What similarities can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's stories?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Edgar Allan Poe is recognized as the father of the mystery story and also the horror story in American Literature.  Poe's life held so much unhappiness that is it not surprising that he chose to write about the type of characters who killed, maimed, and suffered.

From his parents' early deaths to his adopted father disowning him, Poe seemed to have to search for love and security for the rest of his life.  His life appears to have been one struggle after another, culminating in the abuse of drugs and alcohol. 

His most famous stories are familiar to most American literature students:

"The Cask of Amontillado"

"The Fall of the House of Usher"

"The Tell-Tale Heart"

"The Black Cat" 

These rank among the great short stories in literature.

What did Poe's stories have in common?

Mental Illness

Most of Poe's stories examines a psychological problem in one of the main characters.  Many times, it is the narrator or main character that is battling mental illness.

  • Montresor is obsessed with reeking revenge.
  • Roderick Usher is so mentally ill that his senses have become unbearably painful.
  • The nameless murderer in "The Tell-Tale Heart" kills an innocent man because of his vulture eye. 
  • The nameless murderer in "The Black Cat" kills a cat and his innocent wife.

Most of his narrators spend the story trying to convince the reader that they are not insane.

Limited Number of Characters

There are usually a limited number of characters in the stories.  The main exception to this is "The Masque of Red Death." However, there are only two characters that really count in the story: Prince Prospero and the Red Death.

Death Is the Theme

His stories usually have the element of death as a part of the theme of the story.  Just be aware that someone is not going to make it through the story.

  • Montresor kills Fortunato.
  • Roderick unknowingly buries his sister alive. He dies himself at the end of the story.
  • The narrator smothers the old man to death in "The Tell-Tale Heart."
  • The narrator buries an axe in the head of his wife and hangs his beloved cat, Pluto from a tree in the yard.
  • Everyone dies in "The Masque of Red Death."

The Settings

Most of the settings are in the person's home.

  • Montresor takes Fortunato to his home and the catacombs underneath.
  • Roderick's story circulates around his house and its collapse at the end of the story.
  • The narrator kills the old man in the house that belongs to the old man.
  • The narrator in "The Black Cat" kills his wife in the cellar of their home.

Alcohol and Drugs

Most of the main characters have an abuse problem.

  • Fortunato is drunk when he is lured to his death.
  • Roderick takes drugs for his disease.

The writer spoke of acute bodily illness--of a mental disorder which oppressed him...

  • The killer in "The Black Cat" admits to abusing alcohol.

When reason returned with the morning – when I had slept off the fumes of the night's debauch – I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty...

Humor

The only story that I find any humor in is "The Cask of Amontillado" and Poe's use of irony.  The foolish Fortunato says so many stupid things that his character is humorous as well.

Although there are many commonalities in Poe's stories, each one has its own flavor, interesting characters, and approach to the grotesque.  If anyone is in the mood for a delicious, macabre story, the fabulous Poe is the writer to read.

 

 

 

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