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Best known for his poems and short fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston on Jan. 19,
1809, deserves more credit than any other writer for the transformation of the short story from
tale to art. He for the most part created the detective story and perfected the psychological
thriller. He also produced some of the most influential literary criticism of his time. Poe died Oct.
Poe’s parents were touring actors; both died before he was three years old, and he was
taken into the home of John Allan, a wealthy merchant in Richmond, Va., and baptized Edgar
Allan Poe. His childhood was uneventful, although he studied for five years in England between
the years of 1815 through 1920. In 1826 he entered the University of Virginia, however, he only
attended for a year. Although a good student, he ran up large gambling debts that Allan refused to
pay. Allan prevented his return to the university and broke off Poe’s engagement to Sarah Elmira
Royster, his girlfriend. Having no where to turn, Poe enlisted in the army. He had, however,
already written and printed his first book at his own expense: Tamerlane and Other Poems, verses
written in the manner of Byron.
Temporarily approved, Allan secured Poe’s release from the army and his appointment to
West Point but refused to provide financial support. After six months Poe apparently contrived to
be dismissed from West Point for disobedience of orders. His fellow cadets, however, contributed
the funds for the publication of Poems by Edgar A. Poe.
Poe next took up residence in Baltimore with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her
daughter, Virginia, and turned to fiction as a way to support himself. In 1832 the Philadelphia
Saturday Courier published five of his stories, all comic or satiric. Poe, his aunt, and Virginia
moved to Richmond in 1835, and he became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and
married Virginia, who was not yet fourteen years old. His contributions undoubtedly increased the
magazine’s circulation, but they offended its owner, who also took exception to Poe’s drinking.
In New York City, then in Philadelphia and again in New York Poe sought to establish
himself as a force in literary journalism, but with only moderate success. He did succeed,
however, in formulating influential literary theories and in demonstrating mastery of the forms he
favored, highly musical poems and short prose narratives. The tale Poe considered his finest, ?The
Fall of The House of Usher,? which was to become one of his most famous stories.
Virginia’s death in January 1847 was a heavy blow, but Poe continued to write and lecture.
In the summer of 1849 he revisited Richmond, lectured, and was accepted anew by the fiancee he
had lost in 1826. After his return north he was found unconscious on a Baltimore street. In a brief
obituary the Baltimore Clipper reported that Poe had died of congestion of the brain.
The short story is a prose narrative that can be told or read on a single occasion. It is
believed to be the oldest form of prose fiction. Originating with primitive accounts of
supernatural encounters, short narratives have existed in the form of parables, fairy tales, folk
tales, legends, and fables throughout history. Edgar Allan Poe perfected what has come to be
known as the classic form, as opposed to the later hard-boiled form developed in the 1920s. The
classic form is the story in which a seemingly impossible crime has been committed and the
detective relies on his or her superior perception, intellect, and often arcane knowledge to solve
The fall of The House of Usher
Edgar Allan Poe?s, ? The Fall of the House of Usher? takes on the same basic literary
themes as do most of his stories, suspense imparticular. However, he also uses the supernatural in
this story as well. Poe?s vast description enables the reader to place himself with the narrator, and
get a better feeling of what is truly going on with the story. Using a nameless narrator allows the
reader to use his imagination on to what the narrator looks like; is it the reader himself? Poe? or a
figment of Poe?s imagination? That is to forever be unknown. However, it is also part of the
reason Poe?s work has become the superlative of the short story.
The story takes place mainly in the House of the Usher family, the exact location in is not
mentioned, however, the surroundings seem very gloomy; the house itself is described as
decaying, Poe obviously was trying to give the reader a mental image of a dark, immense, house,
isolated from the world.
Throughout the story, Poe’s imagery of the house and the inanimate objects inside serve to
give a supernatural atmosphere to the story. By giving inanimate objects almost life-like
characteristics, he is giving the house a supernatural quality. This supernatural element serves to
make Poe’s ?The Fall of the House of Usher? interesting and suspenseful in his treatment of the
house’s effect on its inhabitants. It also allows the house to become, in my opinion, the most
important character of the story, although it is inanimate. However, three tangible characters play
the decisive role in this story: Lady Madeline, Roderick Usher, and the un-named narrator.
Lady Madeline, the twin sister of Roderick Usher, is introduced as a character, however,
never speaks a word throughout the entire story. In fact, she is absent from most of the book. Poe
seems to present her as a ghostlike figure. Lady Madeline had the tendency to roam the house, not
taking notice to anything, or anyone. According to the narrator, Lady Madeline “passed slowly
through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed [his] presence,
disappeared. At the narrator’s arrival, she goes to her bedroom and falls into a catatonic state.
