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www.cliffs.com POE'S SHORT STORIES The Fall of the House of Usher The Pit and the Pendulum The Cask of Amontillado Ligeia, and Others Notes including • • • • Life and Background of the Author Critical Commentaries Critical Essays Selected Bibliography by James L. Roberts, Ph.D. Department of English University of Nebraska-Lincoln LINCOLN, NEBRASKA 68501 1-800-228-4078 www.CLIFFS.com ISBN 0-8220-7168-1 © Copyright 1980 by Cliffs Notes, Inc. All Rights Reserved Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 1 www.cliffs.com LIFE AND BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, and died October 7, 1849; he lived only forty years, but during his brief lifetime, he made a permanent place for himself in American literature and also in world literature. A few facts about Poe's life are indisputable, but, unfortunately, almost everything else about Poe's life has been falsified, romanticized, slanderously distorted, or subjected to grotesque Freudian interpretations. Poe, it has been said at various times, was a manic depressive, a dope addict, an epileptic, and an alcoholic; moreover, it has been whispered that he was syphilitic, that he was impotent, and that he fathered at least one illegitimate child. Hardly any of Poe's biographers have been content to write a straight account of his life. This was particularly true of his early biographers, and only recently have those early studies been refuted. Intrigued with the horror and mystery of Poe's stories and by the dark romanticism of his poetry, his early critics and biographers often embroidered on the facts of his past in order to create their own imaginative vision of what kind of man produced these "strange" tales and poems. Thus Poe's true genius was neglected for a long time. Indeed, probably more fiction has been written about this American literary master than he himself produced; finally, however, fair and unbiased evaluations of his writings and of his life are available to us, and we can judge for ourselves what kind of a man Poe was. Yet, because the facts are scarce, Poe's claim to being America's first authentic neurotic genius will probably remain, and it is possible that Poe would be delighted. Both of Poe's parents were professional actors, and this fact in itself has fueled many of the melodramatic myths that surround Poe. Poe's mother was a teenage widow when she married David Poe, and Edgar was their second son. Poe's father had a fairly good reputation as an actor, but he had an even wider reputation as an alcoholic. He deserted the family a year after Poe was born, and the following year, Poe's mother died while she was acting in Richmond, Virginia. The children were parceled out, and young Poe was taken in as a foster-child by John Allan, a rich southern merchant. Allan never legally adopted Poe, but he did try to give him a good home and a good education. When Poe was six years old, the Allans moved to England, and for five years Poe attended the Manor House School, conducted by a man who was a good deal like the schoolmaster in "William Wilson." When the Allans returned to America, Poe began using his legal name for the first time. Poe and his foster-father often quarreled during his adolescence and as soon as he was able to leave home, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. While he was there, he earned a good academic record, but Mr. Allan never allowed him the means to live in the style his social status demanded. When Poe tried to keep up with his high-living classmates, he incurred so many gambling debts that the parsimonious Mr. Allan prevented his returning for a second year of study. Unhappy at home, Poe got money somehow (probably from Mrs. Allan) and went to Boston, where he arranged for publication of his first volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). He then joined the army. Two years later, when he was a sergeant-major, he received a discharge to enter West Point, to which he was admitted with Mr. Allan's help. Again, however, he felt frustrated because of the paltry allowance which his foster-father doled out to him, so he arranged to be court-martialed and dismissed. Poe's next four years were spent in Baltimore, where he lived with an aunt, Maria Clemm; these were years of poverty. When Mr. Allan died in 1834, Poe hoped that he would receive some of his fosterfather's fortune, but he was disappointed. Allan left him not a cent. For that reason, Poe turned from Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 2 www.cliffs.com writing poetry, which he was deeply fond of--despite the fact that he knew he could never live off his earnings--and turned to writing stories, for which there was a market. He published five tales in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, and because of his talent and certain influential friends, he became an editorial assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond in December 1835. The editor of the Messenger recognized Poe's genius and published several of his stories, but he despaired at Poe's tendency to "sip the juice." Nevertheless, Poe's drinking does not seem to have interfered with his duties at the magazine; its circulation grew, Poe continued producing stories, and while he was advancing the reputation of the Messenger, he created a reputation of his own--not only as a fine writer, but also as a keen critic. Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, when she was fourteen years old. He left the Messenger the following year and took his aunt and wife to New York City. There, Poe barely eked out a living for two years as a free-lance writer. He did, however, finish a short novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and sold it to the Messenger, where it was published in two installments. Harper's bought out the magazine in 1838, but Poe never realized any more money from the novel because his former boss had recorded that the Narrative was only "edited" by Poe. From New York City, the Poes moved to Baltimore, and for two years, the young family lived in even more dire poverty than they had in New York City. Poe continued writing, however, and finally in May 1839, he was hired as a co-editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He held this position for a year, during which he published some of his best fiction, including "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "William Wilson." Because of his drinking, Poe lost his job the following year. This was unfortunate because his Tales of the Grotesque, which had been published several months earlier, was not selling well. Once again, Poe and his wife found themselves on the edge of poverty, but Poe's former employer recommended Poe to the publisher of Graham's, and once again Poe found work as an editor while he worked on his own fiction and poetry. In January 1842, Poe suffered yet another setback. His wife, Virginia, burst a blood vessel in her throat. She did recover, but Poe's restlessness began to grow, as did the frequency of his drinking bouts, and he left Graham's under unpleasant circumstances. He attempted to found his own magazine and failed; he worked on cheap weeklies for awhile and, in a moment of despair, he went to Washington to seek out President Tyler. According to several accounts, he was so drunk when he called on the President that he wore his cloak inside out. Shortly afterward, Poe moved his family to New York City and began working for the Sunday Times. The following year was a good one: James Russell Lowell praised Poe's talent and genius in an article, and Poe's poem "The Raven" was published and received rave reviews. Seemingly, Poe had "made it"; "The Raven" was the sensation of the literary season. Poe began lecturing about this time and, shortly afterward, a new collection of his short stories appeared, as well as a collection of his poetry. Most biographers agree that Poe died of alcoholism--officially, "congestion of the brain." However, in 1996, cardiologist R. Michael Benitez, after conducting a blind clinical pathologic diagnosis of the symptoms of a patient described only as "E.P., a writer from Richmond," concluded that Poe died not from alcoholic poisoning, but from rabies. According to Dr. Benitez, Poe had become so hypersensitive to alcohol in his later years that he became ill for days after only one glass of wine. Benitez also refutes the myth that Poe died in a gutter, stating that he died at Washington College Hospital after four days of hallucinating and shouting at imaginary people. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 3 www.cliffs.com CRITICAL COMMENTARIES THE GOTHIC STORY: "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "Ligeia" These stories represent the highest achievements in the literary genre of the gothic horror story. By gothic, one means that the author emphasizes the grotesque, the mysterious, the desolate, the horrible, the ghostly, and, ultimately, the abject fear that can be aroused in either the reader or in the viewer. Almost everyone is familiar with such characters as Dr. Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula, two of today's pop culture horror characters who evolve from the gothic tradition, and it is probably not an exaggeration to say that most adults in the Western world have been exposed to some type of gothic tale or ghost story. We all know that a gothic story or a ghost story will often have a setting that will be in an old, decaying mansion far out in a desolate countryside; the castle will be filled with cobwebs, strange noises, bats, and an abundance of secret panels and corridors, down which persecuted virgins might be running and screaming in terror. This is standard fare; we have either read about such places or seen them in the movies or on TV. The haunted castle is a classic setting of the gothic story. The author uses every literary trick possible to give us eerie sensations or to make us jump if we hear an unexpected noise. The shadows seem menacing in these stories, there are trap doors to swallow us up, and the underground passages are smelly, slimy, and foul--all these effects are created for one reason: to give us a sense of the ghostly and the supernatural. Both "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" utilize many of these aspects of the gothic and are considered by critics to be not just among Poe's best short stories, but also among the finest examples of the gothic genre in all of literature. Not surprisingly, both stories have many qualities in common: (1) In addition to the gothic elements, there is also a sense of remoteness and a sense of indefiniteness--that is, we are never told where "The Fall of the House of Usher" takes place in terms of setting; it could be in Ireland, Virginia, Scotland, Germany, or even Transylvania. The story could, in fact, take place anywhere as long as the area is remote to the reader, removed from his everyday environment. Likewise, "Ligeia"is set in an old castle on the Rhine or else in an abbey in the "most remote part of England." In both stories also, the time (the century) is set somewhere in the indefinite past. Clearly, it is not in an old castle in the present era. (2) One of the primary aims of both stories is to create the single effect of an eerie and ghostly atmosphere and to do so, both stories emphasize the physical aspects of the various structures--the deep caverns or vaults where the Lady Madeline is buried and the weird room where the Lady Rowena died among various types of black sarcophagi. (3) In both stories, a super-sensitive hero is presented, a man who could not function well in the "normal" world. Roderick Usher and the narrator of "Ligeia" share a super-sensitivity to the point of maladjustment--due to the narrator's opium addiction in "Ligeia," and due to an undefined illness in Roderick Usher. (4) Often in the gothic story, the characters seem to possess some sort of psychic communication; this usually occurs between a member of the living world and a "living" corpse. In both stories, we see this kind of communication between, first, Roderick Usher and his twin sister and, again, between the narrator and his beloved, Ligeia. (5) One of the stock elements of the gothic story concerns the possibility of returning to life after one is dead and, moreover, inhabiting one's own corpse. Poe uses this effect to its very best effect in these two stories; both of them climax with just such an incident: To this purpose Poe created the return of the entombed and living corpse of the Lady Madeleine, as well as the slow re-emergence into life by the enshrouded Lady Ligeia. (6) In addition to the above features of the gothic story, Poe also stressed another similar element; he placed a strong emphasis on the life of the mind after the death of the body. This is also true of the stories associated with Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 4 www.cliffs.com the Dracula legends, where the focus is upon the continuation of the life of the mind after the body has become a living corpse. The central concern of the Lady Ligeia is the continuation of the mind after physical death; Poe's emphasis here additionally stresses that one does not yield oneself to death except through a weakness of the will. Both in the Lady Madeline and in the Lady Ligeia, there is a superhuman strength to live--even after death. Both women overcome the most impossible barriers of the mortal world in order to live. "The Fall of the House of Usher" The first five paragraphs of the story are devoted to creating a gothic mood--that is, the ancient decaying castle is eerie and moldy and the surrounding moat seems stagnant. Immediately Poe entraps us; we have a sense of being confined within the boundaries of the House of Usher. Outside the castle, a storm is raging and inside the castle, there are mysterious rooms where windows suddenly whisk open, blowing out candles; one hears creaking and moaning sounds and sees the living corpse of the Lady Madeline. This, then, is the gothic and these are its trappings; one should realize by now that these are all basic effects that can be found in any modern Alfred Hitchcock-type of horror film, any ghost movie, or in any of the many movies about Count Dracula. Here is the genesis of this type of story, created almost one hundred and fifty years ago in plain, no-nonsense America, a new nation not even sixty years old. Besides having a fascination for the weird and the spectral, Poe was also interested in the concept of the double, the schizophrenic, the ironic, and the reverse. He investigated this phenomenon in several stories, including "William Wilson" (a story which is analyzed in this volume), and so it is important to note that there is a special importance attached to the fact that Roderick Usher and the Lady Madeline are twins. Poe is creating in this story his conception of a special affinity between a brother and his twin sister; it is almost as if Poe were "inventing" ESP, for this accounts for the fact that Roderick Usher has heard the buried Lady Madeline struggling with her coffin and her chains for over three days before the narrator hears her. Unfortunately, modern readers tend to be a little jaded by the many gothic effects. ESP, for example, is rather old hat today as a gothic device, but in Poe's time, it was as frightening and mysterious as UFOs are today. "The Fall of the House of Usher" exemplifies perfectly Poe's principle of composition that states that everything in the story must contribute to a single unified effect. Late in the story, Roderick Usher says: "I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR." Clearly, Poe has chosen the "grim phantasm, FEAR" for his prime effect to be achieved in this story. As a result, every word, every image, and every description in the story is chosen with the central idea in mind of creating a sense of abject terror and fear within both the narrator and the reader. From the opening paragraphs, ominous and foreboding as they are, to the presentation of the over-sensitive, hopelessly frail and delicate Roderick Usher, to the terrible conclusion with the appearance of the living corpse, all of Poe's details combine to create the anxiety accompanying that "grim phantasm, FEAR." Like so many of Poe's stories, the setting here is inside a closed environment. From the time the unnamed narrator enters the House of Usher until the end of the story when he flees in terror, the entire story is boxed within the confines of the gloomy rooms on an oppressive autumn day where every object and sound is attenuated to the over-refined and over-developed sensitivities of Roderick Usher. In fact, the greatness of this story lies more in the unity of design and the unity of atmosphere than it does in the plot itself. In terms of what plot there is, it is set somewhere in the past, and we find out that the narrator and Roderick Usher have been friends and schoolmates previous to the story's beginning. At least Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 5 www.cliffs.com Usher considers the narrator to be his friend--in fact, his only friend--and he has written an urgent letter to him, imploring him to come to the Usher manor "post-haste." As the narrator approaches the melancholy House of Usher, it is evening time and a "sense of insufferable gloom pervades" his spirit. This is the first effect Poe creates, this "sense of insufferable gloom." There are no gothic stories or ghost stories which take place in daylight or at high noon; these types of stories must occur in either darkness or in semi-darkness, and thus the narrator arrives at this dark and cryptic manor just as darkness is about to enshroud it. The house, the barren landscape, the bleak walls, the rank sedges in the moat--all these create a "sickening of the heart--an unredeemed dreariness." This is a tone which will become the mood throughout the entire story. Poe next sets up a sense of the "double" or the ironic reversal when he has the narrator first see the House of Usher as it is reflected in the "black and lurid tarn" (a dark and gruesome, revolting mountain lake) which surrounds it. The image of the house, you should note, is upside down. At the end of the story, the House of Usher will literally fall into this tarn and be swallowed up by it. And even though Poe said in his critical theories that he shunned symbolism, he was not above using it if such symbolism contributed to his effect. Here, the effect is electric with mystery; he says twice that the windows of the house are "eyelike" and that the inside of the house has become a living "body" while the outside has become covered with moss and is decaying rapidly. Furthermore, the ultimate Fall of the House is caused by an almost invisible crack in the structure, but a crack which the narrator notices; symbolically, this is a key image. Also central to this story is that fact that Roderick and the Lady Madeline are twins. This suggests that when he buries her, he will widen the crack, or fissure, between them. This crack, or division, between the living and the dead will be so critical that it will culminate ultimately in the Fall of the House of Usher. It is possible that Poe wanted us to imagine that when Usher tries to get rid of that other part of himself, the twin half, he is, in effect, signing his own death warrant. Certainly at the end of the story, Lady Madeline falls upon him in an almost vampire-like sucking position and the two of them are climactically, totally one, finally united in the light of the full moon, by which the narrator is able to see the tumultuous Fall of the House of Usher. (The full moon, of course, is a traditional prop for stories of this sort; that is, one finds it in all gothic, ghostly, and vampire-type stories.) Upon entering the gothic archway of the deteriorating mansion, the narrator is led "through many dark and intricate passages" filled with "sombre tapestries," "ebon blackness," and "armorial trophies." As noted earlier, these details of old armor standing in the shadows and the intricate passageways