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Poe’s Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  “MS. Found in a Bottle” (1833); “Ligeia” (1838); “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839); “William Wilson” (1839); “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841); “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843); “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1843); “The Black Cat” (1843); “The Purloined Letter” (1844); “The Masque of the Red Death” (1845); “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

author  Edgar Allan Poe

type of work  Short story

genre  Gothic short story; detective story; science fiction

language  English

time and place written 18301846; Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, New York

publisher  Saturday Visiter (Baltimore); Southern Literary Messenger (Richmond); Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Philadelphia); Graham’s (Philadelphia); Evening Mirror (New York)

narrator   In the tales of criminal insanity, Poe’s narrators are unnamed and often unreliable. They claim their sanity and then proceed to detail their pathological madness. In the detective stories, the narrator is a loyal friend of Dupin and is in awe of the crime solver’s brilliance.

point of view   In the tales of criminal insanity, Poe’s first-person narrators produce unreliable confessions. They control the narrative, and we see only through their eyes. However, they describe their own pathological actions so meticulously that they demonstrate that they are actually insane. They are unable to step back from their narratives to discern their own madness. In the detective stories, Poe employs a third-person narrator, a friend of Dupin, and while the narrator tries to convey the tale fairly, his loyalty to Dupin prevents him from questioning or doubting Dupin’s actions and strategies.

tone  In the tales of criminal insanity, the narrators’ diction, which is precise and often ornate, suggests a serious investment in confession as a defense of sanity. In the detective stories, Poe’s narrator attempts a dispassionate and fair account of the events, but he often humbly defers to Dupin at moments of confusion or complexity.

tense  The tales of criminal insanity often begin in the present tense as confessions and then flash back to recount past crimes. The detective stories also feature little action in the present and instead convey the important events as flashbacks.

protagonist  The tales of criminal insanity establish the first-person narrators as protagonists by focusing on their struggles with madness and the law. The detective stories feature Dupin as the protagonist by focusing on his ability to save the Paris police with crime-solving brilliance.

themes  The similarity of love and hate; the rivalry between self and alter ego; the personification of memory after death

motifs  The revenant; the doppelganger; the masquerade

symbols  Eyes; the whirlpool; “Fortunato”