The Oval Portrait

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As one of the shortest of Poe's stories, "The Oval Portrait" consists of a brief one-paragraph story framed within a larger vignette whose main purpose is to establish the romantic Gothic mood in which the story occurs. The setting and basis of the plot are shrouded in mystery; the narrator does not explain how or where he is wounded, and with his servant, he enters an abandoned, decaying chateau that offers no more answers than the narrator. The dark gloom of a deserted house is a classic background for a Gothic story, and the tapestries and strange architecture of the building give the narrator's choice of apartment a feeling of removal from the contemporary world. Nothing of consequence occurs during the night, but the details provide a romantic feeling of loss that serves as an introduction to the story of the oval portrait. The oval portrait indicates the tension between the impermanence of life and the intransience of art. The portrait's subject is full of life when she marries the painter, but the as the guide book says, "The tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sat beside him." With his artistic powers, he has created a double of his wife, but as in "William Wilson," both cannot simultaneously subsist for long without one defeating the other. The history of the painting suggests that although the metamorphosis from life to eternal art may create a masterful work of beauty that simulates life, the narrator is only deceived by his "dreamy stupor" and by the sudden reveal of the painting from the dark. A second, more intense look at the painting reveals the illusion, and similarly, the painter of the story ends by giving up his wife for a mere image. The destruction of loved ones is a common theme in many of Poe's short stories, but unlike in Poe's other stories, the painter does not cause his wife's death because of hate or any negative emotions. Instead, his passion for his art simply overwhelms him to the...
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