leading mysteriously away are all traditional elements in all gothic horror stories. Over everything, Poe drapes his "atmosphere of sorrow . . . and irredeemable gloom." He evokes here his primary effect: We sense that some fearful event will soon transpire. When the narrator sees Roderick Usher, he is shocked at the change in his old friend. Never before has he seen a person who looks so much like a corpse with a "cadaverousness of complexion." Death is in the air; the first meeting prepares us for the untimely and ghastly death of Roderick Usher later in the story. Usher tries to explain the nature of his illness; he suffers from a "morbid acuteness of the senses." He can eat "only the most insipid food, wear only delicate garments," and he must avoid the odors of all flowers. His eyes, he says, are "tortured by even a faint light," and only a few sounds from certain stringed instruments are endurable. As Roderick Usher explains that he has not left the house in many years and that his only companion has been his beloved sister, the Lady Madeline, we are startled by Poe's unexpectedly introducing her ghostly form far in the distance. Suddenly, while Roderick is speaking, Madeline passes "slowly through a remote portion of the apartment" and disappears without ever having noticed the narrator's presence. No doctor has been able to discover the nature of her illness--it is "a settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 6 www.cliffs.com person" in a "cataleptical" state; that is, Lady Madeline cannot respond to any outside stimuli. The narrator then tells us that nevermore will he see her alive. Of course, then, the question at the end of the story is: Was the Lady Madeline ever alive? Or is the narrator deceiving the reader by this statement? Roderick Usher and the narrator speak no more of the Lady Madeline; they pass the days reading together or painting, and yet Usher continues to be in a gloomy state of mind. We also learn that one of Usher's paintings impresses the narrator immensely with its originality and its bizarre depiction: It is a picture of a luminous tunnel or vault with no visible outlet. This visual image is symbolic of what will happen later; it suggests both the vault that Usher will put his sister into and also the maelstrom that will finally destroy the House of Usher. Likewise, the poem "The Haunted Palace," which Poe places almost exactly in the center of the story, is similar to the House of Usher in that some "evil things" are there influencing its occupants in the same way that Roderick Usher, the author of the poem seems to be haunted by some unnamed "evil things." After he has finished reading the poem, Usher offers another of his bizarre views; this time, he muses on the possibility that vegetables and fungi are sentient beings--that is, that they are conscious and capable of having feelings of their own. He feels that the growth around the House of Usher has this peculiar ability to feel and sense matters within the house itself. This otherworldly atmosphere enhances Poe's already grimly threatening atmosphere. One day, Roderick Usher announces that the Lady Madeline is "no more"; he says further that he is going to preserve her corpse for two weeks because of the inaccessibility of the family burial ground and also because of the "unusual character of the malady of the deceased." These enigmatic statements are foreboding; they prepare the reader for the re-emergence of the Lady Madeline as a living corpse. At the request of Usher, the narrator helps carry the "encoffined" body to an underground vault where the atmosphere is so oppressive that their torches almost go out. Again Poe is using a highly effective gothic technique by using these deep, dark underground vaults, lighted only by torches, and by having a dead body carried downward to a great depth where everything is dank, dark, and damp. After some days of bitter grief, Usher changes appreciably; now he wanders feverishly and hurries from one chamber to another. Often he stops and stares vacantly into space as though he is listening to some faint sound; his terrified condition brings terror to the narrator. Then we read that on the night of the "seventh or eighth day" after the death of the Lady Madeline, the narrator begins to hear "certain low and indefinite sounds" which come from an undetermined source. As we will learn later, these sounds are coming from the buried Lady Madeline, and these are the sounds that Roderick Usher has been hearing for days. Because of his over-sensitiveness and because of the extra-sensory relationship between him and his twin sister, Roderick has been able to hear sounds long before the narrator is able to hear them. When Usher appears at the narrator's door looking "cadaverously wan" and asking, "Have you not seen it?," the narrator is so ill at ease that he welcomes even the ghostly presence of his friend. Usher does not identify the "it" he speaks of, but he throws open the casement window and reveals a raging storm outside--"a tempestuous . . . night . . . singular in its terror and its beauty." Again, these details are the true and authentic trappings of the gothic tale. Night, a storm raging outside while another storm is raging in Usher's heart, and a decaying mansion in which "visible gaseous exhalations . . . enshrouded the mansion"--all these elements contribute to the eerie gothic effect Poe aimed for. The narrator refuses, however, to allow Usher to gaze out into the storm with its weird electrical phenomena, exaggerated by their reflection in the "rank miasma of the tarn." Protectively, he shuts the window and takes down an antique volume entitled Mad Trist by Sir Launcelot Canning and begins reading aloud. When he comes to the section where the hero forces his way into the entrance of the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 7 www.cliffs.com hermit's dwelling, the narrator says that it "appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character . . . the very cracking and ripping sound" which was described in the antique volume which he is reading to Usher. The narrator continues reading, and when he comes to the description of a dragon being killed and dying with "a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing," he pauses because at the exact moment, he hears a "low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted and most unusual screaming or grating sound" which seems to be the exact counterpart of the scream in the antique volume. He observes Usher, who seems to be rocking from side to side, filled with some unknown terror. Very soon the narrator becomes aware of a distinct sound, "hollow, metallic and clangorous, yet apparently muffled." When he approaches Usher, his friend responds that he has been hearing noises for many days, and yet he has not dared to speak about them. The noises, he believes, come from Lady Madeline: "We have put her living in the tomb!" He heard the first feeble movements a few days ago while she was in the coffin, then he heard the rending of the coffin and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison and then her struggling with the vault and, finally, she is now on the stairs and so close that Usher can hear "the heavy and horrible beating of her heart." With a leap upwards, he shrieks: "Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!" At this moment, with superhuman strength, the antique doors are thrown open and in the half darkness there is revealed "the lofty and enshrouded figure of the Lady Madeline of Usher." There is blood upon her white robes and the evidence of a bitter struggle on every portion of her emaciated frame. With the last of her energy, while she is trembling and reeling, she falls heavily upon her brother, and "in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated." The narrator tells us that he fled from the chamber and from the entire mansion and, at some distance, he turned to look back in the light of the "full, setting and blood-red moon" (emphasis mine) and saw the entire House of Usher split at the point where there was a zigzag fissure and watched as the entire house sank into the "deep and dank tarn" which covered, finally, the "fragments of the 'House of Usher.'" There are more varying interpretations of this story than there are of almost any of Poe's other works. For some of the widely differing interpretations, the reader should consult the volume Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher." One key to the story is, of course, the name of the main character. An usher is someone who lets one in or leads one in. Thus, the narrator is ushered into the house by a bizarre-looking servant, and he is then ushered into Roderick Usher's private apartment and into his private thoughts. Finally, usher also means doorkeeper, and as they had previously ushered Lady Madeline prematurely into her tomb, at the end of the story Lady Madeline stands outside the door waiting to be ushered in; failing that, she ushers herself in and falls upon her brother. In the concept of twins, there is also a reversal of roles. It is Usher himself who seems to represent the weak, the over-sensitive, the over-delicate, and the feminine. In contrast, Lady Madeline, as many critics have pointed out, possesses a superhuman will to live. She is the masculine force which survives being buried alive and is able, by using almost supernatural strength, to force her way out and escape from her entombment in the vaults, and then despite being drained of strength, as evidenced by the blood on her shroud, she is able to find her brother and fall upon him. Another reading of the story involves the possibility that Roderick Usher's weakness, his inability to function in light, and his necessity to live constantly in the world of semi-darkness and muted sounds and colors is that the Lady Madeline is a vampire who has been sucking blood from him for years. This would account for his paleness and would fit this story in a category with the stories of Count Dracula that were so popular in Europe at the time. In this interpretation, Roderick Usher buries his sister so as to protect himself. Vampires had to be dealt with harshly; thus, this accounts for the difficulty Lady Madeline encounters in escaping from her entombment. In this view, the final embrace must be seen in terms of the Lady Madeline, a vampire, falling upon her brother's throat and sucking the last drop of blood from him. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 8 www.cliffs.com The final paragraph supports this view in that the actions occur during the "full blood-red moon," a time during which vampires are able to prey upon fresh victims. At the opposite end of this phantasmal interpretation is the modern-day psychological view that the twins represent two aspects of one personality. The final embrace, in this case, becomes the unifying of two divergent aspects into one whole being at birth. Certainly many Romantics considered birth itself to be a breaking away from supernatural beauty, and they believed that death was a reuniting of oneself with that original spirituality. Lady Madeline can then be seen as the incarnation of "otherworldliness," the pure spirit purged of all earthly cares. She is, one might note, presented in this very image; at one point in the story, she seems to float through the apartment in a cataleptic state. If Usher embodies the incertitude of life--a condition somewhere between waking and sleeping--when Lady Madeline embraces him, this embrace would symbolize the union of a divided soul, indicating a final restoration and purification of that soul in a life to come. They will now live in pure spirituality and everything that is material in the world is symbolized by the collapse of the House of Usher--the dematerialization of all that was earthly in exchange for the pure spirituality of Roderick Usher and the Lady Madeline. Even though Poe maintains that he did not approve of symbols or allegory, this particular story has been, as suggested above, subjected to many and varied types of allegorical or symbolic interpretations. Basically, however, the story still functions as a great story on the very basic level of the gothic horror story, in which the element of fear is evoked in its highest form. "Ligeia" Like "The Fall of the House of Usher," this story also has all of the trappings of a classic, gothic horror tale. As noted in the introduction, the setting is in an old castle in an unknown or remote part of the world; in its dark interior, there are huge ottomans and tapestries and, outside, the wind is blowing the casement curtains, causing strange configurations. Likewise, there are strange noises, producing an eerie, "phantasmagoric" effect on the inhabitants. Everywhere there is "verdant decay." Here, the castle as Poe's setting sits molding on the Rhine, conjuring up all types of gothic visions for us; later, he replaces this moody setting with yet another gothic touch: a forlorn abbey located in some remote part of England. The walls there are "elaborately fretted with the wildest and most grotesque specimens of semi-gothic" that the narrator has ever seen. This mood, as well as the suspense that Poe creates, is sustained. Yet, were the story not set in the ghostly castle, or even in the "semi-gothic" abbey, the tale would still lend itself to the gothic genre merely by the presence of the supernatural element, an element which plays such a major role in the history of the Lady Ligeia herself. This story is akin to "The Fall of the House of Usher" in that both the Lady Ligeia and the Lady Madeline possess an inordinate and superhuman strength to live. Both women are presumed to be dead, but both of them possess a will to live that will not let either one of them remain dead. "Ligeia," published exactly one year before "The Fall," expresses this concept even more directly than does the story just discussed. For example, note the quotation which is placed at the beginning of the story; it is used two more times in the story by the Lady Ligeia to express her belief that some type of life continues after the apparent death of the body. (As a footnote, it is interesting that while Poe credited the quotation to Joseph Glanville, an author who actually did live and who was a favorite of Poe's, the exact quotation has as yet not been found among the author's works. It is suspected, therefore, that Poe made up the quotation and merely assigned it to the writer.) The key words in this quotation, which the Lady Ligeia utters, express her strong belief that the weak may die but that the strong do "not yield . . . unto death utterly, save only Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 9 www.cliffs.com through the weakness of [a] feeble will!" Whereas in "The Fall" the Lady Madeline was able to break free of the iron that entombed her, the Lady Ligeia seemingly has the ability to retain her will to live through periods of time and to cross barriers of land and water; ultimately, it would seem, it is possible for her-and the dead--to assume the body of another person. As is the case in almost all of Poe's short stories, the first-person narrator here is never named; he has no family or friends. We know nothing about his background; we know him only through his mental states that we witness in the story. This characteristic, as noted, is often typical of the Romantic writer. The story takes place, then, at some distant time in some unknown place and concerns characters who have no discernible past. Furthermore, the narrator is typical of many types of Romantic heroes in that he desires absolute knowledge; we see a similar situation in the Romantic story of Goethe's Faust. Furthermore, the Romantic hero is completely dominated by his concept of love. The deep love which the narrator has for Ligeia is seemingly his sole reason for existing. In his theory of poetics, Poe expressed the belief that the most perfect subject for a poem (and, therefore, by extension, a short story) would be "the death . . . of a beautiful woman" as told through "the lips . . . of a bereaved lover." This short story fits that prescription perfectly. Even though the narrator marries the Lady Rowena, he can never put aside, or ignore, the power of his love for the Lady Ligeia, and it is possible that it is this all-abounding love which helps the Lady Ligeia to return to the narrator at the end of the story. The tale of Ligeia begins with the narrator asserting his deep love for the Lady Ligeia, even though he cannot remember how or where he met her--or even if she has a family. Thus, at the very beginning of the story, the mood is set: Poe (and many other Romantic writers) creates a certain vagueness and indefiniteness; these qualities, he felt, were essential to the production of the perfect art form. By this, Poe meant that he wanted his stories to be removed from the mundane world; he wanted them to exist on a higher plane, one where ethereal matters were the main concern of art. Because the narrator knows nothing of the Lady Ligeia's past (he does not even know her last name), the emphasis is upon the purely transcendent nature of their relationship. Despite the obscure origin of Ligeia and the origin of the narrator's love for her, the certainty of that love is so strong that the narrator's entire being is suffused with it. He is totally devoted to the Lady Ligeia. This lady, besides having a rare and perfect knowledge of many fields of study, possesses a rare understanding of life. In addition, her beauty is unique: she is tall and slender with a "placid cast of beauty" and she speaks with the "thrilling eloquence of [a] low musical language." Even though she later becomes "emaciated," no "maiden ever equalled her" in beauty of person. The most outstanding feature of Ligeia is, perhaps, her hair; it is glossy and luxuriant-- "hyacinthine," in the author's words. Her eyes and lashes are beyond the beauty of "beings either above or apart from the earth." Yet the Lady Ligeia is not so blandly pure that she could be called "perfect," for the narrator says that she was also "most violently a prey to the tumultuous vultures of stern passion." Curiously, despite the woman's magnificent physical beauty, the narrator values her most, perhaps, for her mind--that is, for the narrator, her main attribute is the fact that she was always there beside him to help him in his studies. Her wisdom is consummate; the narrator is fully aware that she is infinitely superior to him in the "chaotic world of metaphysical investigations," and he is content to let her guide him through these studies. Without her, he would have been a mere child groping through this strange and alien field of study. For a period of time, it would seem, the relationship between the narrator and Ligeia was ideal; then suddenly, without any warning signs, the Lady Ligeia grew ill. As a ghostly hue covered her being, she still expressed a strong desire to live. As death approached closer and closer, she would pour out "the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 10 www.cliffs.com overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry" towards the narrator. At the end, she asked him to read a poem she had written about the ability to conquer life. The poem, which is as central to this story as "The Haunted Palace" was to "The Fall of the House of Usher," is set in a theater where the audience is composed of angels, and the actors are mimes (silent creatures) who are controlled by strange formless creatures, or things. Suddenly, a phantom appears upon the stage and chases the mimes, but ultimately a "crawling shape intrudes" and "It writhes!--it writhes!