I Only Have Eyes For You: Themes of perception in GCSE English literature

As happens from time to time, I’ve recently become fixated with a song. Released in 1959, The Flamingo’s ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ is, on the surface, a straightforward tale of romantic love.

Set to an alluring, beautifully harmonised doo wop, it tells a much-told tale of attraction and fidelity. Dig beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find something of a slightly different order. Take a look at the opening lyrics:

‘My love must be a kind of blind love, 
I can’t see anyone but you’

What we’re actually dealing with, appropriately enough given its newly-acquired earworm status, is not romantic attraction but blinkered obsession. As the song progresses, we find a speaker so love-struck that they become utterly dislocated, having lost all sense of space and time. It may well be read as simple hyperbole – a way of expressing everyday feelings of longing in exaggerated form – but I prefer the reading of a person so transfixed by another that they are utterly unable to focus anywhere else. It’s almost as if the fondness has become so accentuated that we are dealing with a borderline stalker.

Anyway, why am I boring you with my sub-NME muso meanderings? Well, I’ve thought for some time that the theme of perception is a very helpful (if you’ll forgive the puns) lens through which to view much of the literature texts that we study at GCSE.

Set yourself a quick challenge. Name as many quotations from the texts you study that mention eyes. And then preferably, as I did, set this same challenge for your pupils. See how many they can come up with. We do Romeo & Juliet, Jekyll & Hyde, DNA and AQA’s Power and Conflict poetry anthology and my list – certainly not exhaustive – looked like this:


Then we discussed what the eyes represent. We came up with things such as:

  • Honesty
  • Human emotions (often hidden)
  • Personality
  • Seeing things clearly
  • Being blinded to the truth
  • Affection and adoration
  • Sexual desire
  • Pain and suffering
  • Memory

We then applied some of these symbolic themes to the individual texts. For the poems this allowed us a basis for comparison. I also got the chance to re-use one of my favourite adjectives, lachrymose (tearful or tear-inducing).

In a future lesson, I may play The Flamingo’s while my pupils read ‘My Last Duchess’. I get the impression that Duke Alfonso would like it as much as I do.

Thanks for reading (with you eyes – wooh, spooky),



4 thoughts on “I Only Have Eyes For You: Themes of perception in GCSE English literature

  1. How would you explore the character of Utterson in J+H? I’m a student and your blog has helped me learn a lot 🙂


    1. I think Utterson serves several purposes in the novella: 1) trusted and loyal friend to Jekyll 2) A professional lawyer who is duty bound to protect his client and 3) and inquisitive ‘detective’ who is in search of the truth. These 3 roles often overlap and sometimes conflict with each other. I think it’s also important to look at Utterson as a conflicted and repressed individual in his own right. In this sense, the theme of duplicity applies to Utterson too. His chooses to deny himself the temptations that Jekyll succumbs to, but seems envious of other’s misdeeds. Unlike Jekyll, his desire to protect his reputation (especially through association with Jekyll) overrides his desire to satisfy his own vices.


      1. Thank you!! I’ve got a feeling the Jekyll and Hyde extract might revolve around Utterson and the dream sequence but we’ll see- any last piece of advice before I sit the exam? IMuch appreciated…I’m determined to not panic and freeze on Tuesday but any advice at all always helpful 🙂


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