The narrator, after the decision that she is not waking up, helps bury and put her away in a vault,
however, with her reappearance, he flees. It becomes apparent that Madeline had fallen to the
mental disorder which seems to plague the House of Usher.
Roderick Usher, the old child hood friend of the narrator, and head of the house, plays a
rather distinctive role in the story. He comes from a rather wealthy family in which he now stakes
claim to the family money. Roderick, as the narrator tells the reader, had once been an attractive
man. However, his appearance deteriorated over time. At first meeting with Roderick, the
narrator spoke of the radical change in his friends appearance, to the point in which “I doubted to
whom I spoke.” Roderick’s altered appearance probably was caused by his insanity. The narrator
notes various symptom from which he bases his opinion that Roderick is not mentally sane:
excessive nervous agitation. His actions were alternately vivacious and sullen, his voice varied
rapidly from a tremulous indecision. Roderick’s state worsens throughout the story. He becomes
increasingly restless and unstable, especially after the burial of his sister. He is not able to sleep
and claims that he hears noises. Generally, Roderick is an unstable man, his capability to remain
sane is far gone at the point in which he is introduced.
The narrator, although he remains nameless, appears to be a man of common sense. He
shows his good heartedness in going to help an old child hood friend, whom he has lost contact
with prior to the letter sent by Roderick. With his arrival to the house, he observes Usher and
concludes that his friend has a mental disorder. He looks for natural scientific explanations for
what Roderick senses. The narrator’s tone throughout the story suggests that he cannot
understand Usher. Oddly enough, it becomes obvious in the beginning of the story that the
narrator is superstitious. When he looks upon the house, even before he met Roderick Usher, he
observes “There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition. ”
When he and Roderick go down to bury Madeline, he speculates that she may not be completely
dead yet. However, rather than mentioning his suspicion to his friend, he remains silent and
continues the burial. The narrator comes across as more of a practical man, trying to dismiss
strange occurrences as coincidence, or natural occurrences. For example, when Roderick claims
that there are ghosts in the house, the narrator feels fear too, but he dismisses Roderick’s and his
own fear by attributing them to a natural cause. In the end, this fear finally overcomes him.
The three characters of course are unique people with distinct characteristics, but they are
tied together by the same type of mental disorder. All of them suffer from insanity, yet each
responds differently. Lady Madeline seems to accept the fact that she is insane and continues her
life with that knowledge. Roderick Usher appears realize his mental state and struggles very hard
to hold on to his sanity. The narrator, who is slowly but surely contracting the disease, wants to
deny what he sees, hears, and senses. Unlike the other two characters, however, he escapes the
insanity that is, The House of Usher.
In The Fall of the House of Usher has an unusual conflict occurring. Unlike most stories,
the conflict does not fall between to animate objects, instead it falls between man, and a inanimate
object, a house. Although the conflict is not coming from the house itself, however, more the
supernatural beings which inhabit it. They do, however, reflect themselves upon the house. In this
case, the house and its beings which inhabit it, reign over the characters.
In the story, “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 which
can result from it. When fantasy suppresses reality, as in Roderick’s case, what results is madness
and the decay of mental stability. Madeline’s return and death reunites the twin natures of their
single being. The focus of this story is the narrator’s reaction to and understanding of these
strange events. To look into the dark imagination where fantasy becomes reality is to evoke
madness and loss of stability. The narrator has made a journey into the unknown world of the
mind and is nearly destroyed by it.
The Masque of The Red Death
The story covers a period of approximately six months during the reign of the Red Death.
The action takes place in the deep seclusion of the main charactor, Prince Prospero?s castle, in
which he has invited the higher standing people of his village. Here these people will stay until the
Red Death has passed the town by. In party, food, wine and dancing, they will all live, while the
lower class townspeople die. The masque takes place in the imperial suite which consisted of
seven, very distinct rooms.
