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Poe’s Short Stories

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Essay written by Henry George

When reviewing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales, Edgar Allen Poe pronounced that the

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short story, if skillfully written, should deliver a single preconceived effect- an effect

upon which incidents be fashioned to accommodate that effect. Edgar Allen Poe was

indeed a skillful writer. His short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a flawless

example of a story in which all elements contribute to the delivery of a single emotional

effect. Poe accomplishes this by achieving a perfect tone, developing suspense and

unifying stylistic elements thereby meeting his own criteria.

In his pronouncement Poe also wrote that “In the whole composition there should be no

word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one

pre-established design.” Thus, in “The Fall of the House of Usher” Poe creates a perfect

tone critical to the delivery of his preconceived effect. The senses of “insufferable

gloom,” “utter depression of soul” and ” sinking, sickening of the heart” which pervade

the narrator’s spirit immediately establish the tone.

The narrator’s description of the

scene as “dull,” “dark,” “bleak,” “desolate” and “terrible” all function in communicating

the tone. These concrete and denotative words ensure a clear and solid tone is

conveyed to the reader thereby contributing to the overall effect of terror. The regular

use or repetition of the words “dark,” “gloomy” and “oppressive” in some form serves

function to further define and emphasize a perfect tone. It also perceivable that Poe’s

choice in the narrator’s role being the participant supports his intent to communicate

consistent feelings; hence consistent tone. In order to strengthen his already

established tone, Poe selectively uses imagery in scenes of terrible nature. The imagery

created by the descriptive details of “the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady

Madeline of Usher” and the “blood upon her white robes… evidence of some bitter

struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame.” exemplify the imagery created by

the descriptive details Poe exclusively uses in such scenes of terror. The reserved

creation of imagery in these scenes is invaluable to the clarity and emphasis of the

tone-a tone vital to the delivery of the single emotional effect of terror.

Along with devising a perfect tone, Edgar Allen Poe builds a high degree of suspense in

order to bring about his desired effect. Poe is able to skillfully structure long involved

sentences that contain several ideas to fit his purpose of creating confusion and

mystery. The expression of the narrator’s “feeling of wild amazement” and his claim that

he “did actually hear a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted and most

unusual screaming or grating sound” exemplifies the mix of thought and numerous

descriptions that all appear in one sentence. This technique draws the reader into a

state of ponder as he tries to make sense of a somewhat overwhelming group of ideas.

The intentional absence of detail, imagery and explanation of certain factors in the

story, such as how, exactly, Madeline dies and the nature of her malady, serves

function to arouse a great deal of curiosity in the reader as to the answer of these

questions. The vagueness of such events result in a high level of suspicion felt by the

reader. In preparation for the single emotional effect, Poe sets up his audience through

suspense in order to ensure the effect is successfully delivered in a most powerful

manner. This is accomplished through the rising level of anticipation he breeds in the

reader with the anticipation the narrator feels as he reads “The Mad Twist.” While

reading this story, the narrator, at intervals, hears “the very cracking and ripping sound

which Sir Lancelot had so particularly described,” the “low and apparently distant, but

harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound” and the sound of “a

shield of brass… fallen heavily upon a floor of silver”. Through the exposure to these

increasingly realistic and believable sounds, Poe transposes his audience into the

correct mindset for the delivery of his single emotional effect.

From the first sentence where the approach to the Usher House is met by intense

feelings to the last sentence of utter terror, Edgar Allen Poe creates each paragraph as

pieces of a puzzle which all link together to form a single emotional picture of terror. To

create a strong unity in this story Poe refrained from including any words, phrases or

sentences that would not contribute to the suspense or tone he wished to establish.

Other effects such as humor, morality and logic are also deliberately omitted. The

consonance and repetition used in Usher speech when he asks “Not hear it?-yes, I hear

it, and have heard it. Long-long-long-many minutes, many hours, many days, have I

heard it” and “Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? Shows

how Poe uses these techniques to enhance rhythm and create emphasis thus adding to

the unity of the story. Poe’s use of parallel and balanced sentences also create

consistent rhythm which aid in the maintenance of tone and suspense. The parallelism

that exists between the poem the “The Haunted Palace” and what is occurring in the

House of Usher achieves a great deal of unity as it helps to connect the events to

come by foreshadowing an imminent, terrible and rapid deterioration of the House of the

Usher’s. Through directing all elements of his style to one common cause, Poe creates

a unified story, optimal of achieving a single emotional effect.

Through diction, details, imagery, sentence structure-style-Poe develops a high degree

of suspense as well as a perfect tone which remains constant throughout the story.

It is clear that through his chosen style, Edgar Allen Poe has devised a believable tale

of increasing terror that succeeds in leaving his audience with a powerful, single

emotional effect of utmost terror.


Cite this Poe’s Short Stories

Poe’s Short Stories. (2018, Oct 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/poeffect-essay/

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