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Poe’s Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe

Important Quotations Explained

“The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

Key Facts

1. “For the love of God, Montresor!”

In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Fortunato addresses this plea—his last spoken words—to Montresor, the man who has entombed him alive. Critics have long argued about the meaning of this quotation. On the one hand, some argue that Fortunato at last breaks down and, realizing the deathly import of the situation, resorts to a prayer for earthly salvation. Fortunato, according to this interpretation, maintains the hope that Montresor is playing a complex practical joke. The italicized words signal the panic in Fortunato’s voice as he tries to redeem Montresor from the grip of evil. On the other hand, some critics assert that Fortunato accepts his earthly demise and instead mocks the capacity for prayer to influence life on Earth. In this interpretation, Fortunato recognizes his own misfortune and taunts Montresor with the mention of a God who has long ago deserted him. Just as the carnival represents the liberation from respectable social behavior in the streets above, the crypts below dramatize religious abandon and the violation of sacred humanity.

Montresor’s response of “Yes, for the love of God!” mocks Fortunato in his moment of desperate vulnerability. However, Fortunato refuses to acknowledge this final insult. On the verge of death, he uses silence as his final weapon. He recognizes that his unknowing participation in the entombment has given Montresor more satisfaction than the murder itself. When Montresor twice calls out “Fortunato!” he hears only the jingle of Fortunato’s cap bells in response. The sense of panic shifts here from Fortunato to Montresor. Montresor’s heart grows sick as he realizes that Fortunato outwits him by refusing to play along anymore in this game of revenge. Montresor faces only the physical fact of the murder, and is stripped of the psychological satisfaction of having fooled Fortunato.

2. “In me didst thou exist—and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself.”

In “William Wilson,” the rivalrous double William Wilson utters these final words to the narrator, the man who has just stabbed him. This quotation, spoken with reference to an image in a mirror, points to the indistinguishability between the victim, William Wilson, and the narrator, William Wilson. The speaker uses the image of the mirror to represent his own death, but the mirror eerily reflects the image of the narrator, not the speaker. The quotation highlights the inseparability of the self and the rivalrous double, for the murder of the rival also produces the suicide of the self. The second William Wilson constitutes the narrator’s alter ego, the part of his own being that he has externalized in the figure of his competitor. Although the narrator believes he can use violence to curtail the power of his alter ego, he discovers that he owes his life to the person he most despises.

This quotation also points to the fine line between love and hate. The second William Wilson’s final words are not bitter or vengeful. Their compassionate insight precisely contrasts with the narrator’s act of violence that has triggered the quotation. William Wilson uses these words not only to convey his intimate knowledge about the narrator, but also to redeem the narrator from the paranoia that has taken his life. The quotation discloses the rivals’ indistinguishability so that the narrator might recognize that his own mental pathology has killed him. Whereas the narrator has construed their similarity as grounds for jealousy and violence, his rival alternatively uses their doubling to convey difficult, and potentially redemptive, knowledge to the narrator. In this way, William Wilson, until his final breath, plays right into the narrator’s jealousy by rejecting the very lust for vengeance that the narrator has been unable to escape. In the end, the narrator’s suicide proves a tragic alternative to William Wilson’s compassionate self-knowledge.

3. “In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’”

In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Parisian private detective M. Auguste Dupin speaks these words to the narrator as the two men begin to inspect the gruesome crime scene. Dupin here sets out to explain his analytic approach to solving crimes. He accuses the Paris police of being too shortsighted in their investigative strategies by limiting their interest to “what has occurred.” By Dupin’s logic, the police fail to solve the murders in the Rue Morgue because the crimes move beyond the range of both their experience and their imagination. Instead of pooling their imaginative resources, the Paris police get distracted by the crime’s gruesome elements. According to Dupin, while the best police minds can be, at times, ingenious, they often fail to be adequately creative.

