illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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What stylistic elements characterize Edgar Allan Poe's writing?

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Edgar Allen Poe's stylistic elements include suspense, unreliable narrators, sinister settings, macabre imagery, themes of death and mental illness, a first-person point of view, and compelling atmospheres.

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Stylistically, Edgar Allan Poe's stories and poems are characterized by elements we might now associate with the horror and gothic genres. There is usually suspense, created in part by an unreliable first person narrator, and there is also often a supernatural presence. Poe also often relies on dark, sinister settings, and macabre imagery.

His poem "The Raven" demonstrates most of these stylistic elements. For example, the poem begins "Once upon a midnight dreary," and later we are told that it is set "in the bleak December." There is also a fire which casts ghostly shadows upon the floor. This is a typical Poe setting. It is dark, shadowy and implicitly hopeless. There is also suspense in the poem because we, and also the narrator, don't know why the raven haunts and taunts the narrator. The raven also seems supernatural, and the narrator is convinced that it is a "thing of evil" with eyes that "have all the seeming of a demon's." The poem is also full of macabre imagery. As well as the "Ghastly grim and ancient raven," there are also images of "tempest(s)," "fantastic terrors," and the "Night's Plutonian shore." There is also of course the recurring image of the narrator's "lost Lenore," which constantly reminds us of her death.

Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is also a good example of many of the aforementioned stylistic elements. The narrator is obviously, from the beginning, quite mad, and certainly unreliable, even though he insists that his madness is a "disease [which has] sharpened [his] senses," rather than dulled them. There is also in this story lots of macabre imagery, most notably perhaps the beating heart beneath the floorboards, but also the dismembered corpse of the old man. There is also plenty of suspense, as the reader wonders throughout the story whether the narrator will get away with the murder he has committed. As for the setting, this too is dark and gothic. The grisly murder takes place "at the dead hour of the night," and at the end of the story the narrator and the police officers sit "upon the very spot beneath which repose(s) the corpse of the victim."

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Edgar Allan Poe is primarily known for his achievements with short stories, poetry, and literary criticism, and he was extremely influential in shaping later generations of writers, and even entire genres of fiction. Consider, for example, the character of C. Auguste Dupin, which laid the foundation for the entire detective genre (influencing later literary creations such as Sherlock Holmes).

Stylistically speaking, Poe showed a mastery of first person narration, as well as of unreliable narration. Generally speaking, the great strength of first person point of view is the degree to which it places readers directly into the mindset of a character within the story, and Poe used this strength to powerful effect. This can be seen, for example, in short stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Cask of Amontillado," which are told from the perspective of a murderer. His stories are richly atmospheric and psychological in tone, often with a strong focus on themes of the macabre. In this, he has had a profound influence in shaping the horror genre as we know it. Themes of death and mental illness are common in his work.

Edgar Allan Poe is a highly important writer, both in American literature as well as in world literature, whose literary legacy survives into the present day.

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In addition to his place among "Gothic" authors, Edgar Allan Poe is known as the grandfather of horror in American Literature, because he was the first to employ many of his signature style elements in his work.  You could probably categorize Poe's writing under any of the basic elements of Gothic literature (setting, tone, presence of the supernatural or evil, etc), but I think there are three that shine through in his works the strongest.

First, I would include point-of-view.  Many of Poe's stories and poems are written in 1st person point-of-view and the narrator is nearly always untrustworthy.  In this way, Poe's stories come across as scary/mysterious in themselves, but additionally eerie due to a creepy narrator.  "Tell Tale Heart" is only one of the many stories that most of the intensity and fear is created by a narrator who may or may not be in his right mind.

Poe is also known for creating compelling atmosphere in all of his stories.  As a literary element, atmosphere is the combination of a specific setting and tone.  Poe often creates an eerie or spooky atmosphere through setting stories in remote places (and old houses or cabins) and adding to the already spooky place bad weather and illness.  Combined, these elements are common to many of his stories and make the stories uniformly dark and mysterious.  "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Raven" are two easy examples of atmosphere as a predominant literary element.

Finally, one of Poe's greatest achievements was his ability to create really twisted characters.  In addition to untrustworthy narrators in many stories, Poe had an affinity for adding mental or physical diseases and ailments to many of his stories.  As the first author in America to really play off this, you can see where the technique has been expanded into much of our modern day horror.  There is simply something innately scary about things humans cannot control and do not fully understand, especially when it is clear they actually exist.  Mental disorders in characters is so common to Poe that those who have read enough of his works tend automatically not to trust the sanity of any of his characters.  Think of Roderick and Madeline Usher, the narrator in "The Tell Tale Heart," or the prisoner in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

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Edgar Allan Poe uses many different elements of style in his writing. Most commonly, he uses first person narration. You can find first person narration in many of his works, including "The Raven", "The Pit and the Pendulum", "The Fall Of the House Of Usher", and more.

Poe also uses hyphens to indicate agitation or fear in his narrator. Generally, when many hyphens appear in a paragraph or stanza, the narrator is in an altered mental state of some kind.

Poe also uses sound frequently, especially in his poetry, especially devices such rhyme and alliteration. There are examples of both internal and external rhyme in "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee". One of his most famous lines "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary" is an example of internal rhyme. Alliteration is also used in "The Raven" especially in the line, "And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" the alliteration serves to convey the mood of the poem.

Poe's literary elements are certainly not limited to these, but first person narration, hyphen use, rhyme, and alliteration are some good places to start.

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