The short story writer which I have chosen to research is Edgar Allen
Poe. After reading one of his works in class, I realized that his mysterious
style of writing greatly appealed to me. Although many critics have different
views on Poe’s writing style, I think that Harold Bloom summed it up best when
he said, “Poe has an uncanny talent for exposing our common nightmares and
hysteria lurking beneath our carefully structured lives. ” ( 7) For me, this is
done through his use of setting and narrative style.
In many of Poe’s works, setting is used to paint a dark and gloomy
picture in our minds. I think that this was done deliberatly by Poe so that the
reader can make a connection between darkness and death. For example, in the
“Pit and the Pendulum”, the setting is originally pitch black. As the story
unfolds, we see how the setting begins to play an important role in how the
narrator discovers the many ways he may die. Although he must rely on his
senses alone to feel his surroundings, he knows that somewhere in this dark,
gloomy room, that death awaits him. Richard Wilbur tells us how fitting the
chamber in “The Pit and the Pendulum” actually was. “Though he lives on the
brink of the pit, on the very verge of the plunge into unconciousness, he is
still unable to disengage himself from the physical and temperal world. The
physical oppreses him in the shape of lurid graveyard visions; the temporal
oppreses him in the shape of an enormous and deadly pendulum. It is altogether
appropriate, then, that this chamber should be constricting and cruelly angular”
Setting is also an important characteristic is Poe’s “The Fall of the
House of Usher”. The images he gives us such as how both the Usher family and
the Usher mansion are crumbling from inside waiting to collapse, help us to
connect the background with the story. Vincent Buranelli says that “Poe is
able to sysatin an atomosphere which is dark and dull. This is one of the
tricks which he laregely derived from the tradition of the Gothic tale” (79).
The whole setting in the story provides us with a feeling of melancholy. The
Usher mansion appears vacant and barren. The same is true for the narrator. As
we picture in our minds the extreme decay and decomposistion, we can feelas
though the life around it is also crumbling.
Narration is also an element in Poe’s short story style that appears to
link all of the stories together. He has a type of creativity which lets the
reader see into the mind of the narrator or the main character of the story.
Many of the characters in Poe’s stories seem to be insane. The narrator often
seems to have some type of psychological problems. For exapmle, In Poe’s “The
Cask of Amontillado, ” the story opens with a first person narrator (Montresor)
speaking about the planning of Fortunato’s death. By the anger and remorse that
Montresor has for Fortunato, one might think that this was a recent incident.
It is not until the very end of the story that we realize, that the entire event
occurred fifty years ago. David Herbert Lawrence says, “To the characters in
Poe’s story, hate is as inordinate as live. The lust of hate is the inordinate
desire to consume and unspeakably possess the soul of the hated one, just as the
lust of live is the desire to possess or be possessed be the beloved, uterly. ”
(33). Poe’s stories often have narrators that feel extreme hate or extreme love
for another character in the story.
Another example of Poe’s narrative style is seen in his story entitled,”
The Black Cat”, where the narrator seems to have an obsession with pets. He has
one “special” pet which is a black cat. Although their original relationship
with each other is one of respect and love, the situation soon changes. The
narrator becomes somewhat possessed with the hate for the car. He turns against
his wife and stabs his cat in the eye. By the end of the story, he killed his
wife in an attempt to kill the cat. Afterwards, the narrator does not even feel
remorse for the wrongful death of his wife. Instead, he is just happy that the
cat dissapeared. This is just another instance in which the reader wonders what
is the driving force begins the narrator’s insanity. Buranelli, “In both Poe’s
“The Cask of Amontillado” and his “The Black Cat”, the barrators act without
conscience. There are no doubts, hesitiations or second thought to impede the
narrative. Both narrators just sought revenge” (77).
Even though there are many more elements to Edgar Allan Poe’s short
stories than just his creative use of narration and setting, these are
characteristivs which has attracted the most attention. Poe has a way of
writing in which he does not have to reveal too much, or paint a pretty picture
for the reader in order to attract his attention. In D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in
Classic American Literature, the author states,
“Poe’s narrowness is like that of a sword,
not that of a bottleneck: it is effective rather than constricting.
Nothing adventitious is in his great stories, only the essentials, the
mininum of characterization, plot, and atmosphere. By ridding
himself of everything except what is precisely to the point, he
achieves unity of effect. ” (66).
There is also a prominent distinction between right and wrong in Poe’s
tories. Viscous characters tend to come to a bad end. This lets the reader
accept these endings as a triumph of good over evil. As stated by Buranelli:
“He has created a universe, given it psychological laws without
denying the existence of the moral law, and peopled it with
characters appropriate to such a universe. Puttng overt mortality
out of bounds helps to give him uniqueness” (74).
After researching Edgar Allan Poe more in depth, I now have a much
greater respect for him and a slightly different perspective of his stories.
While it is still evident to me that narrative style and setting have a great
deal to do with the development of Poe’s short stories, I also realise now that
we can’t overlap and intertwine with other aspects of the story, making them
equally as important. I will end with a quote found in Vincent Buranelli’s Edgar
“Even though Poe is often looked upon as a gifted psychopath who is
describing with consumate artistry his personal instablities and
abnormalitiesm the fact remains that his superiority is more than a
matter of art. There is a violent realism in his macabre writings
unequaled by the Americans who worked in the same genre.”