What are the characteristics of Edgar Allan Poe's works?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Poe is heavy on the symbolism, and he often repeats symbol use from one story to the next. For example, in "The Masque of the Red Death," when an ebony clock housed in a black and blood-red room strikes midnight, all the revelers at the masquerade stop and tremble in fear, as though they fear their own mortality. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator spies on the old man with whom he lives just at midnight every night for a week, waiting for the opportune moment to kill him. He even confesses to often being awake at that hour himself, listening to the deathwatch beetles ticking in the walls and groaning in "mortal terror." We soon learn that he, too, fears his own death and must rid himself of the old man because the old man is, himself, a reminder of the narrator's own mortality. In both stories, midnight, as the death of day, is symbolic of mortality, as is the clock and the color black from "Masque." This color symbolism resurfaces in Poe's poem "The Raven," because the raven is black and also signifies our mortality and the inevitability of death. You can see, even just from these few examples, that Poe also often takes mortality as a major theme of his writing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Edgar Allen Poe is an old master of mystery, suspense, and horror, and his command of the literary Gothic style is well-known. His short stories often contain themes about death and decay, as well as mental instability and emotional crisis. Poe's settings are often creepy and intimidating and are all the more haunting for their isolation; characters who are in trouble in these settings are even more vulnerable for their distance from anyone who could help them. Also, many of Poe's characters are coping with the instability that comes with the death or near-death of someone else. The tone of Poe's stories are often morose and dark, and sometimes, supernatural elements enhance the mysteriousness of the setting and the suspensefulness of the narration.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial