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
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
7. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New
York: Vintage Books, 1975.
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