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To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality. That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be denied by those who think. The boundaries that divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? Edgar Allan Poe often uses the motif of premature or concealed burials in his literary works. One such story is ?The Cask of Amontillado.? The story begins around dusk, one evening during the carnival season (similar to the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans) in an unnamed European city. The location quickly changes from the lighthearted activities associated with such a festival to the damp, dark catacombs under Montressor’s palazzo, which helps to establish the sinister atmosphere of the story. Although several characters are mentioned in this story, the true focus lies upon Montresor, the diabolical narrator of this tale of horror, who pledges revenge upon Fortunato for an insult. When the two meet during the carnival season, there is a warm greeting with excessive shaking of hands, which Montresor attributes to the fact that Fortunato had been drinking. Montresor also appears to be “happy” to see Fortunato since he is planning to murder him. Fortunato’s clown or jester’s costume appears to be appropriate not only for the carnival season but also for the fact that Montresor intends to make a “fool” out of him. Poe writes this story from the perspective of Montresor who vows revenge against Fortunato in an effort to support his time-honored family motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit” or “No one assails me with impunity.” (No one can attack me without being punished.) Poe does not intend for the reader to sympathize with Montresor because Fortunato has wronged him, but rather to judge him. Telling the story from Montresor’s point of view intensifies the effect of moral shock and horror. Once again, the reader is invited (as was the case in “The Tell-Tale Heart”) to delve into the inner workings of a sinister mind.
Poe’s story is a case of premeditated murder. The reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that Montresor is not a reliable narrator, and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the “thousand injuries” that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato. “…But when Fortunato ventured upon insult, Montresor could stand no more, and vowed revenge.” Montresor tries to convince the reader that his intentions are honorable in an effort to uphold his family motto. “Nemo me impune lacessit” is also the national motto of Scotland. Kenneth Silverman, in his book Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, makes reference to the fact that it is not an accident or similarity that Poe chooses this particular motto. It is one that would remind Poe of another Scotsman, John Allan, his foster father. Allan, “much resembled Fortunato in being a man ‘rich, respected, admired, beloved,’ interested in wines, and a member of the Masons.” Silverman continues by saying that even the Allan name can be seen as an anagram in Amontillado. (Silverman 317) Stuart and Susan Levine, editors of The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Edition, does not view Poe’s story as just a clever tale of revenge, but instead, see it as an anti-aristocratic commentary. “Resentment against aristocratic ‘privilege’ of all kinds reached a peak in Jacksonian and post-Jacksonian America…. Poe?s tale is related to innumerable articles in American magazines of the period about the scandalous goings-on of continental nobility.” (Levine 454, 455) “The Cask of Amontillado” is a carefully crafted story so that every detail contributes to “a certain unique or single effect.” Irony, both dramatic and verbal, plays an important role in this process. Dramatic irony (the reader perceives something that a character in the story does not) occurs when the reader becomes painfully aware of what will become of Fortunato even though the character continues his descent into the catacombs in pursuit of the Amontillado. Poe further adds to this effect by calling the character Fortunato (who is anything but fortunate), and dressing him in a clown or a fool’s costume since Montresor intends to make a fool of him as part of his dark plan. There are numerous examples of verbal irony (character says one thing and means something else) within Montresor’s words. Montresor expresses concern about Fortunato’s health, and several times he suggests that they should turn back for fear that Fortunato’s cough will worsen as a result of the cold and dampness of the catacombs. Montresor gives one of the most memorable lines of the story in response to Fortunato saying, “I will not die of a cough.” Montresor says, “True–true….” Other examples can be seen when Montresor toasts Fortunato’s long life as well as when he says that he is a mason, but not in the sense that Fortunato means. “In pace requiescat!” (”Rest in peace!”) is the last irony of a heavily ironic tale. “In pace” also refers to a very secure monastic prison. By the end of Poe’s story, Montresor has gotten his revenge against unsuspecting Fortunato, whose taste for wine has led him to his own death. Once again we are reminded of the coat of arms and the Montresor family motto. The insignia is symbolic of Montresor’s evil character, which like the serpent intends to get revenge.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a powerful tale of revenge. Montresor, the sinister narrator of this tale, pledges revenge upon Fortunato for an insult. Montresor intends to seek vengeance in support of his family motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit.”(”No one assails me with impunity.”) On the coat of arms, which bears this motto, appears ” [a] huge human foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel.” It is important for Montresor to have his victim know what is happening to him. Montresor will derive pleasure from the fact that “…as Fortunato slowly dies, the thought of his rejected opportunities of escape will sting him with unbearable regret, and as he sobers with terror, the final blow will come from the realization that his craving for the wine has led him to his doom.” (Quinn 500) In structure, there can be no doubt, that both Montresor’s plan of revenge and Poe’s story are carefully crafted to create the desired effect.
