What are some Gothic conventions that Poe uses in his short stories, "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontiallado," and "The Fall of the House of Usher"?imprisonment, fear, the supernatural,...

What are some Gothic conventions that Poe uses in his short stories, "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontiallado," and "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

imprisonment, fear, the supernatural, insanity, and irrationality, foreboding secrets, violence, unbreakable boundaries, atmosphere of dread, horror, gloom, death etc. and influence of the past

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic conventions often involve his employment of the atmosphere of mystery and oppressiveness to create terror, but then, interestingly, he subverts these Gothic conventions by having human beings, rather than the supernatural, create the most horrible deeds.  Indeed, for Poe the real horror lies in the awful capabilities of human beings themselves.  And, for this reason Poe frequently utilizes the unreliable narrator, whose haunted psyche propels the plot.

Here are some of the traditional Gothic conventions Poe uses in "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado,"and "The Fall of the House of Usher":

  • Architecture - Mysterious crypt-like tomb under the floor in TTH, the niter-ridden dark, dead-ridden catacombs in TCA, and the crumbling, mysterious mansion in TFHH
  • Mysterious atmosphere - Oppressiveness, strange sounds, lights, etc. An air of mystery, death, doom, and darkness pervades all three stories
  • Victimizer and helpless victims   
  • Impenetrable Psychological walls - In TTH the narrator becomes so obsessed with the the "vulture-eye" that he must be rid of it; in TCA the catacombs are the walls that ominously narrow and finally close-in the hapless Fortunato, but the narrator must also pass along these walls to his revenge where he, too, is buried in horror as he realizes the extent of his act, crying, "Yes...for love of God." In TFHH Roderick is tortured by his own neuroses and by his fear of his alter-ego, Madeleine returning to kill him.
  • Victim is entranced or fascinated by the inscrutable power of his victimizer - In TTH the old man cannot flee his victimizer, but remains in his bed to be killed; in TCA, Fortunato does not react to the warnings of Montresor and allows himself to be led to his end.  When he is walled in, he asks no explanation for Montesor's behavior. In TFHH Roderick Usher is psychologically connected to his sister as well as absorbed in his concerns about her mysterious death and literally waits for Madeleine to appear. 
  • Upward and downward movements - There is the apparent existence of things, sometimes referred to as the "paternal authority" that often generates the action that lies underneath in the mind of heart of the victimizer or victim, or it lies in subterranean regions of the architecture as in a torture chambre or crypt.  Wherever this lower region lies, it is "the darkness of the maternal authority," the less rational and more emotional state of the mind.  In TTH, this movement goes under the floorboards of the house and is internalized by the victimizer's wild imaginings; in TCA, movement is into a crypt and the darker recesses of the narrator's mind; in THH, the mansion itself cracks and crumbles, Roderick's mind is haunted by his sister's body in the crypt beneath the house and his fear that she will return to him.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

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