Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The discussion of possible meanings has uncovered the main distinctive elements of Poe’s technique in this tale. He creates what appears to be a nonfiction narrative yet places at its center a symmetrical setting of a hurricane over a maelström, which suggests symbolic meaning. The fisherman seems an ordinary man who has had an extraordinary adventure, but ultimately it appears that he may have been granted a kind of revelation, which has changed not only his appearance but also his attitude toward his life and his world.

Critics have taken note of the similarity between this tale and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). Each is a framed narrative, the seaman telling his tale to a landsman. In each, there is a similar pattern: The seaman is drawn into a wonderful world in which despair leads to discovery, transformation, and a salvation that may be both physical and spiritual. Perhaps the main difference between Poe’s tale and Coleridge’s poem is that Poe presents a believable if extraordinary physical world in a journalistic, reportorial fashion. One result is that the meaning of Poe’s tale seems to arise from experience of the world rather than from a fantasy designed to illustrate a moral truth.