In another story called the ?The Fall of the House of Usher? The story begins on one dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year. From the very beginning, the reader, as a result of Poe’s imagery, is aware of a sense of death and decay. Even the narrator, Roderick’s childhood companion, describes “a sense of insufferable gloom which pervaded his spirit” as he approached the House of Usher. The term “House of Usher” refers not only to the crumbling mansion but also to the remaining family members who live within. There are three significant characters in this tale: the narrator, Roderick and Madeline Usher. The narrator is a boyhood friend of Roderick Usher. He has not seen Roderick since they were children; however, because of an urgent letter that he received from Roderick which requested his aid, the nameless narrator decides to make the long journey. It was the apparent heart that went with his request –which allowed me no room for hesitation….”Roderick and Madeline Usher are the sole, remaining members of the long, time-honored Usher race. When Madeline supposedly “dies” and is placed in her coffin, the narrator notices “a striking similitude between brother and sister….” It is at this point that Roderick informs his friend that he and the Lady Madeline had been twins, and that “sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.” Due to limited medical knowledge or to suit his purposes here, Poe treats Madeline and Roderick as if they were identical twins two parts of one personality instead of fraternal twins. He implies that Roderick and Madeline are so close that they can sense what is happening to each other. This becomes an important aspect in the unity of effect of this particular story. Unlike many of Poe’s stories, this particular story does not use the typical, first person point of view where the protagonist tells a personal account of a crime that he or she has committed. Instead, the narrator is a character, of which we know very little, who acts like a participant/observer. It is easy for the reader to become “the friend” in Poe’s story as both the narrator and the reader invite “madness” as they are drawn into the underworld of the mind where fantasy becomes reality. Twice near the end of the story, Roderick calls the narrator “Madman!” However, the narrator escapes, to watch both the tenants and the house of Usher disappear into the tarn, an underworld, which is, they?re true home “The Fall of the House of Usher” illustrates Poe’s critical doctrine that unity of effect depends on unity of tone. Every detail of this story, from the opening description of the dank tarn and the dark rooms of the house to the unearthly storm which accompanies Madeline’s return from the tomb, helps to convey the terror that overwhelms and finally destroys the fragile mind of Roderick Usher. Terror, even this extreme that results in madness and death, is meaningless unless it is able to somehow illustrate a principle of human nature. One approach to understanding the true significance of this story lies in the many connections that Poe establishes for the reader. Roderick and Madeline is not just brother and sisters but twins whom share “sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature” which connect his mental disintegration to her physical decline. As Madeline’s mysterious illness approaches physical paralysis, Roderick?s mental agitation takes the form of a “morbid acuteness of the senses” that separates his body from the physical world making all normal sensations painful: “…the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these were from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror. Besides the fact that Roderick and Madeline are not just twins but represent the mental and physical components of a single being or soul, there is also a connection between the family mansion and the remaining members who live within. Poe uses the phrase “House of Usher” to refer to both the decaying physical structure and the last of the “all time-honored Usher race….” Roderick has developed a theory that the stones of the house have consciousness, and that they embody the fate of the Usher family. “He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence for many years, he had never ventured forth.” Roderick also makes another connection between a house and a person in the poem, “The Haunted Palace.” The crack in the Usher mansion which is at first barely discernible by the narrator, symbolically suggests a flaw or fundamental split in the twin personality of Roderick and Madeline, and foretells the final ruin of both family and mansion. The narrator is connected to the Usher family since he and Roderick were once close boyhood companions. They have not seen each other for many years, and it is only because of there past closeness and the apparent emotion in Roderick’s request that convinces the narrator to make the journey. As a result of this, the narrator spends the opening paragraphs reflecting upon the past as well as trying to prepare himself for the imminent reunion; however, nothing prepares him for the “altered” state of his childhood companion: “…a caderousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.” ( Some of Poe’s critics like to say that Poe is describing himself here.)
