Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 9, 2022
October 2, 2022
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas
explored in a literary work.
Poe explores the similarity of love and hate in many stories,
especially “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “William Wilson.” Poe portrays the
psychological complexity of these two supposedly opposite emotions,
emphasizing the ways they enigmatically blend into each other. Poe’s
psychological insight anticipates the theories of Sigmund Freud,
the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis and one of the twentieth
century’s most influential thinkers. Poe, like Freud, interpreted
love and hate as universal emotions, thereby severed from the specific
conditions of time and space.
The Gothic terror is the result of the narrator’s simultaneous
love for himself and hatred of his rival. The double shows that
love and hate are inseparable and suggests that they may simply
be two forms of the most intense form of human emotion. The narrator
loves himself, but when feelings of self-hatred arise in him, he
projects that hatred onto an imaginary copy of himself. In “The
Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator confesses a love for an old man whom
he then violently murders and dismembers. The narrator reveals his
madness by attempting to separate the person of the old man, whom
he loves, from the old man’s supposedly evil eye, which triggers
the narrator’s hatred. This delusional separation enables the narrator
to remain unaware of the paradox of claiming to have loved his victim.
In many of Poe’s Gothic tales, characters wage internal
conflicts by creating imaginary alter egos or assuming alternate
and opposite personalities. In “William Wilson,” the divided self
takes the form of the narrator’s imagined double, who tracks him
throughout Europe. The rival threatens the narrator’s sense of a
coherent identity because he demonstrates that it is impossible
for him to escape his unwanted characteristics. The narrator uses
the alter ego to separate himself from his insanity. He projects
his inner turmoil onto his alter ego and is able to forget that
the trouble resides within him. The alter ego becomes a rival of
the self because its resemblance to the self is unmistakable. Suicide
results from the delusion that the alter ego is something real that
can be eliminated in order to leave the self in peace. In “The Black
Cat” the narrator transforms from a gentle animal lover into an
evil cat-killer. The horror of “The Black Cat” derives from this
sudden transformation and the cruel act—the narrator’s killing of
his cat Pluto—which accompanies it. Pluto’s reincarnation as the
second cat haunts the narrator’s guilty conscience. Although the
narrator wants to forget his murder of Pluto, gallows appear in
the color of his fur. The fur symbolizes the suppressed guilt that
drives him insane and causes him to murder his wife.
Poe often gives memory the power to keep the dead alive.
Poe distorts this otherwise commonplace literary theme by bringing
the dead literally back to life, employing memory as the trigger
that reawakens the dead, who are usually women. In “Ligeia,” the
narrator cannot escape memories of his first wife, Ligeia, while
his second wife, the lady Rowena, begins to suffer from a mysterious sickness.
While the narrator’s memories belong only to his own mind, Poe allows
these memories to exert force in the physical world. Ligeia dies,
but her husband’s memory makes him see her in the architecture of
the bedroom he shares with his new wife. In this sense, Gothic terror
becomes a love story. The loving memory of a grieving husband revives
a dead wife. “Ligeia” breaks down the barrier between life and death,
but not just to scare the reader. Instead, the memory of the dead
shows the power of love to resist even the permanence of death.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Poe’s Short Stories!