--with mortal pangs The mimes become its food. At the end of the play, we discover that the poem is entitled "Man," and that the hero of the play is "The Conqueror Worm." Clearly, the poem is the key to the Lady Ligeia's obsession with life beyond death; that is, since the worm is mankind's most potent and horrible symbol of death, the poem deals with death in its most dreaded form--annihilation--a catastrophe that the Lady Ligeia believes is possible to defy. After the narrator has finished reading the poem, she fervently reaffirms the idea that man does not yield to death except "through the weakness of his feeble will." After the death of Ligeia, the narrator can no longer endure the "lonely desolation" of his decaying dwelling on the Rhine. After months of weary and aimless wanderings, he settles in a remote part of England--in "the wildest and least frequented portion of England," and, significantly, the abbey which he purchases has a "gloomy and dreary grandeur." After a time, he marries "the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion of Tremaine." The bridal chamber is one of Poe's most masterful creations, filled with, among other grotesque specimens of the gothic setting, a "gigantic sarcophagus of black granite." Lady Rowena is the antithesis of the Lady Ligeia. She is also beautiful, but she is blonde, simple, and unsophisticated. Whereas the Lady Ligeia was superior to this world, Lady Rowena is extremely earthly and temporal. In contrast to the metaphysical and spiritual qualities of the Lady Ligeia, Lady Rowena embodies the material and mortal qualities of this physical world. Thus, in one interpretation of the story, the narrator seems to be exchanging a world of beautiful, transcendent, ethereal reality for a world of material reality. After a month, the narrator becomes aware of the fact that his wife does not love him--in fact, she is in dreadful fear of his fierce moodiness. In contrast, he ignores her and takes pleasure only in remembering the perfection of the Lady Ligeia. In the second month of their marriage, the Lady Rowena becomes very ill. She is nervous, feverish, and terribly excitable. She is constantly perturbed by strange sounds, motions, and "phantasmagoric influences" within their chambers. One night when the narrators sits by the bed of the dying Lady Rowena, he listens to her frail cries of fear and fright and, to his astonishment, he discovers that his wife is not so much afraid of death as she is afraid of strange and unknown presences in the room. The narrator then becomes aware of a "palpable although invisible" presence in the room and, moments later, senses a "gentle footfall upon the carpet." As Lady Rowena drinks a glass of wine, the narrator notes several drops of a brilliant ruby-colored fluid suddenly appear in her glass of wine. Confused, he believes that his vivid imagination has been rendered morbidly active by the opium and by the late hour. Three days later, the Lady Rowena is dead and on the fourth day, as he is sitting alone with the shrouded body of his wife, we hear him confess to thinking not of his wife, but only of the Lady Ligeia. At midnight, he hears a low sob come from the bed where the corpse of his wife has been laid out. Rising, he studies the shrouded form of the Lady Rowena and, after some time, he notices a very slight tinge of color appear in her face. He is aghast: The Lady Rowena still lives. However, shortly thereafter, she Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 11 www.cliffs.com resumes the ghastly expression of death--"a repulsive clamminess and coldness . . . " This occurs a second and a third time, and each time, various, strong signs of life appear and then, suddenly, the corpse becomes intensely rigid and loathsome. Between each of these horrible experiences, the narrator sinks into visions of the lovely Lady Ligeia, and time and again, this "hideous drama of revivification" occurs until finally the corpse struggles more violently than ever. Then it rises and with tottering, feeble steps, it advances toward the narrator. Unafraid, he realizes immediately that she has grown taller. Then, touching the corpse, he is aghast to see it shake loose from her head "the ghastly cerements which had confined it." Huge masses of dishevelled hair "blacker than the raven wings of midnight" tumble down and, as the eyes of the corpse open, the narrator, in a frenzy of fierce excitement, knows that he is looking not into the eyes of his wife. Instead, he is looking into the black and wild eyes of his last love--the Lady Ligeia! In addition to its being a superlative gothic horror tale, the story can also be read as a fine example of the effects of the use of the drug opium on a highly imaginative writer. During the Romantic period, many writers experimented with the hallucinogenic effects of various drugs. (Among the famous English Romantics who experimented with drugs, there were Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; De Quincey wrote The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and Coleridge often wrote under the influence of opium. Opium, likewise, was also considered to be an essential part of life for many French Romanticists.) Since the narrator is an opium addict, then, the entire story can be read as a visual and mental result of hallucinogenic drugs, the result of opium on the mind of the addict. From this point of view, all of the effects described in the story could exist only in the mind of the narrator--that is, the opium simply caused him to see and hear all the supernatural, phantasmagorical events that took place; they never really happened. Such an explanation is possible; we know, for example, from many written accounts, that drugs can cause the addict to vividly sense things of seemingly otherworldly natures that the non-addict is incapable of feeling or sensing. Therefore, the reincarnation of the Lady Ligeia could be, first of all, a direct result of the strong love, attachment, and need for the lost Lady Ligeia, combined with the fact that the narrator feels a repulsion toward the Lady Rowena, who is the complete physical and sensual opposite to the Lady Ligeia. These strong, subconscious desires are freed under the influence of opium and make the narrator feel that they are real. As Poe handles the story, such an interpretation is possible; certainly the story lends itself to the possibility that it is the visualization of the hallucinatory effects caused by opium. As such, it is certainly a brilliant example in its surrealistic depiction of the supernatural. The Lady Ligeia can also be viewed as the typical Romantic woman of mystery, a variation of the "femme fatale." As is typical of this type of woman, she is pale and wan, yet she has a fierce dark beauty, with rich luxuriant hair and dark raven eyes. Significantly, there is "some strangeness in the proportion." This, for the Romantic, was absolutely essential; some irregular aspect of one's mien individualized one's beauty and gave a certain "peculiar" flaw to perfect beauty. (See, for example, Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark," a short story which Poe admired very much--so much so that he even modeled the room of the narrator's English abbey, in this story, after the description of the house in Hawthorne's story.) Throughout "Ligeia" and especially at the story's climax, there is an emphasis on the eyes of the Lady Ligeia. The narrator is profoundly affected by them. It is as though he has no concept of this world except through the eyes of the Lady Ligeia; thus, because he relied on her so completely for his metaphysical experiments, he relies on her eyes at the end of the story to make clear to him the things of the other world. For a brilliant interpretation of this story in terms of the spiritual versus the material, as the Romantic's search for the ideal and as an escape from the mundane, see Richard Wilbur's introduction to Poe's Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 12 www.cliffs.com selections, printed in Major Writers of America, Harcourt and Brace, publishers. This story, obviously, is so rich in detail that it lends itself to many and varied interpretations. For this reason, it remains one of Poe's finest contributions to the genre of the short story. TALES OF RATIOCINATION, OR DETECTIVE FICTION: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" Part of the genius of Edgar Allan Poe is that he exceeded in a number of different types of endeavors. In addition to his reputation as a poet, his originality in his literary criticisms, and the perfection he achieved in creating gothic tales of terror and science fiction, he is also acknowledged as the originator of detective fiction. Poe invented the term "Tale of Ratiocination." The ratiocination, however, is not just for the detective; Poe does not allow the reader to sit back and merely observe; the process of ratiocination which he sets up is also intended for the reader, as well as for the detective. In fact, the story becomes one in which the reader must also accompany the detective toward the solution and apply his own powers of logic and deduction alongside those of the detective. This idea becomes very important in all subsequent works of detective fiction. That is, in all such fiction, all of the clues are available for the reader, as well as the detective, to solve the crime (usually murder), and at the end of the story, the reader should be able to look back on the clues and realize that he could have solved the mystery. A detective story in which the solution is suddenly revealed to the reader is considered bad form. Poe, then, introduces one of the basic elements of the detective story--the presentation of clues for his readers, and in addition to the above, Poe is also credited with introducing and developing many other of the standard features of modern detective fiction. For example, M. Auguste Dupin is the forerunner of a long line of fictional detectives who are eccentric and brilliant. His unnamed friend, who is a devoted admirer of the detective's methods, is less brilliant but, at times, he is perhaps more rational and analytical than Dupin is. He never, however, has the flashes of genius that the detective exhibits; instead, he begins the tradition of the chronicler of the famous detective's exploits--that is, he mediates between reader and detective, presenting what information he has to the reader, while allowing the detective to keep certain information and interpretations to himself. This technique has since been employed by numerous writers of detective fiction, the most famous being the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson combination. Almost as popular are the well-known novels of Rex Stout, dealing with the eccentric Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, further examples of Poe's methodology. In all the cases that these detectives attempt to solve, the eccentric detective has a certain disdain, or contempt, for the police and their methods, and this has also become a standard feature of many detective stories, along with the fact that the head of the police force feels, as he does in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," that this amateur detective, while solving the murder, is a meddler. Poe is clearly responsible for and should be given credit for giving literature these basics of the detective story as a foundation for an entirely new genre of fiction: (1) the eccentric but brilliant amateur sleuth; (2) the sidekick, or listener, or worker for the clever detective; (3) the simple clues; (4) the stupidity or ineptitude of the police; (5) the resentment of the police for the amateur's interference; and (6) the simple but careful solution of the problem through logic and intuition. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" Because it was Poe's first tale of ratiocination, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" introduces more basic features of detective fiction than any of Poe's other short stories. Among these basic features are three central ideas: (1) the murder occurs in a locked room from which there is no apparent egress. In later detective fiction, this idea is expanded (though essentially retained) and is used when the author sets the scene of the murder in a closed environment--that is, on a train, where the murderer is included among the Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 13 www.cliffs.com passengers; on an island, where the murderer must logically still be there; or on an estate, where the murderer has to be among the people in the house. (In this particular story, with there being no way for the murderer to escape, the police are completely baffled.); (2) motive, access, and other surface evidence points to an innocent person. Frequently in detective fiction, the amateur detective is drawn into the case because a friend or acquaintance has been falsely accused, as is Le Bon (Adolphe de Bon), who "once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful." Thus, M. Dupin is drawn into the case because of an obligation to the accused; (3) the detective uses some sort of unexpected means to produce the solution. We have noted above that all of the clues should be present but, nevertheless, the appeal of detective fiction lies in the unexpected solution, which becomes logical only in retrospect. Two aphorisms concerning detective fiction today are also presented for the first time in this story of Poe's. First, the truth is what remains after the impossible has been determined--no matter how improbable that truth may seem. That is, the police determine or surmise that there was no possible egress from the room of the murdered women. The door was locked from within, and all the windows were securely locked. Second, the more apparently difficult the case is and the more out of the ordinary the case is, the more easily, ironically, the case can be solved--by the key detective. For example, the problem in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" that has the police so stumped is simply how can a nonrational, inhuman being break through the bounds of law, custom, and civilized order and commit such a gruesome and horrible atrocity on two well-protected women? The police cannot bring themselves to conclude that a "human" could possibly do this; the house is built in such a way as to protect it from the very acts which were committed there. The murders can only be solved, logically, when a person is able to place his human mind into conformity with a non-human mind and with the irrational acts of a beast. Consequently, we then have the superiority of the intuitive and brilliant detective, measured against the police as he infers possibilities and probabilities and observes the scene from the inferences due to the single-mindedness and limited viewpoint of the police. The title of the story is straightforward--that is, the murders take place in the street (the Rue) of the Morgue. In the opening section of the story, Poe offers some of the views expressed above about the need of the detective to be observant (more than the ordinary person), and, furthermore, he must know what to observe. The most casual movement or expression can often reveal more than the magnifying glass which M. Dupin never uses, even though the police constantly rely on one to help them solve crimes. And also too, the superlative detective must be able to make the proper inferences from the things he observes. Here is where ingenuity becomes the most important aspect in solving a crime. The narrator first met Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin when they were looking for a rare volume in a library; shortly, therefore, they became friends and shared an old house together. In later detective fiction, this convention is repeated; the brilliant detective and his sidekick will often share the same living abode. The narrator then gives us an example of M. Dupin's brilliant analytical ability. Strolling along the street one night, the narrator is thinking about a certain actor, and suddenly M. Dupin answers without the narrator's ever having asked anything. Then M. Dupin explains how through the logic of their previous conversation and by observing certain actions in his friend's movements, he was able to deduce at what point his friend had come to a certain conclusion. Not long after this, there is an announcement in the paper of two "extraordinary murders." One night at three A.M., "eight or ten" neighbors were all aroused from sleep by a "succession of terrific shrieks" from the fourth floor of the apartments of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille. It took the crowd some time to break into the heavily locked gates and doors and, after hurrying up to the first landing, they all heard two voices. Then there was silence. When the fourth story was reached, and they entered the apartment, they found it in wild disorder. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 14 www.cliffs.com Thus, we are given the bare facts of the murder. The old woman had "thick tresses" of her hair pulled out, her throat was cut so deeply across that when the police picked up the body, the head fell off. Furthermore, the woman was completely covered with bruises, so terribly that the police assume that she was bludgeoned badly before her head was almost severed. The body itself was found lying in the courtyard four flights down from the woman's apartment, and it is impossible to determine how the body got into the courtyard because the room was completely locked from within. Her daughter was choked to death, apparently, by the hands of an extremely powerful man, and she was stuffed up the chimney, head downward. It would have taken super-human strength to have put her there because it took such violents tugs to remove her. The newspaper recounts how the old woman had just withdrawn 4,000 francs in gold from her bank; unaccountably, the two bags of money were found in the middle of the room, which was totally torn apart. The men who entered the apartment were all interviewed by the police, and all of the witnesses agree on one matter: There were two voices--one was the deep voice of a Frenchman and the other was a shriller, higher voice, but no one who heard that voice could identify the accent conclusively. The physician and the surgeon both agree that Mademoiselle Camille was "throttled to death" and that "the corpse of the mother was horribly mutilated." All the bones of the old woman's leg and arm were shattered and many other bones (ribs included) were splintered. It is concluded that some kind of heavy club was used on her. Because an acquaintance of M. Dupin is accused of the murders, M. Dupin receives permission to investigate the environs, a setting which is extremely intriguing since the newspapers report that the crime seems impossible to solve because there could be no way for a murderer to escape from the locked, enclosed apartment. M. Dupin then begins his now-famous method of ratiocination. He maintains that one should not ask "what has occurred," but, instead, "what has occurred that has never occurred before." He maintains that the solution of the mystery is in direct ratio to its apparent insolubility, according to the police. He announces to his friend, the narrator, that he is waiting on confirmation of his solution; he expects a person to arrive momentarily to confirm his theory. M. Dupin then points out to the narrator some of the obvious things that the police have overlooked. Among the witnesses who heard the two voices were an Italian, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Hollander, and a Frenchman. Each one thought that the shrill voice they all heard was the voice of a foreigner, but none agreed on the nationality; furthermore, the Englishman thought it belonged to a German, but he does not understand German, the Spaniard thought it to be English, but he does not understand English, the Italian believed it to be Russian, but he does not understand Russian, and so on in every case. No person can identify the nationality of the shrill voice. And whereas they all agree that the deep French voice uttered discernible words, such as mon Dieu (my God) and sacre and diable, the shrill voice uttered no discernible words--only sounds. As to the matter of egress from the room being impossible, the police reject the notion because of its impossibility. M. Dupin, however, says that he will show that "these apparent 'impossibilities' are, in reality," possible. Using