The narrator tries to comfort and rescue Roderick from an illness in which the exterior self has been lost to the interior world of the imagination. The isolation of Roderick’s life from outer reality can be seen in the atmosphere surrounding the mansion, which seems to arise from the decayed trees and dank tarn. Roderick’s fantasy world is like that of an artist: his music; his literature which deals with extremes of the human imagination; and his art that portrays a vault which is illuminated from no visible source but is “…bathed…in ghastly…splendor.” Roderick, unlike an artist, has lost control of his fantasy world so that it has become all of reality. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe explores the inner workings of the human imagination but, at the same time, cautions the reader about the destructive dangers within. When fantasy suppresses reality and the physical self, as in Roderick’s case, what results is madness and mental death. Madeline’s return and actual death reunites the twin natures of their single being, claiming Roderick as a “victim to the terrors that he had anticipated.” The true focus of this story is the narrator’s reaction to and understanding of these strange events. Even to look into the dark imagination where fantasy becomes reality is to evoke madness. That is why Roderick twice refers to the narrator as “Madman” in the final scene. The narrator has made a journey into the underworld of the mind and is nearly destroyed by it; however, he manages to escape and turns to watch as the “House of Usher” crumbles into “…the deep and dank tarn. According to Edward H. Davidson in his book Poe: A Critical Study, “The Fall of the House of Usher” can be interpreted as “a detailed account of the derangement and dissipation of an individual’s personality.” The house itself becomes the “symbolic embodiment of this individual.” The fissure or the crack in the decaying mansion, which is noted by the narrator near the beginning of the story, represents “an irreconcilable fracture in the individual’s personality.” Roderick represents the mind or the intellect, while Madeline represents the portion of personality that we refer to as the senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting and smelling). During the course of the story, the intellect Roderick tries to detach itself from its more physically oriented twin Madeline. This can be seen in Roderick’s aversion to his own senses as well as by his premature entombment of his twin sister. Living without Madeline (that is without the senses), Roderick’s condition deteriorates. He begins to suffer from an “…intolerable agitation of the soul.” At the end of the story, Madeline returns from her premature tomb to claim the maddened Roderick, ” a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.” As the two are reunited in death (the mind can neither live nor die without its physical counterpart, the senses), the house ( a symbol of a now deranged individual) crumbles into the “deep and dank tarn,” as the narrator flees in terror for his own sanity.
Not only does Poe talk about premature burials in his work, but he also deals with concealed burials in books such as ?The Tale-Tale Heart and ?The Black Cat?. As the story begins, the narrator is in jail awaiting his execution, which will occur on the following day, for the brutal murder of his wife. At that point, the rest of the story is told in flashback, as the narrator pens “…the most wild, yet homely narrative…whose events have terrified–have tortured–have destroyed him.”Although several characters are mentioned in this story, the true focus lies upon the nameless narrator, who is known for his “…docility and humanity of …disposition. His tenderness of heart made him the jest of his companions.” He was especially fond of animals, and he was pleased to find a similar fondness for pets in his wife. They had many pets including “…birds, gold fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.” The cat was a large, beautiful animal that was entirely black. Pluto, as he was called, was the narrator’s favorite pet. He alone fed him, and Pluto followed the narrator wherever he went. Occasionally, his wife would refer to an old superstitious belief that “…all black cats were witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point….” Poe writes this story from the perspective of the narrator, a man whose “…temperament and character are transformed through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance alcohol.” Telling the story from the first person point of view (a perspective that Poe used quite frequently), intensifies the effect of moral shock and horror. Once again, the reader is invited (as was the case in both “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”) to delve into the inner workings of the dark side of the mind. “‘The Black Cat’ is one of the most powerful of Poe’s stories, and the horror stops short of the wavering line of disgust” (Quinn 395). Poe constructed this story in such a way that the events of the tale remain somewhat ambiguous. As the narrator begins to recount the occurrences that “…have terrified–have tortured–have destroyed him,” he reminds the reader that maybe “…some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than his own,” will perceive “…nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.” As the narrator begins to tell his story (flashback), the reader discovers that the man’s personality had undergone a drastic transformation which he attributes to his abuse of alcohol and the perverse side of his