Poe’s Short Stories
MS. Found in a Bottle (1833)
A voyage in the South Seas is swept off course by a hurricane, and the narrator responds to the life-threatening turn of events.
“Ligeia” describes the two marriages of the narrator, the first to the darkly featured and brilliant Lady Ligeia; the second to her racial opposite, the fair and blonde Lady Rowena. Both women die quickly and mysteriously after their marriage ceremonies, and the narrator’s persistent memories of Ligeia bring her back to life to replace Lady Rowena’s corpse.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1939)
A woman also returns from the dead in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The story’s narrator is summoned by his boyhood friend Roderick Usher to visit him during a period of emotional distress. The narrator discovers that Roderick’s twin sister, Madeline, is also sick. She takes a turn for the worse shortly after the narrator’s arrival, and the men bury Madeline in a tomb within the house. They later discover, to their horror, that they have entombed her alive. Madeline claws her way out, collapsing eventually on Roderick, who dies in fear.
William Wilson (1839)
Poe again takes up the theme of the twin in “William Wilson.” The narrator discovers that a classmate shares not only the name William Wilson but also his physical build, style of dress, and even vocal intonation. A fear of losing of his identity drives the narrator to murder his rival, but the crime also mysteriously brings about his own death.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
In this detective story, Poe introduces the brilliant sleuth C. Auguste Dupin. When the Paris police arbitrarily arrest Dupin’s friend for the gruesome murders of a mother and daughter, Dupin begins an independent investigation and solves the case accurately. Uncovering evidence that goes otherwise unnoticed, Dupin concludes that a wild animal, an Ourang--Outang, committed the murders.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1843)
Obsessed with the vulture-like eye of an old man he otherwise loves and trusts, the narrator smothers the old man, dismembers his body, and conceals the parts under the floorboards of the bedroom. When the police arrive to investigate reports of the old man’s shrieks, the narrator attempts to keep his cool, but hears what he thinks is the beating of the old man’s heart. Panicking, afraid that the police know his secret, he rips up the floorboards and confesses his crime.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1843)
Captured by the Inquisition, the narrator fends off hungry rats, avoids falling into a giant pit, and escapes the razor-sharp blades of a descending pendulum. As the walls of his cell are about to close in and drive him into the pit, he is saved by the French army.
The Black Cat (1843)
When the narrator hangs a cat he had formerly adored, the cat returns from the dead to haunt him. The narrator tries to strike back at the cat but kills his wife in the process. The cat draws the police to the cellar wall where the narrator has hidden his wife’s corpse.
The Purloined Letter (1844)
In this sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Dupin recovers a stolen letter to foil a villain’s plan. The police attempt thorough investigations but come up with nothing. Identifying with the criminal mind, Dupin discovers evidence so obvious that it had gone unnoticed.
The Masque of the Red Death (1845)
A bloody disease called the Red Death ravages a kingdom. Prince Prospero retreats to his castle and throws a lavish masquerade ball to celebrate his escape from death. At midnight, a mysterious guest arrives and, as the embodiment of the Red Death, kills Prospero and all his guests.
The Cask of Amontillado (1846)
The vengeful Montresor repays the supposed insults of his enemy, Fortunato. Luring Fortunato into the crypts of his home with the promise of Amontillado sherry, Montresor entombs Fortunato in a wall while the carnival rages above them.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!