illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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How does Edgar Allan Poe create and use internal and external conflicts? Please explain with details from "A Tell-Tale Heart," "The House of Usher," and "The Black Cat."

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Poe created a technique that he termed "Arabesque"; with this technique there is a playfulness, a twisting and returning to ideas, a balance and integration in which Poe "teases out the latent horror" of his images which often evolve from internal conflicts with a psychologically disturbed narrator. In this pattern the psychological horrors parallel the physical.  In his gothic masterpiece, "The Fall of the House of Usher," this technique is most evident as the Usher mansion itself deteriorates along with the minds and bodies of Roderick and Madeline Usher. As the narrator approaches the home of his troubled friend, there are powerful sensory images used to describe the scene and the house.  This "melancholy House of Usher" is set amid decayed trees and "insufferable gloom" where hissing "s" sounds create the tension and horror of the psychological conflicts of Roderick whose senses are hyperactive.  As the disturbances of Madeline's bizarre death and Roderick's ensuing fears that she is may not be dead increase, so does the decay of the house.  The narrator, too, who is unable to sleep with his inner conflicts, is overcome by the atmosphere of dread around him.

Similarly in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat," the disturbed narrators find an object that parallels their psychological distrubances (inner conflict) and thus becomes the focus of their outer conflict. As an example of this arabesque in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator in his bizarre reasoning contemplates the eye of the old man as a "curse," while in another turning of the arabesque, the old man  intuitively senses the horror that is to come. Thus, within the arabesque there are both internal and external conflicts:

I undid it [the lantern] just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye...For it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye....Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror...It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well....It has welled up from my own bosom...the terrors that distracted me.

Likewise, in "The Black Cat," the inner conflicts of the narrator become entwined with a physical object, which later parallels his own disturbances:

One night, returning home, much intoxicated...I fancied that the cat avoided my presence.  I seized him; whe, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth.  The fury of a demon instantly possessed me...My original seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, ...thrilled every fibre of my frame....I deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

While the narrator feels some grief for what he has done to his pet, his feeling "soon gave place to irritation and then came, the spirit of PERVERSENESS," Poe writes. With the arabesque of turning and twisting of the inner and outer conflicts in Poe's stories, there is often a catastropic result of both psychological and physical horrorm, producting great gothic tales.


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