nature, which the alcohol seemed to evoke. The reader also discovers (with the introduction of Pluto into the story) that the narrator is superstitious, as he recounts that his wife made “…frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, that all black cats are witches in disguise.” Even though the narrator denies this (much as the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” denies that he or she is insane), the reader becomes increasingly aware of his superstitious belief as the story progresses. Superstition (as well as the popular notion to which the man’s wife refers) has it that Satan and witches assume the form of black cats. For those who believe, they are symbols of bad luck, death, sorcery, witchcraft, and the spirits of the dead. Appropriately, the narrator calls his cat, Pluto, who in Greek and Roman mythology was the god of the dead and the ruler of the underworld (symbolism). As in other Poe stories ( “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Gold Bug”), biting and mutilation appear. The narrator of “The Black Cat” first becomes annoyed when Pluto “inflicted a slight wound upon [the] hand with his teeth.” After the cat bites him, the narrator cuts out its eye. Poe relates “eyes” and “teeth” in their single capacity to take in or to incorporate objects. This dread of being consumed often leads the narrator to destroy who or what he fears (Silverman 207). Poe?s pronounced use of foreshadowing leads the reader from one event to the next (”one night,” “one morning,” “on the night of the day,” etc.). Within the first few paragraphs of the story, the narrator foreshadows that he will violently harm his wife (”At length, I even offered her personal violence.”). However, are the events of the story, as the narrator suggests, based upon “…an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effect,” or are they indeed caused by the supernatural? By using, three main events in this story (the apparition of the first cat upon the burned wall, the appearance of the gallowslike pattern upon the chest of the second cat, and the discovery of the second cat behind the cellar wall), a convincing case can be presented for both sides. While making a case for the logical as well as the supernatural, one must remember the state of mind of the narrator. An alcoholic who has a distorted view of reality describes all events for the reader. The narrator goes to great lengths to scientifically explain the apparition of the cat in the wall; however, the chain of events that he re-creates in his mind are so highly coincidental that an explanation relying on the supernatural may be easier to accept. Once again, the reader wonders if the narrator’s perceptions can be believed as he describes the gallowslike pattern upon the chest of the second cat. Maybe what he sees is just a hallucination of a tormented mind. The markings of an adult cat surely would not change that much, unless maybe the pattern was not part of the animal’s fur, but only a substance on its surface which, with time, could wear off and disappear (a substance such as plaster?). Afterall, the second cat is also missing an eye. Poe is very careful to avoid stating if it is the same eye of which Pluto was deprived. Are there really two cats in this story, or did Pluto (possibly “a witch in disguise”) survive, and return for retribution. Of all the incidents, the discovery of the cat (first or second) behind the cellar wall is the easiest to believe. The cat was frightened by the man, and logically, sought shelter. What is somewhat strange is the fact that the police searched the cellar several times, and not one time did the cat make a sound. It was not until the narrator rapped heavily with a cane upon the wall, that the cat responded. Was it a series of natural causes and effects, or was it what the narrator described? “Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb.” “The Black Cat” is Poe’s second psychological study of domestic violence and guilt (the first being “The Tell-Tale Heart”); however, this story does not deal with premeditated murder. The reader is told that the narrator appears to be a happily married man, who has always been exceedingly kind and gentle. He attributes his downfall to the “Fiend Intemperance” and “the spirit of perverseness.” Perverseness, he believes, is “…one of the primitive impulses of the human heart.” “Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action for no other reason than because he knows he should not?” Perverseness provides the rationale for otherwise unjustifiable acts, such as killing the first cat or rapping with his cane upon the plastered-up wall behind which stood his wife’s corpse “…already greatly decayed and clotted with gore.” We might argue that what the narrator calls “perverseness” is actually conscience. Guilt about his alcoholism seems to the narrator the “perverseness” which causes him to maim and kill the first cat. Guilt about those actions indirectly leads to the murder of his wife who had shown him the gallows on the second cat’s breast. A warped sense of triumph and the conscience of the murderer cause the disclosure of the crime, as in ?The Tell-Tale Heart,?. What makes this story different from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is that Poe has added a new element to aid in evoking the dark side of the narrator, and that is the supernatural. Now the story has an added twist as the narrator hopes that the reader, like himself, will be convinced that these events were not “…an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.”