This story has no characters in the usual sense which stand out in order to give the story a
more in-depth view to the characters . The only character whom speaks is Prince Prospero. His
name suggests happiness and good fortune, however, ironically that is not the case. Within the
Prince’s abbey, he has created a world of his imagination with masked figures that reflect his own
personal tastes. These dancers are all a product of the Prince’s imagination, Poe refers to them as
“a multitude of dreams.” Even when the “Red Death” enters, Poe refers to this character as figure
or a mummer who “was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the
The conflict in this story is very obvious. On the surface it is apparent that conflict is
between the ?Red Death? and the people within the castle. However, an underlying conflict can be
seen if approached correctly. In my opinion, the conflict can be seen as one between those who
feel that their lives are more precious then others, therefor they try to escape death by secluding
themselves from those with less money and lower social status.
I find the theme of this story to be the most noticeable of all compared to other works of
Poe. Poe, without question, is trying to show that no one escapes death. Human happiness, as
represented by Prince Prospero, seeks to wall out the threat of death. Death comes like a thief is
the night, without warning. Obviously, this is shown in the story, for no walls, money, or time was
going to save these people from the inevitable appearance of the red death.
Poe, for the most part, uses an allegory as the literary theme in ?The Masque of the Red
Death.? I do not see the story as one intended to scare or keep the reader in suspense, however,
more to leave the reader with a message concerning death, and trying to prevent the inevitable.
Very little description is used throughout the story, excluding the description the most important
roles in the story; the seven rooms, and the ?Red Death.? I believe this is written the way it is in
order to keep the reader focused on what is important, what is underneath the surface.
The Tell Tale Heart
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 caretaker. The main scene takes place on the eighth night of the story,
starting at twelve o? clock at night and ending some time after four thirty in the morning.
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 narrator however, 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. It can be assumed by the readers that the narrator is a male because of a male author
using a first person point of view; however, it is quite possible that the narrator might very well be
a female. Poe was creating a story whose impact could be changed simply by imagining this
horrendous and vile deed being committed by a woman.
The theme of this story is based around the idea that human nature and morality can force
a person to feel a guilt so strong, that it might force you to believe things that are not so. Human
nature is a delicate balance of good and evil. Most of the time this balance is maintained; however,
when there is a shift, for whatever reason, the dark side tends to surface. How and why this dark
side emerges differs from person to person. What may push one individual over the edge will only
cause a minor distraction in another. In this case, it is the vulture eye of the old man that makes
the narrator unable to bare his presence for much longer. It is this irrational fear which evokes the
dark side of the narrator, and eventually leads to murder. The narrator plans, executes and
conceals the crime. However, it is not to be concealed for long, for the constant nagging of the
narrators deed is soon to evoke a confession.
The conflict in ?The Tell Tail Heart? is not only between the old man and the narrator,
however it is also between the narrator and his or her own self. The conflict between the narrator
and the old man is more of a one sided disharmony. The narrator finds the, what is to be believed,
dead eye to be intolerable, however, the old man is unaware of these feelings. The conflict is
between him or her self and the eye of the old man. That dispute seems to be settled after the
murder of the old man by the narrator. However, it is soon seen that the conflict, after all, was
between the narrator alone, not anything, or anyone else. The narrator thought that the murder of
the old man would rid him or her of the dilemma of the evil eye, this, as was seen is not true. Even
after the death, the narrator feels the presence, and hears the heart of the old man beating.
As in almost all of Poe?s works, suspense is used plentifully throughout the story. It is
used very strongly with towards the end of the story, during the part concerning the dead heart
beating. Irony, however, is also used, although sparingly. The perfect murder, as it was thought
by the narrator, on the contrary, it failed due to a hasty confession.
The Cask of Amontillado
The story begins around dusk, one evening during the carnival season in an unnamed
European city. The atmosphere is set along the lines of the period of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
The location quickly changes from the lighthearted activities associated with such a festival to the
damp, dark catacombs under Montressor’s large estate which helps to establish the sinister
atmosphere of the story. The change from the lively carnival progressing in the streets, to the
menacing catacombs leaves for an interesting setting change.
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, a
long time friend of his for an insult, said long ago, that was misinterpreted. 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, although it is in false pretense. Fortunato’s clown costume is appropriate
for the carnival season. however, also ironic, for what is to take place, is anything but a joke.
“The Cask of Amontillado? is a sufficient tale of revenge. Montresor pledges revenge
upon Fortunato for an insult. He intends to seek vengeance in support of his family motto: “No
one assails me with impunity.” It is important for Montresor to have his victim know what is
happening to him. Montresor will derive pleasure from the fact that his victim, Fortunato, will
suffer the pain of being buried alive, and be aware of the fact all along. Poe does not intend for the
reader to sympathize with Montresor because he has been wronged by Fortunato, but rather to
judge him. 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 of pure evil.