this logic, he discovers that the locked windows have a spring in them that, once pressed, can be opened. Furthermore, since the police abandoned further examination of the windows after they saw that they were nailed down, M. Dupin decided to examine the nails. He found a nail in one window to be broken off just at the shaft so that it only appeared to be nailed shut; the nail separated when the window was open. Thus someone could have entered by the open window and closed it upon Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 15 www.cliffs.com leaving, thereby springing the spring closed and making it appear as though it were nailed shut since the two parts of the nail met again after the window was closed. When they observed the outside of the building, the police looked up at only one angle and decided that no one could possibly climb up the outside walls; M. Dupin, however, notices that if the shutters were open, a person or thing of great agility could conceivably hop from the lightning rod to the shutter of the window, thereby gaining ingress and egress to the apartment and still giving the appearance of its being impossible. Additionally in his investigations, M. Dupin notices that no human being could kill with such ferocity and brutality--no human being possesses such strength. Thus his intuitive and analytical mind now must conceive of a murderer who has astounding agility, superhuman strength, a brutal and inhuman ferocity, and, moreover, he must explain a murder (a butchery) without a motive--a grotesque "horror absolutely alien from humanity" and a "voice foreign to all ears and devoid of any distinct syllabifications." These clues alone should allow the careful reader to venture an educated guess as to the nature of the perpetrator of the crime. Most readers, however, are like the narrator and will need even further clues. These M. Dupin provides next. He shows the narrator a "little tuft" of hair that was removed from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L'Espanaye, a detail which the police overlooked. Even the narrator now recognizes that this is not human hair. Similarly, after drawing a diagram of the size and shape of the hand that killed Mademoiselle Camille, the narrator realizes that it was no human hand that killed the young woman. M. Dupin then explains to his friend, the narrator, that the handprint was identical in size to the paw of an Ourang-Outang. Furthermore, he has advertised for the owner to come and pick up his animal, saying that it was found in a wooded area far from the scene of the murders, so as not to arouse the owner's suspicion. Furthermore, he feels sure that the animal belongs to a sailor because at the foot of the lightning rod, he found a ribbon, knotted in a peculiar way which only Maltese sailors wear. When the sailor arrives for the Ourang-Outang, M. Dupin pulls out his pistol, quickly locks the door, and quietly asks the sailor to give him "all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue." He assures the sailor that he knows that the sailor is innocent, but that an innocent man is being accused of the murders. The sailor then tells how he acquired an Ourang-Outang in Borneo and brought it back with the intent of selling it. One night, however, he came home late and found that the animal had escaped from the closet where he had kept it and was in the sailor's bedroom. Furthermore, the animal had a razor in its hand (it had apparently often watched the sailor shave). In fright, the sailor reached for his whip to drive the animal back into the closet, but it sprang through the open door and disappeared down a street. The sailor followed and watched it climb up the lightning rod to a lighted window, swing through the shutters and into an open bedroom. The sailor, accustomed to climbing ropes, climbed up, and since he could not swing, as did the Ourang-Outang, he was forced to watch as the animal, in frenzy, began slashing about with the razor. The screams were heard throughout the neighborhood. The sailor watched as the animal cut Madame L'Espanaye's throat and yanked out handfuls of her hair. Then, seeing blood, the animal became inflamed into a frenzy. It "seized . . . the corpse of Mademoiselle Camille and thrust it up the chimney . . . then . . . it immediately hurled [the old woman] through the window." Thus, the words which the neighbors heard were the horrified exclamations of the sailor outside the window, and the other shrill "sounds" were the "jabberings of the brute," who escaped just as the door was being battered down by the neighbors. When M. Dupin carries his report to the Prefect of Police, we read that it is difficult for the Prefect to conceal his chagrin "at the turn which the affairs had taken." As has now become traditional at the end of Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 16 www.cliffs.com the detective novel, the police accept Dupin's solution to the murder--which they were incapable of solving. But instead of being grateful, there is, as was noted, a sense of resentment. In conclusion, M. Dupin is actually a representative of a man who has a pure poetic intuition bordering on omniscience. He virtually "dreams" his solutions. His logical method is to identify his own intellect with that of another and thereby divine what another person must think or do. In the first part of the story, M. Dupin can so completely identify with the thoughts of others that he often answers questions before they are even asked; it is as though he were gifted with extrasensory perception. In this story, however, there is no human person for his intellect to identify with; therefore, since he encounters what seems impossible, he begins to look for a possible equation. Since it was impossible for a human being to commit the murders, M. Dupin begins to look for other sources. By this method of ratiocination and intuitive perception, he is able to solve a mystifying problem that no one else is able to solve. In this way, he becomes the first in a series of brilliant, eccentric detectives who can solve difficult murders that baffle everyone else. "The Purloined Letter" Of all of Poe's stories of ratiocination (or detective stories), "The Purloined Letter" is considered his finest. This is partially due to the fact that there are no gothic elements, such as the gruesome descriptions of dead bodies, as there was in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." But more important, this is the story that employs most effectively the principle of ratiocination; this story brilliantly illustrates the concept of the intuitive intellect at work as it solves a problem logically. Finally, more than with most of his stories, this one is told with utmost economy. "The Purloined Letter" emphasizes several devices from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and adds several others. The story is divided into two parts. In the first part, Monsieur G----, Prefect of Police in Paris, visits Dupin with a problem: A letter has been stolen and is being used to blackmail the person from whom it was stolen. The thief is known (Minister D----) and the method is known (substitution viewed by the victim, who dared not protest). The problem is to retrieve the letter, since the writer and the victim, as well as Minister D----, have important posts in the government; the demands he is making are becoming dangerous politically. The Prefect has searched Minister D----'s home thoroughly, even taking the furniture apart; he and his men have found nothing. Dupin's advice is that they thoroughly re-search the house. A month later, Monsieur G---- returns, having found nothing. This time, he says that he will pay fifty thousand francs to anyone who can obtain the letter for him. Dupin invites him to write the check; when this is done, Dupin hands the Prefect the letter without any further comment. The second half of "The Purloined Letter" consists of Dupin's explanation, to his chronicler, of how he obtained the letter. One of his basic assumptions is an inversion of one of the aphorisms that was introduced in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"; the case is so difficult to solve because it appears to be so simple. Beyond that, Dupin introduces the method of psychological deduction. Before he did anything else, he reviewed everything he knew about Minister D----. Then, he reviewed what he knew about the case. With this in mind, Dupin tried to reconstruct the Minister's thinking, deciding that he would very likely have hidden the letter in plain sight. Using this theory, Dupin visited Minister D---- and found the letter in plain sight but boldly disguised. He memorized the appearance of the letter, and he left a snuffbox as an excuse to return. Having duplicated the letter, he exchanged his facsimile for the original during a prearranged diversion. Retrieving his snuff-box, he departed. His solution introduces into detective fiction the formula of "the most obvious place." Dupin is, of course, the original eccentric but brilliant detective. He seems to be a very private person, though one with connections and acquaintances in many places. He prefers the darkness and the evening; Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 17 www.cliffs.com darkness, he feels, is particularly conducive to reflection. He prefers to gather his information and to ponder thoroughly before any action is taken. He talks little; an hour or more of contemplative silence seems common. And, of course, he is an expert in the psychology of people of various types; indeed, he seems to be learned in a number of areas--mathematics and poetry, for example. The Prefect, Monsieur G----, is a contrast to Dupin. Whereas Dupin is primarily concerned with the psychological elements of the case, G---- is almost wholly concerned with physical details and evidence. G---- talks much and says little. Dupin considers things broadly, while G---- 's point of view is extremely narrow. Anything G---- does not understand is "odd" and not worth considering; for Dupin, that is a matter for investigation. G---- believes in a great deal of physical activity during an investigation, while Dupin believes in a maximum of thought and a minimum of physical exertion. Though Dupin says that the Paris police are excellent within their limitations, it is clear that G---- 's limitations are quite severe. The personality of the unnamed narrator, the Dupin-chronicler, lies between these two extremes. Though he shares some of Dupin's tastes--silent contemplation in darkness, for example--and has some understanding of Dupin's methods, he seems psychologically closer to G---- than to Dupin. He seems to be a rather ordinary person with rather ordinary views and ideas. Thus, his assumptions and his interjections are often erroneous; he assumes, for example, that if the police have not been able to find the letter after their search, then it must be elsewhere. In his argument with Dupin about mathematicians, the narrator takes the common view and attitude toward mathematicians, a position that Dupin explicitly suggests is idiocy. In other words, the narrator is a mediator between Dupin and the reader. His reactions are similar to those of the reader, though he is somewhat less astute than the reader, so that the reader can feel superior to him. Naturally, such a narrator guides our attitudes toward Dupin, G----, and the case. He is, for example, in awe of Dupin's abilities and methods; while the reader may maintain a more critical distance, he is guided in that direction to some degree. Finally, such a narrator determines the amount of information which a reader receives and guides the attention of the reader to the information received. In this case, the narrator tells us everything, but only as he receives it; because he did not witness the case being solved, the reader doesn't either. The idea that the reader is a participant in the investigation of a crime and thus should be given all the information on which the detective bases his conclusions is quite modern. In "The Purloined Letter," the reader has little chance to participate, first because little information about Minister D---- 's character is given in the first half of the story, and, second, because there is no indication of any activity by Dupin until the second half. Poe's purpose was not to invite reader participation, but rather to emphasize rationality, stressing logical thinking as the means of solving problems. Consequently, Dupin's exposition of his thought processes are the most important part of the story. Without this highlighting of the logical investigation and solution of a problem, the detective story may never have developed; it would certainly be very different if it had. However, with this method and approach established, it became logical, and rather easy, to evolve the idea of the reader as a participant. Attempting to determine the psychology of the criminal is an honorable tradition in detective fiction. The particular methods that are used change as more is learned about human beings, their behaviors, and their motivations; they also change, perhaps even more, as psychological theories change. Thus, much of Poe's--or Dupin's--psychology, especially the explanations, seems dated. For instance, the boy whom Dupin uses as an example arranges his face so it is as similar to the other person's expression as possible; this is supposed to give rise to thoughts and feelings that are similar to those of the other person. In the sense that outward expressions--facial expressions, clothes, and so on--are thought to influence the way a person feels, this idea is somewhat still current; however, that effect is thought to be general rather than specific, and we no longer believe that we can gain much knowledge of another person in this way. In addition, it is probably true that certain habits of thinking are likely to contribute to a person's success in a field; however, the distinctions are by no means as rigid as Poe made them seem, nor are the qualities so Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 18 www.cliffs.com narrow. Although the principles that Dupin works from are rather outdated, his method is direct. This method is, of course, applicable to other kinds of problems posed in detective fiction; whenever the detective can learn and apply some knowledge of the criminal's psychology, he is closer to the solution of the crime. Other details in "The Purloined Letter" reveal the story's era--the political system in France, Dupin's comments about poetry, mathematics, and the sciences in particular. Nevertheless, the story still reads well, and the details are overshadowed by the sweep of the puzzle and the story. Even if the story were not still interesting reading, "The Purloined Letter" would be of prime historical importance for it establishes the method of psychological deduction, the solution of the most obvious place, and the assumption that the case that seems simplest may be the most difficult to solve. Whether one is interested in good reading or has a historical interest in detective fiction, "The Purloined Letter" provides both. STORIES OF THE PSYCHOTIC PERSONALITY: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" Many of Poe's short stories treat the same type of phenomena, yet in fact, part of Poe's greatness lies in the diversity of his creativity, and everything he wrote carries with it the distinctive trademark that would identify it as being a work by Edgar Allan Poe. The stories in this section, likewise, are Poe's best examples of another type of story; these are tales of the psychotic personality, one who tries to give a rational explanation for his irrational and compulsive acts. In both stories treated here, the criminal is so completely occupied with his own mental state and in justifying his horrifying actions that the reader is not nearly as aghast at the horrors that the criminal perpetrates, as he is at the bizarre mental state of the criminal. The cruel acts performed by the criminal in both stories are de-emphasized in order to examine the mind of the criminal. In other stories, Poe creates a feeling of horror in the reader's mind by certain acts of cruelty: Here, the reverse is true; for example, the narrator's murder of his wife in "The Black Cat" occurs so suddenly that we hardly notice the horrible cruelty of the act. Instead, we note the mental state of the psychotic killer. Poe made one assumption throughout his writings that is very important in understanding both of these stories. Poe assumed that any man, at any given moment, is capable of performing the most irrational and horrible act imaginable; every mind, he believed, is capable of falling into madness at any given moment. Thus, these stories deal with those subconscious mental activities which cause a person who leads a socalled normal existence to suddenly change and perform drastic, horrible deeds. Unlike some commentators who thought that Poe was trying to determine exactly what constitutes madness, Poe was more accurately concerned with the conditions and the various stages which lead a person to commit acts of madness, particularly when that madness manifests itself in an otherwise normal person. Both narrators in these stories are--just prior to their atrocities--considered to be normal, average, commonplace men. Yet without warning, each of them loses his sanity momentarily. Poe's emphasis in these stories, particularly in "The Black Cat," is on the fact that the narrator is sometimes aware that he is going mad. Yet even with this self-knowledge, he can do nothing about his terrifying, changing mental state. Aside from the general patterns and concerns that are present in both stories, there are even more basic similarities: Both stories, for example, begin with (1) a first-person narrator who (2) begins his story by asserting that he is not mad ("Why will you say I am mad" and "Yet, mad am I not"); (3) in addition, both narrators are seemingly average people at the beginning of their chronological narratives; and (4) both perform crimes that are both irrational and intensely personal; (5) both love their victims deeply (the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" loves the old man he murders, and the narrator of "The Black Cat" loves and adores his wife, and, therefore, ironically (6) the murderers' love for their victims makes their crimes Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 19 www.cliffs.com even more irrational; (7) both narrators consider dismembering the corpses of the victims; this is actually done in "The Tell-Tale Heart," and in "The Black Cat" it is considered before the narrator finally decides to entomb the corpse in the chimney; (8) in both cases, the narrator's over-confidence in the superiority of his concealment of the body leads directly to the discovery of the body. There are other similarities in the two stories, but these basic correlatives suffice to show how Poe uses similar techniques to achieve the desired effects in each story. In conclusion, in both of these stories, the narrator attempts a rational examination and explanation for his impulsive and irrational actions. He attempts to bring reason into the picture to explain a completely irrational act. Both stories attempt to present an exterior view of the interior disintegration of the narrator. Both narrators begin their stories at a moment when they are sane and rational, and throughout the story, we observe their changing mental states. These tales are perhaps Poe's most thorough investigations of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction. "The Tell-Tale Heart" Even though this is one of Poe's shortest stories, it is nevertheless a profound and, at times, ambiguous investigation of a man's paranoia. The story gains its intensity by the manner in which it portrays how the narrator stalks his victim--as though he were a beast of prey; yet, at the same time, elevated by human intelligence to a higher level of human endeavor, Poe's "murderer" is created into a type of grotesque anomaly. In a sense, the narrator is worse than a