Dupin distinguishes himself from the established police order in two ways. First, he approaches the ghastly violence of the scene dispassionately, treating it as a mathematical study. He is thus able to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the scene’s emotional trauma. Second, Dupin expands the methodological reach of crime-solving by relying upon intuition and analysis. Not only does Dupin gather evidence from the crime scene that has previously escaped the notice of the police, like the window nails, but he is also able to adequately account for details that confuse others. For example, he translates the medical examiner’s report of the immense, almost superhuman strength of the murderer into the possibility of a nonhuman having committed the crime. Dupin’s effectiveness lies in his eccentric willingness to move beyond certain standards of rationality and believability. While his explanations piece together the disparate clues from the crime scene in an eminently rational way, he begins with premises that seem irrational—for example, that an animal could have committed the crime. Dupin utilizes such controversial premises because they privilege new modes of analysis—that is, consideration of what “has never occurred before.”

4. I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia.

The narrator opens “Ligeia” by confessing certain gaps in his memory of his beloved first wife. The narrator’s scant memory contrasts with the plot of the tale itself, which ultimately portrays Ligeia as one of Poe’s most enduring revenants, or women who return from the grave. While the narrator claims to have forgotten the specific circumstances in which he met Ligeia, the tale proceeds to establish Ligeia as an unforgettable presence. When the lady Rowena, the narrator’s second wife, becomes mysteriously ill in the second month of their marriage, the narrator has to fend off his memories of Ligeia. The tale affirms Ligeia’s power in contrast to the narrator’s claims of feeble memory. It thereby distinguishes “Ligeia” from Poe’s other first-person Gothic narrations by shifting attention from the narrator’s unreliability to the motif of the woman who return from the dead. While the plot highlights the irony of the narrator’s opening words, Poe does not make the narrator’s contradictions the centerpiece of the narrative’s interest.

Ligeia’s obscure origins, as portrayed in this quotation, contribute to her Gothic status as a revenant. She possesses a certain Gothic allure because she seems to come from nowhere and to be free from the laws of nature that govern both the narrator and Rowena. Ligeia’s mysterious return in the tale’s final scene effectively reenacts the narrator’s opening remark about her sudden and mysterious appearance in his life. In this sense, while the tale undermines the narrator’s claims of feeble memory, his initial remark also foreshadows Ligeia’s Gothic return. She comes from nowhere in the tale’s eerie conclusion just as she originally presents herself to the narrator as his beloved wife without a past.

5. A striking similitude between the brother and the sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator makes this observation about Roderick and Madeline Usher when he helps to bury Madeline after her apparent death. This quotation makes explicit the motif of the doppelganger, or character double, that characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline. Poe philosophically experiments with a split between mind and body by associating Roderick exclusively with the former and Madeline exclusively with the latter. The doppelganger motif undermines the separation between mind and body. Poe represents this intimate connectivity between mind and body by making Roderick and Madeline biological twins. When sickness afflicts one sibling, for example, it contagiously spreads to the other. The mode of contagion implies an early version of ESP, or extrasensory perception. Poe insinuates that these mysterious sympathies, which move beyond biological definition, also possess the capacity to transmit physical illness. It is also possible to view these sympathies as Poe’s avant-garde imagining of genetic transmission between siblings.

Poe suggests that the twin relationship involves not only physical similitude but also psychological or supernatural communication. The power of the intimate relationship between the twins pervades the incestuous framework of the Usher line, since the mansion contains all surviving branches of the family. The revelation of this intimacy also reaffirms the narrator’s status as an outsider. The narrator realizes that Roderick and Madeline are twins only after she is nearly dead, and this ignorance embodies the fact that the walls of the Usher mansion have protected the family from outsiders up to the point of the narrator’s arrival. When the narrator, as an outsider, discovers the similitude between Roderick and Madeline, he begins to invade a privileged space of family knowledge that ultimately falls to ruins in the presence of a trespasser.

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Bacon

by Hookshot8, March 14, 2014

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