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The narrative techniques of poe

The short story writer which I have chosen to research is Edgar Allen

Poe. After reading one of his works in class, I realized that his mysterious style

of writing greatly appealed 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. " ( 7) For me, this is done through

his use of setting and narrative style.

In many of Poe's works, setting is used to paint a dark and gloomy picture

in our minds. I think that this was done deliberatly 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 the setting begins to play an important role in how the narrator discovers

the many ways he may die. Although he must rely on his senses alone to feel

his surroundings, he knows that somewhere in this dark, gloomy room, that

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 unconciousness, he is still unable to disengage

himself from the physical and temperal world. The physical oppreses him in the

shape of lurid graveyard visions; the temporal oppreses him in the shape of an

enormous and deadly pendulum. It is altogether appropriate, then, that this

chamber should be constricting and cruelly angular" (63).

Setting is also an important characteristic is Poe's "The Fall of the House

of Usher". 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

sysatin an atomosphere which is dark and dull. This is one of the tricks which

he laregely derived from the tradition of the Gothic tale" (79). The whole setting

in the story provides us with a feeling of melancholy. The Usher mansion

appears vacant and barren. The same is true for the narrator. As we picture in

our minds the extreme decay and decomposistion, we can feelas though the life

around it is also crumbling.

Narration is also an 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. The narrator often seems to have

some type of psychological problems. For exapmle, 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 was a recent incident. It is

not until the very end of the story that we realize, that the entire event occurred

fifty years ago. David Herbert Lawrence says, "To the characters in Poe's story,

hate is as inordinate as live. The lust of hate is the inordinate desire to consume

and unspeakably possess the soul of the hated one, just as the lust of live is the

desire to possess or be possessed be the beloved, uterly. " (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 seen in his story entitled," The

Black Cat", where 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 the hate for the car. He turns against his

wife and stabs his cat in the eye. By the end of the story, he killed 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

dissapeared. This is just another instance in which the reader wonders what is

the driving force begins the narrator's insanity. Buranelli, "In both Poe's "The

Cask of Amontillado" and his "The Black Cat", the barrators act without

conscience. There are no doubts, hesitiations or second thought to impede the

narrative. Both narrators just sought revenge" (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

characteristivs which has 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, "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

mininum of characterization, plot, and atmosphere. By ridding

himself of everything except what is precisely to the point, he

achieves unity of effect. " (66).

There is also a prominent distinction between right and wrong in Poe's

tories. Viscous characters tend to come to a bad 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. Puttng overt mortality

out of bounds helps to give him uniqueness" (74).

After researching Edgar Allan Poe more in depth, I now have a much

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 realise now that we can't overlap

and intertwine with other aspects of the story, making them equally as important.

I will end with a quote found in Vincent Buranelli's Edgar Allan Poe: "Even

though Poe is often looked upon as a gifted psychopath who is

describing with consumate artistry his personal instablities and

abnormalitiesm 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."


1. Bloom, Harold, Ed. 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. Wilbur, R. Modern Critical Views on Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New

York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.

6. Pickering, James. Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories. NJ:Prentice

Hall, 1995.

7. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New

York: Vintage Books, 1975.

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