Themes in Works by Edgar Allan Poe
Horror stories seem to provoke a certain feeling inside all of us. They can make us scared, nervous, or even just amazed. If a horror story is told well, it can make just about any reader cringe. There are certain elements that must be in a horror story to really make it frightening. Some of these elements include the setting, the characters, a feeling of suspense, foreshadowing, and unexpected events. All of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems seem to bring about a whimsical and nightmarish feeling in the reader. Poe’s life was stranger than most, which has probably helped him to create such ghastly tales. “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Raven”, and “The Masque of Red Death” all contain those qualities that make them dreamlike or nightmarish.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” contains many of the elements that make it a true horror story. One example of the foreshadowing of an unexpected event is the crack that runs down the side of the giant house. This fissure is a form of foreshadowing and also is a way to show how Roderick Usher’s mind is cracking and how he is slowly going mad. As the story ends, the “fissure rapidly widened”(172) and the house crumbles to the ground. Also, the setting and setting add to the terror of the story. The House of Usher is a very gloomy, moss-covered house that is large and gothic looking. The weather throughout the story is gloomy and, toward the end of the story, a storm arrives. As Poe describes it, it is a “dull, dark soundless day”(p.160). The bad weather adds to the feeling of oncoming horror later in the story. It just lets the reader know that something is going to happen by having the stormy weather. This passage is also an example of alliteration. “The Fall of the House of Usher” contains many of the necessary elements that create a true horror story.
Likewise, “The Masque of Red Death” also possesses many dreamlike or nightmarish qualities. An example of this horrifying dreamlike effect is “duke’s love of the bizarre”(176). The duke’s house is arranged very strangely, which adds to the odd feeling of the story. There are seven different rooms, all of different colors with the windows matching the room colors. The last room is black with red windows. During the duke’s party, nobody goes in there because of the ominous feeling created by the room. For instance, the whole story has a dreamlike quality as the party continues into the night. A strange visitor wearing a disgusting mask comes to the party. When he arrives at midnight, everyone is alarmed and when the visitor is confronted, everyone at the party “acknowledged presence of the Red Death”(180). The masked visitor is found to have no tangible body and all partygoers are killed. The setting of the party and the unexpected visitor that makes an appearance both make the story scary.
Finally, “The Raven” has certain attributes that make it appear nightmarish to the reader. In the story, a man hears a strange sound while asleep and he decides to investigate. He finds a raven that when spoken to, replies by saying “nevermore”(184-188). Another aspect of the story that makes it dreamlike is the dialogue that goes on between the raven and the man. The man keeps asking the raven about when he will be able to see a woman name Lenore but the bird’s reply is the same every time. The man then realizes he is going mad since his soul “from out that shadow…shall be lifted-nevermore”(188). The man knows he will never see Lenore again but he tortures himself by asking the raven rhetorical questions. These characteristics make “The Raven” seem nightmarish and bizarre.
Everyone loves a good horror story and by having the right principals in a horror story, it can help to greatly scare and satisfy the reader. Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the art and knew how to incorporate all the right characteristics into his stories. “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Masque of Red Death”, and “The Raven” all had these qualities. Poe stories will live on for years to come since he has created the definition of a truly disturbing and frightening tale.