The conflict in this story is the bond that holds the story together. As said before, the
insult in-which Fortunato inflicted on Montresor sometime in the past, has led up to this night,
in-which Montresor finds adequate to seek revenge. After a friendly meeting, and invite back to
his home, Montresor begins to bask in the pleasure of knowing that his foes doom in approaching.
Luring Fortunato with a very fine wine, Amontillado, both men make their way to Montresor?s
cask. Aware of the fact that Fortunato is feeling the affects of the alcohol, Montresor makes his
move. The story moves to Montresor placing the bricks tier by tier to cover the wall in-which he
has chained Fortunato in. As the last brick is places, Fortunato begins to play the whole thing off
as a joke, however, he soons realizes it it anything but that. It grows quite for a short time, but
then Montresor hears the sinister laugh of his foe followed by no explanation.
Poe, using again a customary literary technique, turns foreshadowing. Although there are
hints of other techniques, I feel that foreshadowing is best represented. Throughout the walk
towards Montresor?s casks, he is constantly dropping hints on to what is about to take place ? the
cough is merely nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.? ? True, true.? Obviously,
Montresor is not intending to give away his plan, however, it seems that he is amusing himself
with his clues that Fortunato is not paying any attention to. Although it is hinted in the beginning
of the story about what is to be Fortunato?s fate, it is never specifically stated. The clues that
Montresor drops along the lines of conversation allow us to get a clearer idea of what is to take
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 story moves to the events occurring prior to his crime. The
narrator tells of the events occurring, taking place mainly in his home, however, moving only
seldomly to other locations, such as the local tavern. Although several characters are mentioned in
this story, the true focus lies upon the, again nameless narrator. He speaks of himself with the
up-most regard until the events in-which he is focusing on begin to occur. It is easy to point out
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 that the narrator is superstitious. Oddly, he states that he once was especially fond of
animals, and he was pleased to find a similar fondness for pets in his wife. The cat was a large,
beautiful animal who 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. Two minor roles are played
by the narrators wife, and the local police department, whom discover the body of the narrators
?The Black Cat? unlike ?The Tell Tale Heart? does not deal with premeditated murder. It
is explained that the narrator appears to be a happily married man, who has always been
exceedingly kind and gentle. He attributes his downfall to perverseness. 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. He had no justification for this, yet
proceeded to do so as he wished. It can be argued that what the narrator calls perverseness is
actually the working of his conscience. Guilt about his alcoholism seems to the narrator the
perverseness which causes him to 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. The narrators
feeling of triumph after thinking he had covered his crime perfectly shows his total disregard for
the life of his loved one.
Poe uses two literary techniques that in-turn make up the bulk of the story.
Foreshadowing and flashback are clearly shown throughout the story. Poe’s pronounced use of
foreshadowing leads the reader from one event to the next by using such statements as “one
night,” “one morning,” “on the night of the day.” Within the first few paragraphs of the story, the
narrator foreshadows that he will violently harm his wife. The most important foreshadowing clue
given is the fact that the story starts off with the narrator in prison awaiting his execution, this
alone shows that sometime before the conclusion of the story that the narrators fate will take a
The story itself is based upon a flashback. The narrator is writing his story as he awaits his
execution, all of what is being told had already occurred. This leaves the reader to speculate the
reasons why the narrator is telling his story from prison. Poe, in his tradition, allows suspense to
play a role through telling the story in a flashback style.
The conflict, as in ?The Tell Tale Heart? is not only between the narrator and an outside
character, however, it is also with himself. The obvious conflict is between the two black cats and
the narrator. It is stated that the conflict peeked with the minor attack of the cat on the mans
hand, however, the narrator is not sure why his feelings towards the animal changed, although he
believes that alcohol played a role in that. On the other hand, a conflict, the most important one at
that, seems to take place in the narrator himself. Superstition mixed with the effects of alcohol
seemed to place the man in a demented state. Oddly, he committed his most brutal act of killing
his wife while he was not under the influence. It is not directly stated what made the man snap as
he did, possibly that is what Poe wanted, for us to decide on our own.
The wild, eerie and wildly tormented world of Edgar Allan Poe has enchanted the reader
of his work since after his death.. His achievements are particularly great considering the
miserable life he led, both personally and publicly. Poe?s stories remain different, yet similar at the
same time, able to tie into each other however in a way, completely abstract from any other.
Although he was never an acclaimed writer until after his death, his work up to this day and those
preceding it, will be remembered as great works.
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