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An Analysis of Setting and Narrative Style in Edgar Allan Poe s Short Stories The American short story author whom I have chosen to research is Edgar Allan Poe. Having read many of his works in school and at home over the years, I have realized that his mysterious style of writing greatly appeals to me. Although many critics have different views on Poe’s writing style, I think that Harold Bloom summed it up best when he said, “Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives” (Bloom, 7). This is best illustrated through his use of setting and narrative style. In many of Poe’s most morbid tales, setting is used to paint a dark and gloomy picture in our minds. I think that this may have been done deliberately by Poe so that the reader can make a connection between darkness and death. For example, in the “Pit and the Pendulum,” the setting is originally pitch black. As the story unfolds, we see how this blind environment begins to play an important role in how the narrator discovers the many ways in which his life may end. Although he must rely on his senses alone to establish his surroundings, he knows that somewhere, in this dark, gloomy room, death awaits him. Richard Wilbur tells us how fitting the chamber in “The Pit and the Pendulum” actually was: Though he lives on the brink of the pit, on the very verge of the plunge into unconsciousness, he is still unable to disengage himself from the physical and temporal world. The physical oppresses him in the shape of lurid graveyard visions; the temporal oppresses him in the shape of an enormous and deadly pendulum. It is altogether appropriate, then, that this chamber should be constricting and cruelly angular. (Wilbur, 63) Likewise, setting is an important characteristic in Poe’s writing called “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In this short story, the images he gives us, such as how both the Usher family and the Usher mansion are crumbling from inside waiting to collapse, help us to connect the background with the story. Vincent Buranelli says that “Poe is able to sustain an atmosphere which is dark and dull. This is one of the tricks which he largely derived from the tradition of the Gothic tale” (Buranelli, 79). The whole setting in the story provides us with a feeling of melancholy. The Usher mansion appears vacant and barren, and the same is true of the narrator. As we picture in our minds the extreme decay and decomposition of the house, we can feel as though the life around it and its inhabitants are also crumbling. Narration is also an important element in Poe’s short story style that appears to link all of the stories together. He has a type of creativity which lets the reader see into the mind of the narrator or the main character of the story. Many of the characters in Poe’s stories seem to be insane, and, quite often, the narrator also seems to have some type of psychological problems. For example, in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the story opens with a first person narrator, Montresor, speaking about the planning of Fortunato’s death. By the anger and remorse that Montresor has for Fortunato, one might think that this has been provoked by a recent incident. It is not until the very end of the story that it is revealed to the reader that the entire event has occurred fifty years previous. David Herbert Lawrence says: To the characters in Poe’s story, hate is as inordinate as life. The lust of hate is the inordinate desire to consume and unspeakably possess the soul of the hated one, just as the lust of life is the desire to possess or be possessed by the beloved, utterly. (Lawrence 1985, 33) Poe’s stories often have narrators that feel extreme hate or extreme love for another character in the story.

Another example of Poe’s narrative style is exemplified in his story entitled The Black Cat,” in which the narrator seems to have an obsession with pets. He has one special pet, which is a black cat. Although their original relationship with each other is one of respect and love, the situation soon changes. The narrator becomes somewhat possessed with hate for the cat; he stabs his cat in the eye and turns against his wife. By the end of the story, he kills his wife in an attempt to kill the cat. Afterwards, the narrator does not even feel remorse for the wrongful death of his wife. Instead, he is just happy that the cat has disappeared. This is just another instance in which the reader wonders what is the driving force that begins the narrator’s insanity. In both Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado and his The Black Cat, the narrators act without conscience. There are no doubts, hesitations or second thoughts to impede the narrative. Both narrators just sought revenge. (Buranelli, 77) Even though there are many more elements to Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories than just his creative use of narration and setting, these are characteristics which have attracted the most attention. Poe has a way of writing in which he does not have to reveal too much, or paint a pretty picture for the reader, in order to attract his attention. In D. H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, the author states that “Poe’s narrowness is like that of a sword, not that of a bottleneck: it is effective rather than constricting. Nothing adventitious is in his great stories, only the essentials, the minimum of characterization, plot, and atmosphere. By ridding himself of everything except what is precisely to the point, he achieves unity of effect” (Lawrence 1961, 66). There is also a prominent distinction between right and wrong in Poe’s stories. Viscous characters tend to come to a torturous end. This lets the reader accept these endings as a triumph of good over evil. As stated by Buranelli: “He has created a universe, given it psychological laws without denying the existence of the moral law, and peopled it with characters appropriate to such a universe. Putting overt mortality out of bounds helps to give him uniqueness” (Buranelli, 74). After researching Edgar Allan Poe more such depth, I now have an even greater respect for him, and a slightly different perspective of his stories. While it is still evident to me that narrative style and setting have a great deal to do with the development of Poe’s short stories, I also realize now that we cannot overlap and intertwine with other aspects of the story, making them just as important. Even though Poe is often looked upon as a gifted psychopath who is describing with consummate artistry his personal instabilities and abnormalities, the fact remains that his superiority is more than a matter of art. There is a violent realism in his macabre writings unequaled by the Americans who worked in the same genre. (Buranelli, 75)

1. Bloom, Harold, Editor. Modern Critical Views on Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.2. Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1977.3. Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. New York: The Viking Press, 1961.4. Lawrence D. H. Modern Critical Views on Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.5. Pickering, James. Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.6. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Vintage Books, 1975.7. Wilbur, R. Modern Critical Views on Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.


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