beast; only a human being could so completely terrorize his victim before finally killing it, as, for example, the narrator deliberately terrorizes the old man before killing him. And as noted in the introduction to this section, this story shows the narrator's attempt to rationalize his irrational behavior. The story begins with the narrator admitting that he is a "very dreadfully nervous" type. This type is found throughout all of Poe's fiction, particularly in the over-wrought, hyper-sensitive Roderick Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher." As with Usher, the narrator here believes that his nervousness has "sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them." Thus, he begins by stating that he is not mad, yet he will continue his story and will reveal not only that he is mad, but that he is terribly mad. His sensitivities allow him to hear and sense things in heaven, hell, and on earth that other people are not even aware of. His over-sensitivity becomes in this story the ultimate cause of his obsession with the old man's eye, which in turn causes him to murder the old man. Ironically, the narrator offers as proof of his sanity the calmness with which he can narrate the story. The story begins boldly and unexpectedly: "I loved the old man," the narrator says, adding, "He had never wronged me." Next, he reveals that he was obsessed with the old man's eye--"the eye of a vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it." Without any real motivation, then, other than his psychotic obsession, he decides to take the old man's life. Even though he knows that we, the readers, might consider him mad for this decision, yet he plans to prove his sanity by showing how "wisely" and with what extreme precaution, foresight, and dissimulation he executed his deeds. Every night at twelve o'clock, he would slowly open the door, "oh so gently," and would quietly and cunningly poke his head very slowly through the door. It would sometimes take him an hour to go that far--"would a madman have been so wise as this?" he asks, thus showing, he hopes, how thoroughly objective he can be while commenting on the horrible deed he committed. For seven nights, he opened the door ever so cautiously, then when he was just inside, he opened his lantern just enough so that one small ray of light would cast its tiny ray upon "the vulture eye." The Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 20 www.cliffs.com following morning, he would go into the old man's chamber and speak to him with cordiality and friendship. On the eighth night, he decided it was now the time to commit the deed. When he says "I fairly chuckled at the idea," we know that we are indeed dealing with a highly disturbed personality--despite the fact that he seems to present his story very coherently. On this particular night, unlike the preceding seven nights, the narrator's hand slipped on the clasp of the lantern, and the old man immediately "sprang up in bed, crying out--'Who's there?'" He can see nothing because the shutters are all closed. Here, as in most of Poe's stories, the action proper of the story takes place within a closed surrounding--that is, the murder of the old man is within the confines of his small bedroom with the shutters closed and in complete darkness. Furthermore, as in works like "The Cask of Amontillado," the moans of the victim heighten the terror of the story. The old man's moans were "low stifled sounds that arose from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe." The narrator knew that the old man felt that he was in the room and, dramatically, when he opened his lantern to let a small ray of light out, it "fell full upon the vulture eye." When he saw that "hideous veiled eye," he became furious. But he warns the reader not to mistake his "over-acuteness of the senses" for madness because he says that suddenly there came to his ears "a low, dull, quick sound": It was the beating of the old man's heart. It is at this point in the story that we have our first ambiguity based upon the narrator's over-sensitivity and madness. The question is, obviously, whose heart does he hear? We all know that in moments of stress and fright our own heartbeat increases so rapidly that we feel every beat. Consequently, from the psychological point of view, the narrator thinks that he is hearing his own increased heartbeat. As he waits, the heartbeat which he heard excited him to uncontrollable terror, for the heart seemed to be "beating . . . louder [and] louder." The narrator was suddenly aware that the old man's heartbeat was so loud that the neighbors might hear it. Thus, the time had come. He dragged the old man to the floor, pulled the mattress over him and slowly the muffled sound of the heart ceased to beat. The old man was dead--"his eye would trouble me no more." Again the narrator attempts to show us that because of the wise precautions he took, no one could consider him to be mad, that he is, in fact, not mad. First, he dismembered the old man, and afterward there was not a spot of blood anywhere: "A tub had caught all--ha! ha!" The mere narration here shows how the narrator, with his wild laughter, has indeed lost his rational faculties. Likewise, the delight he takes in dismembering the old man is an act of extreme abnormality. After the dismembering and the cleaning up were finished, the narrator carefully removed the planks from the floor in the old man's room and placed all the parts of the body under the floor. As he surveyed his work, the door bell rang at 4 A.M. The police were there to investigate some shrieks. (To the reader, this is an unexpected turn of events, but in such tales, the unexpected becomes the normal; see the section on "Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism.") The narrator admitted the police to the house "with a light heart" since the old man's heart was no longer beating, and he let the police thoroughly search the entire house. Afterward, he bade the police to sit down, and he brought a chair and sat upon "the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim." The officers were so convinced that there was nothing to be discovered in the apartment that could account for the shrieks that they sat around chatting idly. Then suddenly a noise began within the narrator's ears. He grew agitated and spoke with a heightened voice. The sound increased; it was "a low, dull quick sound." We should note that the words used here to describe the beating of the heart are the exact words used only moments earlier to describe the murder of the old man. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 21 www.cliffs.com As the beating increased, the narrator "foamed [and] raved" adjectives commonly used to apply to a mad man. In contrast to the turmoil going on in the narrator's mind, the police continued to chat pleasantly. The narrator wonders how it was possible that they did not hear the loud beating which was becoming louder and louder. He can stand the horror no longer because he knows that "they were making a mockery of my horror . . . [and] anything was better than this agony!" Thus, as the beating of the heart becomes intolerable, he screams out to the police: "I admit the deed!--tear up the planks! here, here!--it is the beating of his hideous heart!" Early commentators on the story saw this as merely another tale of terror or horror in which something supernatural was happening. To the modern reader, it is less ambiguous; the beating of the heart occurs within the narrator himself. It is established at the beginning of the story that he is over-sensitive--that he can hear and feel things that others cannot. At the end of the story, if there really were a beating heart up under the floor boards, then the police would have heard it. Clearly, the narrator, who has just finished the gruesome act of dismembering a corpse, cannot cope with the highly emotional challenge needed when the police are searching the house. These two factors cause his heart rate to accelerate to the point that his heartbeat is pounding in his ears so loudly that he cannot stand the psychological pressure any longer. Thus he confesses to his horrible deed. The narrator's "tell-tale" heart causes him to convict himself. We have here, then, a narrator who believes that he is not mad because he can logically describe events which seem to prove him to be mad. The conciseness of the story and its intensity and economy all contribute to the total impact and the overall unity of effect. In the narrator's belief that he is not mad, but that he actually heard the heart of the old man still beating, Poe has given us one of the most powerful examples of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction. "The Black Cat" More than any of Poe's stories, "The Black Cat" illustrates best the capacity of the human mind to observe its own deterioration and the ability of the mind to comment upon its own destruction without being able to objectively halt that deterioration. The narrator of "The Black Cat" is fully aware of his mental deterioration, and at certain points in the story, he recognizes the change that is occurring within him, and he tries to do something about it, but he finds himself unable to reverse his falling into madness. In Poe's critical essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," he wrote about the importance of creating a unity or totality of effect in his stories. By this, he meant that the artist should decide what effect he wants to create in a story and in the reader's emotional response and then proceed to use all of his creative powers to achieve that particular effect: "Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart or the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?" In "The Black Cat,"it is obvious that the chief effect that Poe wanted to achieve was a sense of absolute and total perverseness--"irrevocable . . . PERVERSENESS." Clearly, many of the narrator's acts are without logic or motivation; they are merely acts of perversity. In virtually all of Poe's tales, we know nothing about the narrator's background; this particular story is no exception. In addition, it is akin to "The Tell-Tale Heart" in that the narrator begins his story by asserting that he is not mad ("Yet, mad am I not--") and, at the same time, he wants to place before the world a logical outline of the events that "have terrified--have tortured--have destroyed me." And during the process of proving that he is not mad, we see increasingly the actions of a madman who knows that he is going mad but who, at times, is able to objectively comment on the process of his increasing madness. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 22 www.cliffs.com In this story, the narrator begins his confession in retrospect, at a time when he was considered to be a perfectly normal person, known for his docility and his humane considerations of animals and people. His parents indulged his fondness for animals, and he was allowed to have many different kinds of pets. Furthermore, he was very fortunate to marry a woman who was also fond of animals. Among the many animals that they possessed was a black cat which they named Pluto. Since his wife often made allusions to the popular notion that all black cats are witches in disguise, the name Pluto (which is the name of one of the gods of the underworld in charge of witches) becomes significant in terms of the entire story. The other popular notion relevant to this story is the belief that a cat has nine lives; this superstition becomes a part of the story when the second black cat is believed to be a reincarnation of the dead Pluto with only one slight but horrible modification--the imprint of the gallows on its breast. Interestingly, Pluto was the narrator's favorite animal and for several years, there was a very special relationship between the animal and the narrator. Then suddenly (due partly to alcohol), the narrator underwent a significant change. "I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others." To reiterate the comments in the introduction to this section, Poe believed that a man was capable at any time of undergoing a complete and total reversal of personality and of falling into a state of madness at any moment. Here, the narrator undergoes such a change. The effect of this change is indicated when he came home intoxicated, imagined that the beloved cat avoided him, then grasped the cat by its throat and with a pen knife, cut out one of its eyes. This act of perversity is the beginning of several such acts which will characterize the "totality of effect" that Poe wanted to achieve in this story. The next morning, he writes, he was horrified by what he had done, and in time the cat recovered but now it deliberately avoided the narrator. As the cat continued to avoid the narrator, the spirit of perverseness overcame him again--this time, with an unfathomable longing of the soul to "offer violence . . . to do wrong for the wrong's sake only." Suddenly one morning, he slipped a noose around the neck of the cat and hanged it from the limb of a tree, but even while doing it, tears streamed down his face. He is ashamed of his perversity because he knows that the cat had loved him and had given him no reason to hang it. What he did was an act of pure perversity. That night, after the cruel deed was executed, his house burned to the ground. Being a rational and analytical person, the narrator refuses to see a connection between his perverse atrocity of killing the cat and the disaster that consumed his house. Again, we have an example of the mad mind offering up a rational rejection of anything so superstitious that the burning of the house might be retribution for his killing the cat. However, on the following day, he visited the ruins of the house and saw a crowd of people gathered about. One wall, which had just been replastered and was still wet, was still standing. It was the wall just above where his bed had previously stood and engraved into the plaster was a perfect image of the figure of a gigantic cat, and there was a rope about the animal's neck. Once again, the narrator's mad mind attempts to offer a rational explanation for this phenomena. He believes that someone found the cat's dead body, flung it into the burning house to awaken the narrator, and the burning of the house, the falling of the walls, and the ammonia from the carcass (cats are filled with ammonia; Poe wrote essays on cats, their instincts, their logic, and their habits)--all these factors contributed to the creation of the graven image. But the narrator does not account for the fact that the image is that of a gigantic cat; thus we must assume that the image took on gigantic proportions only within the mind of the narrator. For months, the narrator could not forget about the black cat, and one night when he was drinking heavily, he saw another black cat that looked exactly like Pluto--except for a splash of white on its breast. Upon inquiry, he found out that no one knew anything about the cat, which he then proceeded to take Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 23 www.cliffs.com home with him. The cat became a great favorite of his and his wife. The narrator's perversity, however, caused him to soon change, and the cat's fondness for them began to disgust him. It was at this time that he began to loathe the cat. What increased his loathing of the new cat was that it had, like Pluto, one of its eyes missing. In the mind of the narrator, this cat was obviously a reincarnation of Pluto. He even notes to himself that the one trait that had once distinguished him--a humanity of feeling--had now almost totally disappeared. This is an example, as noted in the introduction, of how the mad man can stand at a distance and watch the process of his own change and madness. After a time, the narrator develops an absolute dread of the cat. When he discovers that the white splash on its breast, which at first was rather indefinite, had "assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline" and was clearly and obviously a hideous, ghastly, and loathsome image of the gallows, he cries out, "Oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime--of Agony and of Death!" As we were able to do in "The TellTale Heart," here we can assume that the change occurs within the mind of the mad man in the same way that he considers this beast to be a reincarnation of the original Pluto. One day, as he and his wife were going into the cellar, the cat nearly tripped him; he grabbed an axe to kill it, but his wife arrested the blow. He withdrew his arm and then buried the axe in her brain. This sudden gruesome act is not prepared for in any way. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the narrator loved his wife very deeply. Consequently, this act of perversity far exceeds the hanging of Pluto and can only be accounted for by Poe's theme of the perversity of the narrator's acts. Like the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator here realizes that he must get rid of the body. He thought of "cutting the corpse into minute fragments," he says, as did the previous narrator in "The TellTale Heart," but rather than dismemberment, he decided to "wall it up in the cellar" in a similar way that Montresor walled up his victim in "The Cask of Amontillado." The walls next to the projecting chimney lent themselves to this type of interment, and after having accomplished the deed and cleaning up in such a way that nothing was detectable, the narrator decided to put the cat to death. Unaccountably, it had disappeared. After three days, the narrator decided that the "monster of a cat" had disappeared forever; he was now able to sleep soundly in spite of the foul deed that he had done. This lack of guilt is certainly a change from what his feelings were at the beginning of the story. On the fourth day, a party of police unexpectedly arrives to inspect the premises. As in "The Tell-Tale Heart," when the police arrive unexpectedly, we never know what motivated the police to come on a search. And in the same way, the narrator here is overconfident; he delights in the fact that he has so cleverly and so completely concealed his horrible crime that he welcomes an inspection of the premises. However, here, in an act of insane bravado, he raps so heavily upon the bricks that entomb his wife, that to his abject terror, a "voice from within the tomb" answered. At first, it was a muffled and broken cry, but then it swelled into an "utterly anomalous and inhuman . . . howl . . . a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation." The police immediately began to tear down the brick wall, and they discover the rotting corpse of the narrator's wife and, standing upon her decayed head was the "hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder . . . I had walled the monster up within the tomb." The final irony, of course, is that the cat which he had come to so despise--the cat that might have been the reincarnation of Pluto--serves as a figure of retribution against the murderer. By the end of the story, Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 24 www.cliffs.com therefore, we can see how the narrator, in commenting on his own actions, convicts himself of the madness which he vehemently declaimed at the beginning of the story. TALES OF THE EVIL (OR DOUBLE) PERSONALITY: "The Cask of Amontillado" and "William Wilson" These are two of Poe's greatest short stories; in fact, for some critics, "The Cask of Amontillado"is often used as an example of the perfect short story (see, for example, the critics Alternbrand and Lewis: Introduction to Literature: The Short Story). In these two stories of Poe's, which are in fact so great that they almost escape classification, there is a strong kinship to the psychotic criminal as seen in "The TellTale Heart" and "The Black Cat." Yet there are significant differences: (1) These stories are among the very few stories that Poe wrote where the narrator of the story is given a name. In "The Cask of Amontillado," however, the other character (Fortunato) addresses the narrator as Montresor, thus allowing the reader to know the narrator's name. In "William Wilson," the narrator announces that he is assuming this name since his real name would shock us--why we don't know. But in the latter story, which in fact deals with a double, the name is not the important issue; consequently, an assumed name is as good as any. (2) In both stories, the main character's motive in telling about his horrible and heinous crime is never revealed. In each case, the reader must wonder why the narrator chose to reveal such a horrible deed about himself. In the stories of the psychotic criminal, each narrator of those stories is trying to convince his readers through his logical method of narration that he is not mad, and yet each succeeds only in convincing the reader that he is indeed mad. In contrast, Montresor and William Wilson seem to have other reasons for telling about their heinous deeds. (3) And in each case, we must note that the story is narrated some time after the horrible deed was performed. For example, in "The Cask of Amontillado, "the entombed body of Fortunato has gone for fifty years without being detected; thus we know that the entombment occurred at least fifty years ago. Also in both cases, the narrator comes from a highly respected family, in contrast to the highly disreputable deed he commits. (4) In both stories, the setting is some time in the past, in some foreign country (or countries), in order to make the evil seem both more alien and more horrible. In both stories, also, there is an emphasis upon the labyrinthine cellars of the school and the long underground vaults of the Montresor mansion. (5) Finally, in both stories, there is a perverse, well-wrought plan conceived in order to wreak vengeance upon an unsuspecting victim. In "William Wilson," the plan against the gambling opponent, Glendinning, is not the main aspect of the story, but it conforms in principle to Montresor's vengeance against Fortunato. Thus, these two masterpieces, while quite different in their ultimate aim, do share many qualities in common and do, like so many of Poe's stories, show the perverse mind of the narrator operating in a seemingly rational manner. "The Cask of Amontillado" "The Cask of Amontillado" has been almost universally referred to as Poe's most perfect short story; in fact, it has often been considered to be one of the world's most perfect short stories. Furthermore, it conforms to and illustrates perfectly many of Poe's literary theories about the nature of the short story: that is, it is short and can be read at one sitting, it is a mood piece with every sentence contributing to the total effect, it is a completely unified work and while it is seemingly simple, it abounds in ironies of many kinds. Finally, every line and comment contributes to the totality or unity of effect that Poe sought to achieve. The plot is quite simple. The first-person narrator, whom we later discover to be named Montresor, announces immediately that someone named Fortunato has injured him repeatedly and has recently insulted him. Montresor can stand no more; he vows revenge upon Fortunato. The remainder of the story Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 25 www.cliffs.com deals with Montresor's methods of entrapping Fortunato and effecting his revenge upon the unfortunate Fortunato. Foremost is the fact that Montresor has never let Fortunato know of his hatred. Accordingly, one evening during carnival time, a time when much frivolity and celebration would be taking place, Montresor set his fiendish, mad plan into motion with full confidence that he would never be discovered. In fact, at the end of the story, we, the readers, are certain that his atrocity will never be discovered. Knowing that Fortunato considered himself a great expert, or connoisseur, of fine wines, and especially a devotee of a sherry known as Amontillado, Montresor flattered him by obsequiously asking his opinion on a newly acquired cask of Amontillado. He tantalized Fortunato with the rare liquor, even pretending that his vaults where the wine was stored had too much dampness and "nitre" for Fortunato's afffiction. However, Fortunato was determined to taste the wine and insisted on being taken to Montresor's home. Montresor complied while wrapping himself in a cloak to make sure that he would not be recognized. Earlier, he had let all of the servants off for the night, using the excuse of the carnival; in this way he would avoid arousing Fortunato's suspicions and would also prevent anyone from witnessing the atrocity he planned to commit. Apparently, Montresor had been planning this revenge for a long time and, ironically, had chosen carnival time as the setting for this most horrible type of crime. Amid the gaiety of the carnival, he was sure he would avoid any possibility of being detected. As they descended into the vaults, Fortunato walked unsteadily and the "bells upon his cap jingled" as they descended, creating a further carnival atmosphere or a joyous time, a time which will ironically end soon with the living death of the unfortunate Fortunato. As they passed deeper into the vaults, the nitre caused Fortunato to cough constantly, but he was drunkenly determined to continue. At one point, however, Montresor paused and offered Fortunato a bottle of Medoc wine to help ward off the cold and the fumes of the nitre. This seemingly kind act, of course, carries undertones of the most vicious irony, since what appears to be an act of kindness is only an act performed to keep the victim alive long enough to get him to the niche where he will be buried alive. Fortunato drank the Medoc and once again became boisterous and once more "his bells jingled." Fortunato toasted Montresor's buried ancestors, and Montresor returned the toast to Fortunato's "long life." When Fortunato noted how extensive the vaults were, Montresor told him that he heard that the Montresors "were a great and numerous family." Then, in his drunkenness, Fortunato says that he has forgotten what Montresor's coat of arms looks like. This statement, at the time of the story's setting, would be yet one more of the many blatant insults for which Montresor hates Fortunato. He states that his family's coat of arms has on it "a huge human foot d'or [foot of gold], in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel" and that the family motto is "Nemo me impune lacessit" (No one attacks me with impunity). Thus, both the motto and the coat of arms imply that the entire Montresor family history is filled with acts of revenge. As the two men proceeded further along the tunnels, the cold and the nitre fumes increased, and Fortunato asked for another drink. Montresor gave him a bottle of De Grave, which Fortunato emptied and then tossed the bottle into the air with a certain symbolic gesture. At this point, Fortunato was sure that Montresor didn't understand the gesture because it belonged to the secret order of the masons--an order that Fortunato was certain that Montresor couldn't belong to, thus flinging Montresor another insult and, unknowingly, bringing himself closer to his living death. Fortunato then showed him a sign of the masons--a trowel, which he brought with him. This is, of course, a double irony since the trowel is not only an instrument used by real masons (bricklayers, stone masons, etc.), but it is one of the emblems of the Masonic Order, and in this case it will become an instrument of Fortunato's death--shortly after he implies that Montresor is not good enough to be a member of the Masonic Order. In only a few minutes, it will he seen that Montresor is indeed a superb mason. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 26 www.cliffs.com As they continued their journey, we discover that there are numerous catacombs of long deceased relatives. Thus, they have progressed to the place of the dead where Fortunato will spend the rest of his existence--ironically, alongside the relatives of a man who hates him with an unbelievable intensity. At one of the catacombs, Montresor led Fortunato into a small crypt, or niche, which was "in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. Montresor told Fortunato that the Amontillado was inside. When Fortunato stepped inside, he ran into the granite wall, and Montresor quickly locked him to the wall with a chain. Fortunato was too drunk to even realize what was going on, much less resist his imprisonment. Very quickly, Montresor uncovered a "quantity of building stone and mortar" and began to "wall up the entrance." With only the first tier completed, Montresor heard deep moans from within, and by the time he had laid the fourth tier, he "heard the furious vibrations of the chain." Resuming his chore, he completed three more tiers. Suddenly there was "a succession of loud and shrill screams" from inside the crypt and, at first, Montresor was momentarily frightened and then he delighted in joining in with the screams. Then there was silence. By the time Montresor had finished the last tier, with only one more stone to be put into place, there came a long low laugh from within. Then Fortunato's voice called upon Montresor to put an end to this joke. Finally, Fortunato pleaded "For the love of God, Montresor," a request which Montresor mocked by repeating the phrase. Then Montresor looked through the remaining opening with his torch and could see nothing, but he did hear the jingling of Fortunato's bells as he laid the last stone in place. For fifty years, he tells us, no one has disturbed the peace of this place. As noted in this discussion, the story abounds in ironies. The name of the victim, Fortunato, meaning "the fortunate one," is the first irony. Then, too, the entire situation is ironic--that is, the most terrible and gruesome deeds are executed in a carnival atmosphere of gaiety and happiness; Montresor is using the atmosphere of celebration to disguise the horribly atrocious act of entombing a man alive. The reader should, perhaps, at one point ask himself who is Montresor, and, then since Montresor seems to be apparently addressing someone, the reader should ask himself whom Montresor is talking to (or writing about) and why. Since the deed was committed some fifty years ago, and at the time of the deed Montresor could not have been a young person, he must now be very old. It could be that he is talking to one of his descendants, or else making his last confession to a priest. After all, from what we can glean from the story, Montresor, in spite of the reputed insults of Fortunato, came from an ancient, perhaps noble family, and he is also a person of considerable taste (in gems, in paintings, in wines, and in other matters), and it is evident that he possesses considerable intelligence, albeit a type of diabolical intelligence. In his plan to entomb Fortunato in the Montresor catacombs, he was clever at the right time; his planning was perfect. Remember that he anticipated letting the servants off at a time that would not arouse suspicion since it was carnival time; clearly, his entire plan of revenge was contrived with such perfection that Montresor had to be an exceptionally gifted person. But then, again, the question arises: How could a gifted person imagine insults of such magnitude so as to cause him to effect such a horrible revenge? Informing the entire story is the nature of an insult that could evoke such a well-planned, diabolical scheme of revenge. If indeed there was an insult of such magnitude, then is Fortunato unaware of it to such an extent that he would accompany the person that he has insulted into such a dreadful place? Or was he simply drunk with the carnival madness that was occurring throughout the city? The reader, of course, is shocked by the diabolical efficiency of the murderer, and also by the fact that Montresor has lived with impunity, and also, ironically, his victim has rested in peace for fifty years. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 27 www.cliffs.com The double and ironic viewpoint continues on every plane. When Montresor met Fortunato, he smiled continually at Fortunato, who thought he saw a smile of warmth and friendliness, when in reality, the smile was a satanic smile in anticipation of Fortunato's entombment. Likewise, Montresor's first words to him were "you are luckily met." The ironic reversal is true: Within a short time, Fortunato will be entombed alive. Likewise, when Fortunato drinks a toast to the people buried in the catacombs, he little knows that he is drinking a toast to his own impending death. The same is true when Fortunato insults Montresor concerning the masons--both a secret, honorable order which requires close scrutiny for a person to become a member and, of course, an honorable trade, a tool of which Montresor will use for a most dishonorable deed. In general, this story fits well into Poe's dictum that everything in a well-written story must contribute to a total effect. The constant use of irony--the drinking of the wine to warm Fortunato so that he can continue his journey to his death, the jingling of the bells announcing his death, the carnival atmosphere versus the atrocities, the irony of Fortunato's name, the irony of the coat of arms, the irony in the unintentional remarks (or were they?) that Fortunato makes, saying that he doesn't remember what the Montresor coat of arms is, and later when he sneers at the possibility that Montresor could be a mason (and the irony connected with the type of mason which Montresor actually becomes)--all of these and many more contribute to the complete unity of this perfect short story. "William Wilson" The narrator of this short story prefers that his real name remain a secret. For the present, he says, we should call him "William Wilson." The reason for this secrecy, he says, is that his real name would stain the purity of the white paper he writes upon; in this same vein, he also says that the story he will relate about himself has no parallel as a tale of evil. This exaggeration is one of the distinguishing features of Poe's style. Wilson, it seems, did not become evil by degrees, as most men do. He became suddenly evil; "all virtue dropped bodily as a mantle." (As noted in the introduction to "Stories of the Psychotic Personality," Poe believes that any man is capable of performing irrational acts at any time and that every mind can instantly move from sanity to madness.) Because he is near death, the narrator has decided to tell his story, and he hopes, though rather futilely, that someone might extend a bit of sympathy to him. He was not, he insists, evil; instead, he was a "slave of circumstances beyond human control." What happened now seems impossible; in fact, it seems more like some fearsome dream than reality. But it happened, and thus he begins his story with a description of his early years. Wilson grew up in a "large, rambling Elizabethan house" in a "misty-looking village of England." Here, note the abundance of adjectives which Poe uses to create a "totality of effect," and there can be no argument about their effectiveness. Poe's multitude of details are spell-binding and create a complete unity of effect for this tale. In his memory, Wilson recalls "gigantic and gnarled trees," ancient houses, the chilliness of deep shady walks, and the "deep, hollow notes of the church-bell." All this can be easily visualized, but Poe's genius is most evident when he creates such a catalogue as this; it is a descriptive stage setting for his story. Note in particular one feature--the gothic church steeple, he says, lies "embedded" in this sleepy atmosphere. It is as though Poe suddenly thrust a sharp symbol of unknown mystery into his already darkly picturesque chronicle. The school that Wilson attended was an old one, surrounded by high walls that were topped with a layer of mortar and jagged glass. It was prison-like, extremely severe, and the only respite from its strict Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 28 www.cliffs.com oppressiveness were the brief walking trips on Saturdays and the ceremony of the Sunday church services. Wilson has never forgotten the preacher-principal of the school, and neither should we. The man is a paradox. In church, he had a "countenance . . . demurely benign"; yet at school, he had a "sour visage" and administered the school's laws with extreme severity. The corrupt secret about Wilson's life which he will shortly reveal to us is also a paradox: At the school is a boy with the same name, the same birthday, and of the same height and build as Wilson and, moreover, he arrives at the school on the same day that Wilson does. This cannot be, and yet it is. In addition, the "double nature" of the Reverend Dr. Bransby is an inkling of what is about to happen to Wilson; ironically, it foreshadows Wilson's confusion about this "double" at the school. As another element of foreshadowing, we should also note how Wilson describes the building where the students eat and sleep and have their instruction. The old house has "really no end"; its corridors are like a labyrinth and double back on themselves. It is easy to get lost in its bowels, and standing outside the school, it is impossible to figure out where in its two-story construction (even the construction is "double") the students sleep. The house, then, is symbolic of the two William Wilsons who will appear, and the puzzle of where the students actually sleep suggests the mysterious dreamlike nature of the story which Wilson is going to tell us. The many corridors and "windings" further evoke Poe's favorite subject: the unexplainable dimensions and secret recesses of the human soul. From the beginning, this other William Wilson, whom we shall call the Other, was a rival of Wilson. He competed with him in the classroom, in sports, and on the playground--all of which infuriated Wilson, for he considered himself a mini-dictator of sorts among his school pals. He also considered himself somewhat of a genius and a child prodigy, and it was embarrassing that the Other challenged him to a "perpetual struggle." Secretly, Wilson feared the Other because his rival didn't seem to have a burning desire to excel and dominate; he simply excelled and dominated with ease. And when Wilson did best him, the Other was so adroit at losing that he made it seem like he should have won. Furthermore, Wilson found it infuriating that the Other seemed to like him. Not surprisingly, Wilson confesses that, as coincidence would have it, he and the Other were "the most inseparable of companions." The only discernible difference between the two chaps was that the Other could not speak above a whisper. When he did speak, his voice seemed to be a weird and ghostly echo of Wilson's own voice. Wilson is well aware that his frustration and fear and hatred of the Other was ridiculous. The Other seemed to mock him by acting like a caricature of Wilson, but no one seemed to notice--only Wilson did. Only Wilson seemed to be aware of the Other's "knowing and sarcastic" smiles. At any minute the school might realize what a joke the Other was making of Wilson--and yet it was unfair that they couldn't see through the charade he was making of Wilson. One night, close to the end of Wilson's fifth year at the school, Wilson got out of bed, stole through "a wilderness of narrow passages" and found his rival sleeping. He had planned to play a practical joke on him for a long time. Carrying a lamp and pulling aside the curtains, Wilson saw lying there before him in a pool of bright light, a figure who made his breast "heave," his knees "totter," and his whole spirit become "possessed with horror." The figure was Wilson, and yet it was not Wilson. His rival did not look like this "in the vivacity of his waking hours," and Wilson wondered if what he now saw "was the result, merely of the habitual practice of sarcastic imitation?" With a shudder, he put out the light and left the school, never to return again. After some months, he enrolled as a student at Eton, where he quickly "washed away the froth of [his] past hours" and dived into a sea of "thoughtless