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Poe’s Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Roderick Usher

As one of the two surviving members of the Usher family in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick is one of Poe’s character doubles, or doppelgangers. Roderick is intellectual and bookish, and his twin sister, Madeline, is ill and bedridden. Roderick’s inability to distinguish fantasy from reality resembles his sister’s physical weakness. Poe uses these characters to explore the philosophical mystery of the relationship between mind and body. With these twins, Poe imagines what would happen if the connection between mind and body were severed and assigned to separate people. The twin imagery and the incestuous history of the Usher line establish that Roderick is actually inseparable from his sister. Although mind and body are separated, they remain dependent on each other for survival. This interdependence causes a chain reaction when one of the elements suffers a breakdown. Madeline’s physical death coincides with the collapse of both Roderick’s sanity and the Ushers’ mansion.

C. Auguste Dupin

In the stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” Poe creates the genre of detective fiction and the original expert sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin. In both “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” Dupin works outside conventional police methods, and he uses his distance from traditional law enforcement to explore new ways of solving crimes. He continually argues that the Paris police exhibit stale and unoriginal methods of analysis. He says that the police are easily distracted by the specific facts of the crime and are unable to provide an objective standpoint from which to investigate. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the police cannot move beyond the gruesome nature of the double homicide. Because they are so distracted by the mutilated and choked victims, they do not closely inspect the windows of the apartment, which reveal a point of entry and escape. Dupin distances himself from the emotional aspect of the scene’s violence. Like a mathematician, he views the crime scene as a site of calculation, and he considers the moves of the murderer as though pitted against him in a chess game.

In “The Purloined Letter,” Dupin solves the theft of the letter by putting himself at risk politically. Whereas the Paris police tread lightly around the actions of Minister D——, an important government official, Dupin ignores politics just as he ignores emotion in the gruesome murders of the Rue Morgue. In this story, Dupin reveals his capacity for revenge. When the Minister insulted him in Vienna years before the crime presently in question, Dupin promised to repay the slight. This story demonstrates that Dupin’s brilliance is not always dispassionately mathematical. He cunningly analyzes the external facts of the crime, but he is also motivated by his hunger for revenge. Dupin must function as an independent detective because his mode of investigation thrives on intuition and personal cunning, which cannot be institutionalized in a traditional police force.

William Wilson

Poe explores the imagery of doubles in “William Wilson.” William Wilson loses his personal identity when he discovers a classmate who shares not only his full name but also his physical appearance and manner of speaking. Poe stresses the external aspects of their similarity less than the narrator’s mental turmoil, which is triggered by his encounter with his rivalrous double. When the narrator attempts to murder his double in the story’s final moments, he ironically causes his own death. This action demonstrates the bond of dependence between the hated double and the loved self. The -murder-suicide confirms the double as the narrator’s alter ego. In other words, the narrator’s double exists not as an external character but rather as part of the narrator’s imagination. Poe uses the idea of the double to question the narrator’s grasp on reality. The -murder-suicide implies that the narrator has imagined the existence of his rival because he suffers from paranoia, a mental state in which the human mind suspects itself to be threatened by external forces that are just imaginary figments of irs own creation.

Lady Ligeia

Many women return from the dead in Poe’s stories, and Lady Ligeia is the most alluring of them all. Ligeia’s sudden reappearance casts doubt on the mental stability of her husband, the tale’s narrator. Poe does not focus on the narrator’s unreliability but instead develops the character of the dark and brilliant Ligeia. Ligeia’s dark features contrast with those of the narrator’s second wife, the fair-skinned and blonde Lady Rowena. Ligeia does not disappear from the story after her apparent death. In order to watch over her husband and his cold new bride, Ligeia becomes part of the Gothic architecture of the bridal chamber. Poe symbolically translates Ligeia’s dark, haunting physical qualities into the Gothic and grotesque elements of the bedroom, including the eerie gold tapestries that Rowena believes comes alive. Ligeia is not only one of the dead who come alive but also a force that makes physical objects come alive. She uses these forces to doom the narrator’s second marriage, and her manifestations in the architecture of the bedroom, whether real or the product of the narrator and his wife’s imaginations, testify to the power of past emotions to influence the present and the future.

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Bacon

by Hookshot8, March 14, 2014

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