” The story covers a period of approximately eight days with most of the important action occurring each night around midnight. The location is the home of an elderly man in which the narrator has become a character. This story contains a nameless narrator, an old man and the police who enter near the end of the story after the mention, that they were called by a neighbor whose suspicions had been aroused upon hearing a scream in the night. The protagonist or narrator becomes the true focus of the tale. This narrator may be male or female because Poe uses only “I” and “me” in reference to this character. Most readers assume that the narrator is a male because of a male author using a first person point of view; however, this story can also be plausible when the deranged protagonist appears as a woman. Most critics would argue this point by saying that Poe would “assume” that the reader would “know” that the protagonist was male, therefore, he would see no need to identify his sexless narrator. However, Poe was a perfectionist who left very little to guesswork. Could it be that this was no accident or something that he thought would be universally understood, but that Poe was creating a story whose impact could be changed simply by imagining this horrendous and vile deed being committed by a woman? Poe writes this story from the perspective of the murderer of the old man. When an author creates a situation where the protagonist tells a personal account, the overall impact of the story is heightened. The narrator, in this particular story, adds to the overall effect of horror by continually stressing to the reader that he or she is not mad, and tries to convince us of that fact by how carefully this brutal crime was planned and executed. Poe’s story is a case of domestic violence that occurs as the result of an irrational fear. To the narrator that fear is represented by the old man’s eye. Through the narrator, Poe describes this eye as being pale blue with a film over it, and resembling that of a vulture. Does the narrator have any reason to fear the old man or his eye? Is it this phobia that evokes the dark side, and eventually drives the narrator to madness? Or could Poe be referring to a belief whose origins could be traced back to Greece and Rome? The belief in the evil eye dates back to ancient times and even today, is fairly common in India and the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. References are made to it in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu faiths. The belief centers on the idea that those who possess the evil eye have the power to harm people or their possessions by merely looking at them. Wherever this belief exists, it is common to assign the evil eye as the cause of unexplainable illnesses and misfortunes of any kind. To protect oneself from the power of the eye, certain measures can be taken. In Muslim areas, the color blue is painted on the shutters of the houses, and found on beads worn by both children and animals. There is also a specific hand gesture named the “Hand of Fatima,” named after the daughter of Mohammed. This name is also given to an amulet in the shape of hand that is worn around the neck for protection. In some locations, certain phrase such as ” as God will” or “God bless it” are uttered to protect the individual from harm. In extreme cases, the eye, whether voluntarily or not, must be destroyed. One Slavic folktale relates the story of the father who blinded himself for fear of harming his own children with his evil eye. Would Poe have had knowledge of this rather strange belief? It is altogether possible that he would have, which creates another interesting twist to this story. Maybe the narrator, who tries to convince us that madness is not really the issue, is telling the truth. Maybe this vile act is necessary in order to destroy the power of the old man’s evil e Human nature is a delicate balance of light and dark or good and evil. Most of the time this precarious balance is maintained; however, when there is a shift, for whatever reason, the dark or perverse side surfaces. How and why this “dark side” emerges differs from person to person. What may push one individual “over the edge” will only cause a raised eyebrow in another. In this case, it is the “vulture eye” of the old man that makes the narrator’s blood run cold. It is this irrational fear which evokes the dark side, and eventually leads to murder. The narrator plans, executes and conceals the crime; however, what has been hidden within the self will not stay concealed.. (Silverman 208) The narrator speaks of an illness that has heightened the senses: “Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.” The narrator repeatedly insists that he (she) is not mad; however the reader soon realizes that the fear of the vulture eye has consumed the narrator, who has now become a victim to the madness which he had hoped to elude.
In conclusion, the information that has been provided shows that Poe uses the method or style of premature and concealed burials throughout his works.
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