Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Poe is highly skilled in combining the natural and the supernatural in adventure stories told by a narrator who struggles to express his horror at what he is experiencing and who believes that he is in the grip of some strange physical and/or spiritual power. Rational explanation is to varying degrees always beyond the narrator’s power. Poe’s attempts at analyzing the narrator’s sensations reach their height in his story “Ligeia”; by combining the supernatural with the natural, he encourages the reader to suspend rational belief and let the story as a whole cast its spell over him, and only after the climactic closing lines does the reader return to the reality of his or her own world. In “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846), Poe stresses the importance of a story’s emotional impact on the reader. In such stories as “Ms. Found in a Bottle,” the reader identifies emotionally with the narrator (other characters are shadowy and undeveloped) and experiences the danger, horror, and terror with him.

The narrator is presented as an intelligent, educated man, not given to wild imagination or hallucinations. Moreover, he is a seasoned traveler who would not be easily surprised or frightened. His nautical vocabulary shows his great familiarity with ships and the ocean. All the narrator’s characteristics are designed to persuade the reader to accept the truth of the strange adventure he records in his journal and communicates to the world immediately before his death. Even the headnote to the story (“Qui n’a plus qu’un moment a vivre/ N’a plus rien a dissimuler,” or “Anyone with only a moment to live has nothing to hide”) encourages the reader to accept the narrator and his tale. Because of the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, this adventure story, like others of Poe, has engrossed readers for more than a century.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Burluck, Michael L. Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction. New York: Garland, 1993.

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

Hutchisson, James M. Poe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Kennedy, J. Gerald. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z. New York: Facts On File, 2001.

Whalen, Terence. Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.