Heaven/Coveted her and me.” The speaker goes on to describe the importance of his heart in their love, saying, “But our love it was stronger by far than the love/Of those who were older than we—/Of many far wiser than we—/And neither the angels in Heaven above/ Nor the demons down under the sea/Can ever dissever my soul from the soul/Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

Religion/Spiritual Belief Heart Symbolism
Christianity The heart as the center of one’s emotions and desires, and the dwelling place of God within believers.
Hinduism The heart chakra, or Anahata, representing the connection between the physical and spiritual realms, and the seat of compassion and love.
Sufism The heart as the organ of understanding and the seat of the soul.

Overall, the heart’s symbolism as representing the soul in spiritual literature speaks to the idea that one’s innermost being is often located at the center of their chest, physically and metaphorically. It is a powerful symbol of the human experience and one that has resonated with writers and readers for centuries.

The Heart Representing the Power of Intuition in Mystical Literature

Mystical literature often uses the heart as a symbol of intuition, inner wisdom, and spiritual insight. The heart is seen as a powerful organ that can connect us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In this context, the heart represents our ability to tap into a higher consciousness and trust our instincts.

The Significance of the Number 7

  • Many mystical traditions believe that the number 7 is deeply connected to the heart and intuition. This is because there are traditionally 7 chakras, or energy centers, in the body. The fourth chakra, located in the heart area, is seen as the center for intuition, compassion, and love.
  • In addition, there are 7 colors in the rainbow, 7 days in a week, and 7 notes in a musical scale. These repetitions of the number 7 across different domains are seen as evidence of its spiritual significance.
  • The number 7 is also associated with completeness and perfection, further emphasizing the idea that the heart and intuition are essential for spiritual wholeness.

The Heart and the Journey of Self-Discovery

In mystical literature, the heart is often seen as the starting point for a journey of self-discovery. When we tap into our intuition and listen to the wisdom of our hearts, we can embark on a path of spiritual growth and transformation.

However, this journey is not always easy. The heart is also associated with vulnerability, and opening ourselves up to our deepest feelings and desires can be challenging. But ultimately, embracing the power of the heart can lead to a greater sense of connection, authenticity, and purpose in life.

Table – The Heart as a Symbol of Intuition in Different Cultures

Culture Heart Symbolism
Ancient Egypt The heart was believed to be the seat of the soul and the source of emotions and thoughts.
Christianity The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a symbol of love and compassion.
Traditional Chinese Medicine The heart is seen as the ruler of the body and the source of consciousness.
Hinduism The heart chakra (Anahata) is considered the center of the body’s energy system and the seat of intuition and compassion.

The heart’s symbolism varies across different cultures, but the recurring themes include emotions, intuition, and spiritual connection.

The Heart as a Symbol of Resilience in Survival Literature

In survival literature, the heart often symbolizes the resilience of the human spirit. When facing unimaginable hardship and adversity, the human heart can endure unimaginable pain and still beat with determination.

  • In “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, the protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s heart symbolizes her strength and resilience as she fights for survival in the brutal Hunger Games.
  • In “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, the heart of the protagonist Louie Zamperini symbolizes his ability to endure torture and imprisonment during World War II.
  • In “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, the heart of the protagonist Pi Patel represents his resilience as he endures being stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger for over 200 days.

In these stories and many others, the heart symbolizes the unbreakable spirit of the human being, the ability to endure unimaginable suffering and continue fighting for survival.

One interesting example of how the heart is used as a symbol of resilience in survival literature is the use of the number 8. In “Life of Pi,” Pi is stranded at sea for 227 days, and the number 8 is repeatedly mentioned in the book as a symbol of resilience and determination.

Examples of the Use of 8 in “Life of Pi” Explanation of the Symbolism
There were 8 elephants in the zoo where Pi’s father worked. Elephants are symbols of strength and resilience, and the fact that there were 8 of them foreshadows Pi’s own strength in surviving at sea.
There were 8 people on the lifeboat before it sank. The fact that there were 8 people on the lifeboat emphasizes the interconnectedness of humanity and the need to help each other survive.
In the middle of the book, Pi spends 8 days adrift on a raft with little food or water. The number 8 is used here to emphasize the incredible endurance and resilience of Pi’s spirit as he fights to survive in unimaginable conditions.

The repetition of the number 8 in “Life of Pi” serves to reinforce the theme of resilience in the face of adversity, and emphasizes the unbreakable spirit of the human heart.

The Heart as an Emblem of Desire and Longing in Erotic Literature

The heart has long been used as a symbol of desire and longing in literature, especially in erotic works. One of the most significant associations with the heart in this context is that of love and romantic passion. This representation is prevalent in poetry, romantic novels, and even in popular culture. The combination of the heart and sexuality is particularly powerful and often leads to the creation of a broad range of emotion and experience.