folly." He will not describe his life of dissolution at Eton, but he does tell us of one strange incident that happened. One night after a week of partying, he and a few of his friends were drinking and gambling in his apartment when, near morning, a visitor was announced. Wilson staggered through the feeble light of dawn to the vestibule and there he barely perceived a young man, dressed as Wilson was, in the latest fashion. The stranger strode up, seized Wilson by the arm and whispered "William Wilson!" in his ear. Wilson became sober in an instant. Then the stranger's manner Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 29 www.cliffs.com and, above all, his voice uttering "those few, simple, and familiar, yet whispered syllables" sent him reeling. Before he could "recover the uses of [his] senses," the stranger was gone. For weeks, Wilson "was wrapped in a cloud of morbid speculation"; had all this really happened? He inquired about the other Wilson at Dr. Bransby's school and learned that the fellow left on the same day that Wilson himself did. The mystery seemed insolvable, so Wilson turned his thoughts to his upcoming departure to Oxford. Because Wilson's parents granted their son his every whim, he spent money wildly, indulging in every sort of vice possible, spurning "the common restraints of decency in the mad infatuation of [his] revels." In particular, Wilson was addicted to gambling, and he was quite good at it, especially at fleecing his "weak-minded fellow collegians." One of these fellows, in particular, fascinated Wilson: It was young Glendinning, rich and lacking intellect. Wilson began to let Glendinning win at cards, ripening the young man for a stunning reversal. To this end, he arranged a party of eight or ten, so that he could have an audience for his perverse plans. Glendinning performed exactly as Wilson planned, going ever deeper into debt, drinking heavily, and doubling the stakes. When the bet was quadrupled, Glendinning's face lost its wine-colored tinge, and he turned deathly pale; suddenly he became a pitiable victim to all who saw him. Just as suddenly, a stranger burst in with such a flourish that all the candles were extinguished. The stranger announced in a "low, distinct, and never-to-be-forgotten whisper" that Wilson was a fraud and a cheat. Before he vanished into the night, he challenged Wilson's friends to search their playboy gambler; they did and discovered hidden cards. Wilson's landlord stepped forward and handed Wilson his fur cloak. Wilson took it and then shuddered as he realized that his own cloak was already on his arm. Furthermore, both cloaks were rare furs, fantastically fashioned, and identical. Wilson placed the second cloak over his own and departed, leaving Oxford and going to Europe "in a perfect agony of horror and shame." Wherever he went--Paris, Rome, Vienna, Moscow--he found fresh evidence that the Other pursued him. In desperation, he gave himself up to wine, and its "maddening influence" made him convinced that once and for all he must risk everything to gain control over this phantom who was attempting to drive him mad. During a masquerade carnival in Rome, the Other appeared, and Wilson got his chance for revenge. Wilson remembers that he had been drinking heavily and the closeness of the room seemed to suffocate him. He was trying to force his way through a maze of people, trying to locate his host's young and beautiful wife, when he felt a light hand on his shoulder and heard that "ever-remembered, low, damnable whisper within my ear." The stranger, hidden behind a mask of black silk, was dressed in a Spanish costume identical to Wilson's. Wilson could bear no more: He raged at the stranger, loudly threatened him with death, and dragged him into a small antechamber. They struggled, Wilson drew his sword, and plunged it repeatedly into his opponent's chest. When the doors were opened, Wilson found himself before a mirror, his pale image dabbled in blood. And yet what he saw was not a mirror: it was the Other, speaking no longer in a whisper, and Wilson fancies that he himself was speaking as the other Wilson said, ". . . in me didst thou exist--and, in my death . . . thou has murdered thyself." THE HORROR STORY: "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" Some critics have described such tales as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death" as unrelieved "horror" stories. The success of this type of story (and it is one of Poe's most successful approaches to the short story) relies upon the completeness with which he is able to communicate a terrible sense of horror and torture and fear. That is, the success of the story depends not only on the fact that the narrator undergoes suspense, horror, and mental torture, but that we, the readers, Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 30 www.cliffs.com are also forced to undergo the same feelings. Poe designated such effects and responses as the "ideal," or as being in the "realm of ideality." By this, he intended the reader to understand that when an author used certain calculated effects, he could make the reader's reading experience (and emotions) identical to those of the protagonist (or narrator), thus achieving a perfect empathy between reader and main character. In "The Pit and the Pendulum," we are exposed to a series of suspenses, terrors, and horrors and, ultimately, we feel in the actual presence of those horrors. Likewise, in "The Masque of the Red Death," Poe carefully chooses every word and every description to make us feel the utter fear and horror of the presence of the dreaded "Red Death." "The Pit and the Pendulum" As Poe repeatedly maintained in his critical views, the most successful story occurs when the author decides what effect or effects he wants to achieve and then decides what techniques to use to achieve that effect. In "The Pit and the Pendulum," Poe apparently had in mind the effects of unrelieved torture and suspense. The story begins with the trial of the narrator, as he sits before seven very severe judges; he is "sick--sick unto death," because the judges have an "immoveable resolution--of stern contempt of human torture." The narrator is so completely obsessed by the horror of the proceedings that he cannot even hear his sentence as it is being pronounced; instead, he recalls all of the horrible tales of "monkish tortures" which awaited the victims of the Inquisition. After swooning, the narrator awakens in total darkness; before opening his eyes, he imagines the horrors that await him. At last, his worse fears are confirmed: "The blackness of eternal night encompassed me." At first, he wonders if he is dead yet still mentally conscious. This concept often appears in Poe's fiction--that is, a person will be physically dead, but he will still retain the mental ability to know things after the death of the physical body. After many moments of suspense, he investigates his situation. He knows that he is condemned to death; but the method and the time for his execution are unknown to him. Since he has heard so much about the horrors of the dungeons, he is certain that he is in one of those dungeons. After feeling around, he determines that it is in the shape of a vault. The floors are covered with slime, but carefully feeling his way around, he calculates that the vault is about fifty feet wide. He then begins to traverse the vault, but he slips on the slimy floor and falls. His body hits the floor and he discovers that his head lies on the perimeter of a seemingly bottomless, circular pit. A few steps more and he would have fallen to a horrible death. Arousing from a sleep, he finds by his side a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. After drinking deeply, he realizes that the water must have been drugged since he immediately loses consciousness again, and later, when he is again awake, there is a sulfurous light which reveals that the walls are one-half their original size. Logically, he tries to determine how he originally made such an error. He knows that he is in the same place because of the horrible, dismal circular pit. But to his horror, he is now completely bound head and foot, except for his left hand up to his left elbow. He is bound to a "species of low framework of wood." Looking upward, he sees a huge razor-sharp pendulum swinging in an arch, criss-crossing his body. Turning to survey the rest of the vault, he sees enormous rats running across the slimy floor. After watching the rats for about thirty minutes, he again looks at the pendulum and is horrified to realize that the sweep has increased considerably and even more disturbing, it has descended. Now he "can no longer doubt the doom prepared for [him] by monkish ingenuity in torture." The sweep of "the pendulum was at right angles [and] was designed to cross the region of the heart." The vault and the bottomless pit are just as horrible as the very pit of hell itself might be. It seems as though it is days before the pendulum comes so close to him that the "odor of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils," but eventually it does, and when the pendulum vibrates within only three inches of his breast, he calmly reasons that the pendulum Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 31 www.cliffs.com will cut his bandages before it will cut him. With all of "the keen, collected calmness of despair," he conceives of a plan. Using his left hand, he takes what spicy food he is able to rescue from the rats and smears it all over the bandages that bind him. The rats then throng all over his body ravenously gnawing at the bandages. The narrator, while almost succumbing to disgust, is at last able to free himself--just as the pendulum is about to cut through his clothes. Even though he is free, however, one horror follows another. The pendulum is immediately withdrawn, thus making it apparent that his every action has been observed. Almost immediately, the dungeon becomes hotter, and he notices that the walls are not attached to the floor. It gradually becomes hotter and hotter, until the engraved faces of the fiends on the wall begin to glow. As the heat rapidly increases, the walls begin to close in upon him. For a moment, he considers jumping into the pit to escape the burning metal closing in on him. '''Death,' I said, 'Any death but that of the pit. Fool! Might I not have known that into the pit was the object of the burning iron to urge me?'" As the walls are closing in on him, he realizes that he is being forced toward the very edge of the horrible pit. His "seared and writhing body" can stand it no more and as he lets out a piercing scream, suddenly there is a blast of trumpets and the walls roll back. The narrator is rescued, and the torture of the Inquisition is over. As is often the case in Poe's stories, the first-person narrator is not named, and he is about to be punished for an unknown crime. But unlike many of Poe's stories, we do know the time and place of this story: It takes place in Toledo, Spain, during the Spanish Inquisition. Of course, this setting and time is so far removed from the present day that the story does conform to the Romantic tradition of placing stories in some distant place and time so that there are no real identifications made. Again, Poe's story has (1) an unnamed narrator, (2) is set in the distant past, (3) concentrates upon a single effect--the effect of terror or horror by means of mental suspense, and (4) is related to many other stories by Poe's concept that in sleeping, in fainting, and, ultimately, even after death, there is a "something" that still lives and is still active, some part of the human essence ("even in the grave all is not lost" is a main idea of Poe's "Ligeia," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Premature Burial," and other stories). The most unexpected aspect of the story is that it has a "happy ending"; the narrator is saved. In terms of realistic fiction, this sudden, unprepared-for rescue would be condemned as artificial or as being forced and contrived. However, the essence of Romantic fiction is the unexpected, the bizarre, and the unusual (see "Poe and Romanticism"). Furthermore, in spite of the emphasis of this story being on the unrelieved mental torture inflicted upon the narrator, who is related mentally to many of the over-sensitive heroes of the other stories (he often faints and loses control), the narrator is also akin to M. Dupin (the rationalist), in view of the fact that at the crucial moment between life and death, he gathers his mental powers together, and by putting them to use in a calm rational manner, he is able to effect his release from certain death by the pendulum. In this story, Poe has shown himself to be a master of achieving the effect of mental torture and horror as the narrator is offered a horrible choice of death: He can plunge to death in a bottomless pit of unknown horrors filled with ravenous rats, or he can wait and be sliced up by the razor-sharp pendulum--or he can wait to be crushed by the burning hot walls closing in on him, or, finally, he can jump into the horrible pit. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 32 www.cliffs.com "The Masque of the Red Death" In "The Masque of the Red Death," Poe presents an age-old theme, a theme as old as the medieval morality play Everyman. In this ancient play, the main character is named Everyman and early in the play while walking down the road, he meets another character called Death. Everyman cries out to him: "O Death, thy comest when I had thee least in mind." Similarly, Poe's story deals with the inevitability of death and the futility of trying to escape death. This essential theme is presented directly and with extreme economy through the plot, or narrative element. This is the method that Poe chose to achieve his unity of effect (see section on Poe's "Critical Theories"). The story opens with a recounting of a plague, the "Red Death"; it has long been devastating the country, and the narrator describes the process of the disease, emphasizing the redness of the blood and the scarlet stains. The disease is so deadly rapid that one is dead within thirty minutes after he is infected. Thus, in the short opening paragraph, Poe uses such words as devastated, pestilence, fatal, hideous, horror of blood, sharp pains, profuse bleeding, scarlet stains, victim, disease and death--and all these words, gathered together, create an immediate effect of the horror of death caused by the "Red Death." In contrast, we hear that Prince Prospero, a name that connotes happiness and prosperity, has summoned a thousand of his "lighthearted friends" from the nobility to join him in a "castellated abbey" which has strong and lofty walls and "gates of iron." The prince has very carefully provided entertainment of all types, and they are all happy and secure within, while outside the "Red Death" is rampaging. After setting the tone, Poe next underscores his theme by suggesting the folly of these foolish people who think that they can escape death by such physical barriers as high walls and iron gates. The contrast of the gaiety within and the ravaging death outside, as described at the beginning of the story, contributes to the overall effect the author is after. Likewise, the people are entertained by the merriment of a "masked" ball, described in almost surrealistic terms. Many critics have looked for a consistent symbolic pattern in the seven rooms in which the ball is held, but Poe eschewed elaborate symbolic structures and, instead, worked for a unity of effect. One method he often used for this effect was to have his stories take place in a closed circle where one has the impression of there being no escape. Consequently, the inhabitants are locked inside the castle by the high walls and the gates of iron, and they are further enclosed during the ball by the circular, enclosed seven halls. Accordingly, when the stranger, masked as "the Red Death," walks through the room, he passes in close proximity to all of the revelers. The importance of the seven rooms lies in the seventh and, therefore, the last room. As the narrator describes the rooms, we are told that the window panes look out onto the hall rather than the outside world, and that they take on the colors and hues of the decoration of each room. The first room is decorated in blue and the stained glass has a blue hue. The second is purple and so "the panes are purple." And this continues through the green room (third), the orange room (fourth), the white room (fifth), and the violet room (sixth). However, the seventh room is different. Here the apartment is "shrouded in black velvet," but the panes are "scarlet--a deep blood-color." Furthermore, this black chamber is the most westernly and "the effect of the firelight upon the blood tinted panes is ghastly in the extreme, and produces so wild a look upon the countenance of those who enter it that there are few . . . bold enough to set foot within it." Poe's purpose in these descriptions, particularly the black room, has no relation to reality. In reality, no such place as the black room would be used as a part of a ballroom. But Poe wants to achieve an effect--a total, unified effect--in order to show the close proximity of the revelry of life and the masquerade to the inevitability of death itself. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 33 www.cliffs.com As noted above, therefore, regardless of whether or not the first six rooms have any symbolic function, the significance of the seventh room cannot escape the reader's attention. Black usually symbolizes death, and it is usually used in connection with death. Moreover, in describing the black decor of the room, the narrator says that it is shrouded in velvet, shrouded being a word always referring to death. Likewise, the window panes are "scarlet--a deep blood color." This is an obvious reference to the "Red Death." When the masked "Red Death" makes his appearance, he moves rapidly from the Eastern room (symbolic of the beginning of life) to the Western room (symbolic of the end of life). In conjunction with man's quick and brief journey through life is the rapid passing of time, represented by the black clock; every time the clock strikes the hour, the musicians quit playing and all of the revelers momentarily cease their celebrating. It is as though each hour is "to be stricken" upon their brief and fleeting lives. To emphasize the brevity of life, the fleeting of life and time, and the nearness of death, Poe reminds the reader that between the striking of each hour, there elapses "three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies." In spite of all things, the masqueraders continue their gaiety and revelry. Here, note Poe's description: The guests have donned costumes that are often grotesque; there is "much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm"; there are "arabesque figures" and "madman fashions." Poe describes the party in terms of "delirious fancies" and as "beautiful . . . wanton . . . bizarre . . . terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust." These descriptions are reminiscent of orgies which are described in other great Romantic works (in Goethe's Faust, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Byron's Childe Harold, for example). Furthermore, because the maskers are so bizarre themselves, when the mask of the "Red Death" appears, it is shocking. The reader discovers that this "guest" is even more fantastic and strange than all the other guests. He is horrendous by comparison. Significantly, the appearance of the "Red Death" at midnight is propitious and symbolic. This is the end of the day and, by analogy, the end of life. His appearance strikes a note of "terror, of horror, and of disgust." The figure is "shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave." His mask is that of a corpse which, we gather, died from the Red Death and to create more horror, his entire outfit is sprinkled with blood and "all the features of the face were besprinkled with the scarlet horror." Again, the reader should note how effectively Poe, by his choice of words, captures man's universal fear of death and its horrors. When Prince Prospero sees the stranger, he is indignant at such an intrusion. (It would almost be too simplistic to say that all people are indignant at the intrusion of death on their lives.) The prince immediately instructs the stranger to be seized, but all are universally frightened to seize this Red Death. Infuriated, the prince draws a dagger and rushes 'hurriedly through the six chambers," but as he approaches the figure, his dagger stops, and he falls dead upon the black carpet. The other revelers fall upon the black "mummer" but to their "unutterable horror," they find nothing under the shrouds or behind the corpse-like mask. One by one, all of them drop dead. The "Red Death," Poe tells us, holds "illimitable dominion over all." Poe's story possesses no real characters. The greatness of the story lies in his use of an age-old theme--the inevitability of death--and in the way that Poe creates and maintains a total unity of effect, he brings us into the horror of the story. The story makes no effort to present a realistic view of any known aspect of life. We do not even know what country the story takes place in, but, due to the name of the prince, we assume it to be a southern European country. The story achieves credibility simply through Poe's powerful unity of effect that he creates so marvelously. Each word of each description contributes to one single, unified mood of fear and horror. An atmosphere of strangeness, a bizarre situation, and an evocative style all combine to make this one of Poe's most effective stories. