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Themes in Edgar Allen Poe's Stories

By jonlucas2011 Jan 06, 2011 998 Words
Poe Theme Essay
The many different works of Edgar Allan Poe all aim to do one thing. Strike fear into the heart of the reader. Simple, yet effective, he expresses fear through these many different themes and motifs. At full length, Poe’s stories all acquire a distinct theme or motif that moves the story forward. Whether you know it or not, many of his stories rely on themes and motifs to make the story more appealing to the reader. Time, duality, and dreams all play key roles in Poe’s short stories. They descriptively provide all of the necessary information in order to produce the whole concept of fear. Without them, these stories wouldn’t push you to the edge of your seat, wondering what is going to happen next.

Time plays a major role in providing the story with the crucial data it needs to make the story frightening and suspenseful. It presents the story with a visual that makes the mood of the story transition into a very adverse setting. Dusk is probably the most common time of day in many of Poe’s stories. He chooses dusk because, during that time of day, it is very difficult to see. For example, in “The Fall of the House of Usher” the narrator begins to describe how it is very difficult to see while he is making his way towards his child hood friend’s mansion. When choosing the time of day that produces little or no light, Poe tries to make the setting as dark as possible. Light represents happiness and positivity, so Poe tries to eliminate anything that represents prosperity. By assembling negative forces, the story will generate fear into the reader. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” the narrator stalks his pray for seven days, but on the eighth night the narrator commits the horrible deed. The number eight is used frequently with Poe and his stories; in this case, it represents what day the narrator will kill the old man. With “Masque of the Red Death”, time represents life. It represents life because once a person is infected with the red death; the infected person has only 30 minutes to live. The ebony clock also represents life, because after every hour the clock will ring, reminding the people that time is running out. This theme is very necessary for producing fear, because if Poe doesn’t clarify what time of day it is, the story loses suspense. So it’s apparent that time is a key necessity in conveying fear into readers.

The narrator often produces dreams themselves. Frequently, it presents a distortion of reality for the narrator and the reader. Dreams in Poe’s stories draw the line between reality and fantasy. Many unexplainable things would occur and the narrator would instantly assume it would be his imagination or that he would be dreaming. Providing dreams will make the reader build curiosity into whether or not these bizarre things are real or just images of the narrators eccentric imagination. In “Masque of the Red Death”, a huge party is thrown, to isolate the people from the disease. In the party, the guests have a great time by dressing up and having a “perfect” time, until the ebony clock rings. Once the clock rings, the party guests snap back into reality for a short moment. For that short moment, the reader realizes the severity of the situation. That short moment of severity produces fear. During his trip to Rederick’s mansion in “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the narrator feels like the trip is a dream because the environment of the mansion is so surreal. Alcohol provides the narrator in “The Black Cat” with a distortion of reality, because after he hangs the black cat, he comes across a cat that is identical to the one he hangs after he leaves the bar. The narrator is completely shocked by the resemblance to his previous cat. This similarity conveys fear into the reader, because you can’t tell if it’s the same cat or a different one. The distortion of reality in dreams really help produce fear due to the doubtful events that keep occurring. These events help generate fear and build up the suspense in the reader for a few moments.

Duality in the characters conveys the most fear towards the reader. By having a dual persona, the character is able to build up that suspense by having a “good” side and a “bad” side. As an animal lover, the narrator in “The Black Cat” would always love to take care of animals, until he becomes “consumed by the imp of the perverse” which exposes his negative side. This negativity leads him to killing his cat and his wife. The insanity of having a dual persona helps transmit true fear into the reader. As a young caretaker, the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” has nothing against the old man he is looking after; the old man has done nothing wrong to deserve any negative treatment. During the day the narrator would go about his business taking care of the old man, until night came upon. At night, the narrator would be consumed by the old man’s eye. His “evil eye” leads the narrator to kill his wife and their pet. The duality in both of the these characters are very similar due to them being consumed by some object that leads them into killing their loved ones and pets.

All of these themes help produce the backbone of Poe’s stories. Without these themes and motifs, these stories wouldn’t be as suspenseful as they are today. These stories rely on the descriptiveness and the intensity of these themes to carry the suspense and to convey fear into the readers. Today, as people still learn about Poe’s stories, they will still be able to consume the fear that they read due to these themes and motifs.

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