  • Symbol of Passion: The heart is commonly seen as a representation of passion and desire in erotic literature. It is a potent emblematic relationship between lovers that are intense and all-consuming. Passion associated with heart becomes more profound, more potent than any other emotion in our lives.
  • Symbol of Longing: The heart is also an emblem of longing in erotic literature. It represents the yearning for the object of one’s affection and the ache of separation from that individual. The character’s desire and longing are often heightened by the absence of the subject.
  • Symbol of Emotional Connection: In erotic literature, the heart also symbolizes the emotional connection between two lovers. It is an expression of the deep bond that exists between them, reflecting a connection that transcends the physical and borders on the spiritual. This connection often infuses their sexual encounters with a sense of profound intimacy.

Many popular novels, including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” make ample use of heart as symbolism for passion, desire, and longing. In fact, the phrase “hearts and flowers” describes the romantic fervor prevalent in erotic literature. Such language conjures up images of warmth and emotion, lending a certain depth to the sexual experience.

Moreover, we see a well-known sexual connotation of the heart present in popular culture and art. Perfume bottles, jewelry, and even chocolate, heart-shaped objects convey the message of love and amorous intent. The heart’s association with love has even extended to the tradition of heart tattoos, which people use to express their affection for their loved ones, or to commemorate a romantic experience.

Erotic Literature Symbolic Meaning of Heart
Wuthering Heights Heart illustrates Catherine and Heathcliff’s overpowering passion and their longing desire for each other.
Tropic of Cancer Symbolizes the author’s sexual appetite and desire.
The Time Traveler’s Wife The heart represents the enduring affection of the two protagonists, even across time and space.

Overall, the heart has become a symbol for not only love but also desire, passion, and longing in erotic literature. It is an emblem of the bond between lovers that allows them to induce a sense of boundless passion and connection. The heart is a testament to the human capacity for intense feeling, one that is frequently explored in the literature of desire and erotic passion.

The Heart Symbolizing Familial Love in Children’s Literature

The heart is a pervasive symbol of love in children’s literature, and it often represents the love shared within a family. The theme of family love is significant in children’s literature as it helps children form a positive sense of identity and develop strong emotional bonds that can help them throughout their lives. Several authors have used the heart symbol to represent familial love in their works, helping to convey the importance of these bonds to young readers.

  • In “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch, the heart symbolizes the enduring love between a mother and her son, even as he grows up and becomes a parent himself. The mother sings a lullaby to her son every night, promising to love him forever and always hold him in her heart.
  • “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney uses the heart symbol to depict the love between a father and son. The father and son try to outdo each other in expressing their love, with the father eventually saying he loves his son to the moon and back.
  • In “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, the heart represents the love of a tree for a boy who grows up and eventually leaves her behind. The tree selflessly gives everything she has to the boy, symbolizing the unconditional love of a parent for a child.


The heart symbol is a powerful tool for conveying the theme of familial love in children’s literature. Through stories like “Love You Forever,” “Guess How Much I Love You,” and “The Giving Tree,” young readers can learn about the importance of strong emotional bonds within a family and the enduring love that can exist between parent and child. These stories can help to shape children’s worldviews and encourage them to create positive relationships with their own families as they grow and develop.

Parents and educators can use these books and others like them to teach children the value of family love and the many ways it can be expressed. By fostering a sense of connection and belonging, children can develop into happy, healthy adults who can form strong relationships and contribute positively to their communities.

Book Title Author Heart Symbolization of Love
Love You Forever Robert Munsch Mother’s unconditional love for son
Guess How Much I Love You Sam McBratney Father’s love for son
The Giving Tree Shel Silverstein Tree’s love for boy as symbolic for a parent’s unconditional love for a child

What Does the Heart Symbolize in Literature?

Q: Why is the heart used as a symbol in literature?
A: The heart is often used as a symbol in literature because it represents emotions, love, and the essence of being human.

Q: What does the heart symbolize in romantic literature?
A: In romantic literature, the heart often symbolizes love, passion, and desire. It is the central organ of the body associated with emotions and feelings.

Q: How is the heart used as a symbol in gothic literature?
A: In gothic literature, the heart is often used to symbolize intense emotions, such as fear and anxiety. It can also represent the darker aspects of human nature.

Q: What does the heart symbolize in religious literature?
A: In religious literature, the heart can symbolize the soul or the spiritual center of a person. It is also associated with devotion and faith.

Q: Is the heart always used positively in literature?
A: No, the heart can be used to symbolize negative emotions as well, such as heartbreak and grief. It can also be associated with evil and corruption in some works of literature.

Q: What is the significance of the heart-shaped symbol used in literature?
A: The heart-shaped symbol is often used in literature to represent love and affection. It can also represent the physical heart and the life-sustaining function it serves.

Q: What are some famous literary works that use the heart as a symbol?
A: Some famous examples include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading about what the heart symbolizes in literature. It is a powerful symbol that can represent both the positive and negative aspects of the human experience. Whether used to represent love, passion, fear, or grief, the heart captures the essence of what it means to be human. Visit again later for more interesting articles.