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 34 www.cliffs.com CRITICAL ESSAYS EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ROMANTICISM Few writers exist outside of the currents of the times in which they live, and Poe is no exception. He is clearly a product of his time, which in terms of literature, is called the Romantic era. The Romantic movement was one which began in Germany, moved through all of Europe and Russia, and, almost simultaneously, changed the entire course of American literature. Among England's great Romantic writers are William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott. Romantic writers in America who were contemporaries of Poe include Hawthorne (whose works Poe reviewed and admired), Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whom Poe did not like and to whom he was rather insulting in a review. Poe's brand of Romanticism was akin to his contemporaries but most of his works often bordered on what was later called the gothic genre. The following discussion is not a comprehensive view of Romantic concepts, but instead, it is intended as a basic guide and explanation for some of the conventions or some of the devices often found in Poe's stories. (1) Intuition and Emotion Perhaps the most dominant characteristic of the Romantic movement was the rejection of the rational and the intellectual in favor of the intuitive and the emotional. In his critical theories and through his art, Poe emphasized that didactic and intellectual elements had no place in art. The subject matter of art should deal with the emotions, and the greatest art was that which had a direct effect on the emotions. The intellectual and the didactic was for sermons and treatises, whereas the emotions were the sole province of art; after all, Poe reasoned, man felt and sensed things before he thought about them. Even Poe's most intellectual characters, such as M. Dupin ("The Purloined Letter," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," etc.), rely more on intuition than on rationality. As one examines M. Dupin, Poe's famous detective, one notes that he solves his crimes by intuitively placing himself in the mind of the criminal. Throughout Poe's works, his characters are usually dominated by their emotions. This concept explains much of the seemingly erratic behavior of the characters in all of the stories. Roderick Usher's emotions are overwrought; Ligeia and the narrator of that story both exist in the world of emotions; the behaviors of the narrators of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" are not rational; in "The Cask of Amontillado," the hatred of Montresor exceeds all rational explanations. Throughout Poe's fiction, much of the behavior of his characters must be viewed and can be explained best in terms of the Romantic period in which he wrote. (2) Setting and Time Usually in a Romantic story, the setting is in some obscure or unknown place, or else it is set at some distant time in the past. The purpose for this is so that none of Poe's readers would be diverted by references to contemporary ideas; Poe created new worlds so that his readers would concentrate wholly on the themes or atmospheres with which he infused his stories. Poe believed that the highest art existed in a realm that was different from this world, and in order to create this realm, vagueness and indefiniteness were necessary to alienate the reader from the everyday world and to thrust him toward the ideal and the beautiful. Thus, Poe's stories are set either in some unknown place, such as in "The Fall of the House of Usher," or else they are set in some romantic castle on the Rhine, or in an abbey in some remote part of England, as in "Ligeia," or else they are set during the period of the Spanish Inquisition (the fourteenth century), as in "The Pit and the Pendulum." In other words, Poe's reader will not find a story which is set in some recognizable place in the present time. Even Poe's detective fiction is set in France rather than in America, thus giving it a Romantic distance from the reader. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 35 www.cliffs.com (3) Characterization Often the characters are not named or else they are given only a semblance of a name. The narrator in "Ligeia" does not even know the Lady Ligeia's last name nor that of her family. With the exception of a story like "The Cask of Amontillado," where the narrator is addressed by another character, or a story like "William Wilson," where the title identifies the pseudonym of the narrator, we usually do not know the names of the narrators of the other stories discussed in this volume, or even the names of the narrators of most of Poes other works. For a Romantic like Poe, the emphasis of literature ought to be on the final effect and the emotion produced thereby. The greatness of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is not in knowing the name of the narrator but in sensing his fears and his terrors. (4) Subject Matter The Romantic writer is often both praised and condemned for emphasizing the strange, the bizarre, the unusual, and the unexpected in his or her writing, and it is out of the Romantic tradition that we get such figures as the monster in Frankenstein and Count Dracula. The Romantic felt that the common or the ordinary had no place in the realm of art. Poe eschewed or despised literature that dealt with mundane subjects. Such things could be seen every day. The purpose of art, for Poe, was to choose subjects which could affect the reader in a manner which he would not encounter in everyday life. Thus, the subject matter of many of his tales dealt with living corpses, with frightening experiences, with horrors which startled the reader, and with situations which even we have never imagined before. In conclusion, what might sometimes seem puzzling in a story by Poe, such as an unexpected ending or an unexpected event, is not puzzling if we remember that what he created was a result of his writing during the Romantic tradition. While his tales can be read as "stories," they take on further significance as superb examples of the Romantic tradition. POE'S CRITICAL THEORIES Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be America's first significant literary critic or, at least, the first major writer in America to write seriously about criticism, about the theory of composition, and about the principles of creative art. He was also the first to set down a consistent set of principles about what he thought was acceptable in art and what should be essentially rejected in art. As an editor of a magazine, Poe's views on literary criticism were influenced by the nature of the short works of art that would appeal to the magazine-reading public. But irrespective of his journalistic position, his critical views on the nature of what was and was not acceptable in a work of art have become famous and have had an enormous influence on subsequent writers. Poe's major theories can be found (1) in the many reviews he wrote analyzing the writings of other authors; in this genre, his most famous review is entitled "Twice-Told Tales," a review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories; (2) in the many letters, epistles, and applications he sent for jobs, or as answers he gave as an editor, among the more famous being the one entitled "Letter to B_____"; (3) in the various editorials he wrote for the magazines he was associated with, "Exordium" being one of the best examples of this type; (4) in the official critical articles he wrote, in which he attempted to present in a logical, coherent manner his critical views; as examples, "The Poetic Principle" and "The Philosophy of Composition" both contain the unified core and basis of Poe's critical theories, and these two essays alone suffice to give one a full understanding of Poe's critical views; (5) and, finally, in the critical principles that can be drawn from Poe's writings themselves, principles which he did not include in his critical dicta (dictums) per se. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 36 www.cliffs.com Among Poe's greatnesses was his ability as an editor to recognize great literature and to dismiss insignificant works. For example, Poe was the first major, or influential, writer to recognize the genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, Poe says that "Mr. Hawthorne is scarcely recognized by the press or by the public . . . yet . . . he evinces extraordinary genius, having no rival either in America or elsewhere." This critical recognition of Hawthorne, therefore, attests to Poe's keen critical faculties; few critics have made such wholly accurate summations about a writer's talent which subsequent generations of critics have verified. In Poe's review of Twice-Told Tales and in his two main essays on criticism, "The Poetic Principle" and "The Philosophy of Composition," we have access to Poe's critical statements--stated, restated, emphasized, and applied to his own works ("The Philosophy of Composition," for example, deals in detail with his methodology of composing his most famous poem, "The Raven"), and not only does he apply his own principles to his own works but he applies them to the works of other writers for critical evaluations. From these cited works, we can easily compile certain key principles that Poe consistently believed in and used. These include his emphasis on (1) the unity of effect, (2) his rejection of allegory and didacticism, (3) the epic poem's being a non-poem, (4) the brevity of a work of art, (5) the appeal to the emotions, (6) the ideal subject matter for art, and (7) the importance of emotional responses; in addition, each of these separate ideas is closely associated with the others. For example, because Poe put such importance on creating an effect that would appeal to the emotions, he rejected all works of primitive art or works based on a primitive sense of art. Likewise, he believed that didactic writing was for the pulpit and had no place in the realm of artistic creation. Anything that appealed solely to the intellect could not be considered art because art existed in the world of the beautiful, the refined, and the aesthetic. Consequently, Poe, as a Romantic writer, dismissed most of the literary works of the eighteenth century, a period which concerned itself mainly with satire. For Poe, satire could create no sense of the beautiful within the reader. And also, much of eighteenth-century literature is epigrammatic (something short), and Poe believed that the epigrammatic approach to art could not create a lasting emotional impression within the reader. Writings that were moralistic or allegorical were likewise unacceptable to Poe because they failed to appeal to one's sense of beauty. More than any other principle, Poe emphasized the unity of effect that one should strive for in any work of art. For example, words and phrases that occur and re-occur in Poe's various critical writings include the following: "to affect," "the totality of impression," "the unity of effect," "the novelty of the effect alone," and "the single effect," and these are only selected examples of his repetition of the value of this principle; Poe's writings contain many more examples of this emphasis. By these statements, Poe meant that the artist should decide what effect he wants to create in the reader's emotional response and then proceed to use all of his creative powers to achieve that particular effect: "Of the in-numerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart or the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?" ("The Philosophy of Composition"). Fear, for example, was often the effect Poe chose for many of his short stories and every word and every image was carefully chosen to create an effect of fear within the mind of the reader. (In regard to this, see the critical discussions of "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Pit and the Pendulum.") After choosing the effect that one desires, the artist should then decide on the best manner to achieve that effect, whether by incidents or plot, by narration, or by a peculiar tone, or by a "peculiarity both of incident and tone . . . looking . . . for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid . . . in the construction of the effect" ("Philosophy of Composition"). In much of his poetry, the effect he most aimed for was one of beauty and melancholy. "The most elevating and the most pure pleasure is found in the contemplation of the beautiful," he said in the same essay, and "if beauty is the province of the poem, then the tone should be one of sadness. . . . Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones." As a result of these views, Poe felt that the most effective subject for a work of art was the death of a beautiful young lady; this is perhaps Poe's most Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 37 www.cliffs.com famous and most often repeated dictum, and, furthermore, to achieve the greatest amount of emotional melancholy, the death of the beautiful young lady should be expressed by the lips of the bereaved lover. As examples, we have "Annabel Lee," "Lenore," "Ligeia," "To Helen" and numerous other works on this subject. And even though Poe did recognize other subjects as legitimate topics for art (he did praise Hawthorne, who very rarely concerned himself with a beautiful, dying woman), the death of a beautiful woman remained Poe's favorite subject. In his own words, he writes: "The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world--and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved lover" ("Philosophy of Composition"). In conjunction with the unity of effect, we have Poe's dictum on the appropriate length of a work of art. Poe holds that "a long poem does not exist . . . that the phrase 'a long poem' is a flat contradiction in terms." Therefore, a work of art should be able to achieve its effect in one sitting. For this reason, Poe believed that the greatest art was contained in a poem of about 100 lines (his most famous poem, "The Raven," is 108 lines long), and Poe, in a similar vein, believed that the short story should be of a length that one could read it in one sitting. The totality of effect, he said, was destroyed if two sittings were required for a work of art. Such long poems as Paradise Lost were, for Poe, a series of poems. If the purpose of art--a poem, or a short story--is to excite and elevate the soul, then "after the lapse of half an hour," the mind cannot sustain such pure emotion. Consequently, Poe's theory about the length of the work of art--"to be read in one sitting" and no more than "half an hour"--has influenced many subsequent writers. In terms of Poe's actual practice of writing literature, the reader or critic can deduce certain principles that Poe himself never set down, but that he practiced again and again as an author. For example, Poe is considered to be the father of the modern detective story. Concerning this, certain critical principles associated with the writing of the detective story are presented in the introduction to and discussions of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter," yet Poe himself never wrote down a unified critical principle which should govern the writing of a detective story. One can see, however, that the literary principles that Poe employed in writing his own detective stories, in large part, are universal principles that apply to a major portion of all detective fiction being written today. Poe also wrote about the unity of effect, but he never wrote about the use of a closed environment, per se, to achieve that unity of effect. However, as we look at the totality of his creative work, we see that a large portion of his works takes place in a very closed environment. The following selected examples do not exhaust Poe's use of this principle, but they do give us a good idea of the importance he placed on this device: "The Cask of Amontillado" occurs in an underground, closed vault; "The Pit and the Pendulum" takes place within the closed confines above a pit; "The Fall of the House of Usher" is set in the closed confines of a decaying castle; and the action in the poem "The Raven" takes place within a closed room or possibly, as some say, within the narrator's mind; similarly, the people in "The Masque of the Red Death" are locked behind closed iron gates and confined within a closed castle, "William Wilson" is told within the frenzied mind of a schizophrenic, and the action of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is confined within a closed room. The application of this principle can also apply to the major portion of Poe's works; it is clearly one of Poe's prime precepts for an ingredient of the short story. In conclusion, although many people do not agree with Poe's theories, they have nevertheless been the subject of continual discussion. One could also point out that Aristotle, the world's most famous critic, lived about 380 B.C., yet his theories are still valid and provocative and are still discussed, even though few artists and writers today adhere strictly to his critical principles. Some of Poe's theories may seem, at times, to be out of style when one compares them with the current theories of no form at all, or nonobjective writing, but as long as Romantic literature is read, Poe's critical theories and principles will continue to be important. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 38 www.cliffs.com SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY BIOGRAPHY ALLEN, LERVEY. Israfel, 2 vols. 1926, revised 1934. This is a somewhat extended, somewhat fictional, but extremely readable account of Poe's life. QUINN, ARTHUR HOBSON. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. 1941. This work is viewed as the most definitive life of Poe yet to appear. It is highly accurate and very scholarly. WINWART, F. The Haunted Palace. 1959. A more recent account of Poe's life that is modern and very readable. WOODBERRY, G. E. Life of Poe. 1885. This early account of Poe's life is still one of the most interesting and readable in spite of the fact that there are some factual errors. SELECTED CRITICAL WORKS DAVIDSON, EDWARD H. Poe: A Critical Study. 1957. FAGIN, N. B. The Histrionic Mr. Poe. 1940. LEVIN, HARRY. The Power of Blackness. 1958. QUINN, PATRICK F. The French Face of Edgar Allan Poe. 1957. Cliffs Notes on Poe's Short Stories © 1980 39