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A world traveler and survivor of two hurricanes at sea. After a mishap on the South Seas, the narrator embarks on a journey of self-discovery to regions beyond human exploration and rational knowledge.
Along with the narrator, the only survivor of the tale’s first hurricane. The Old Swede’s experience of the tragic voyage is purely physical, not intellectual like the narrator’s. His death signals the metaphoric importance of the voyage as a quest for knowledge.
Husband of both Lady Ligeia and Lady Rowena. Unable to recall certain details about his only love, Ligeia, the narrator keeps her alive in his memory after her physical death and his second marriage.
The darkly beautiful and learned first wife of the narrator, Ligeia is a woman who returns from the grave. After dying from a mysterious illness, Ligeia haunts her husband and his new bride, becoming part of the Gothic decorations of their bridal chamber.
The blonde second wife of the narrator. Rowena’s cold English character contrasts with Ligeia’s sensual, Germanic romanticism. Ligeia punishes Rowena’s lack of affection for the narrator by haunting the bridal chamber and dooming their marriage.
The owner of the mansion and last male in the Usher line. Roderick functions as a doppelganger, or character double, for his twin sister, Madeline. He represents the mind to her body and suffers from the mental counterpart of her physical illness.
Read an in-depth analysis of Roderick Usher
Roderick’s twin sister and victim of catalepsy, a mysterious incapacitating illness. Because the narrator is surprised to discover that Madeline is a twin, she signals the narrator’s outsider relationship to the house of Usher.
Roderick’s best boyhood friend. Contacted by Roderick during his emotional distress, the narrator knows little about the house of Usher and is the first outsider to visit the mansion in many years.
The narrator who murders his double, also named William Wilson. The first William Wilson suffers from a split personality: he takes a figment of his imagination and gives it physical shape.
Read an in-depth analysis of William Wilson
A classmate and rivalrous competitor of the narrator. This second William Wilson is the external embodiment of the narrator’s paranoia.
A Parisian crime solver. Dupin discovers the truth behind the violent murders of two women after the Paris police arrest the wrong man. He employs psychological analysis and intuition and considers possibilities not imagined by the police to conclude that the murders were committed by an Ourang-Outang.
Read an in-depth analysis of C. Auguste Dupin
The older of the two Parisian murder victims. Violently beaten with a club, Madame L’Espanaye dies from a cut throat and is thrown through the window to a courtyard below her apartment.
Daughter of Madame L’Espanaye. Mademoiselle Camille is choked to death by the murderer and then stuffed into the chimney.
A bank clerk and the first suspect in the two murders.
A friend and housemate of Dupin. The narrator attempts to provide an objective chronicle of the crime, but his tone celebrates Dupin’s brilliance.
The owner of the Ourang-Outang. The sailor witnesses the two murders but is unable to interfere. His inability to restrain the Ourang-Outang also represents the limits of the Paris police to imagine a nonhuman explanation for the vicious murders.
The murderer of the old man. Addressing the reader, the narrator offers his tale of precise murder and dismemberment as an argument for his sanity.
The narrator’s murder victim. The narrator’s obsession with the old man’s one vulture-eye indicates the insanity that the narrator wants to deny.
A victim of the Inquisition. The narrator maintains sanity that many of Poe’s other narrators lack. He functions with Dupin-like practicality despite the invisible enemy threatening him with torture.
A leader of the French army. General Lasalle is a real and positive presence of authority in contrast to the shadowy and invisible leaders of the Inquisition.
The murderer of his wife. Haunted by a favorite cat that he hanged, the narrator seeks revenge, only to lash out against his wife.
The murder victim. Also a lover of animals, the narrator’s wife defends the second cat from her husband’s anger. She possesses the generosity that the narrator has mysteriously lost.
Asavvy and learned Parisian who helps the city’s police solve crimes. Dupin uses psychology to foil the plans of a thief and uncover a stolen letter that the police of Paris could not uncover by conventional investigations.
A friend of Dupin. In awe of Dupin’s brilliance, the narrator faithfully recounts Dupin’s explanations without doubting or challenging him.
The Prefect of the Paris police. Limited by his conventional police training, Monsieur G—— depends on Dupin’s assistance in peculiarly difficult crimes, and his own general competence highlights Dupin’s superior abilities.
A government official and the thief of the letter. Minister D—— ‘s ability to outwit the police in his crime proves he is a worthy adversary for Dupin.
A wealthy nobleman and the ultimate victim of the Red Death. Prince Prospero’s wealth turns out to be irrelevant in the natural cycle of life and death.
The embodiment of the Red Death. Donning the gruesome marks of the plague as his costume, the mysterious guest brings death to those who deny their own mortality.
The narrator, Montresor, murders Fortunato for insulting him by walling him up alive behind bricks in a wine cellar.
A wine expert murdered by Montresor. Dressed as a court jester, Fortunato falls prey to Montresor’s scheme at a particularly carefree moment during a carnival.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Poe’s Short Stories!