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Edgar Allan Poe. Elaine Chen, Penny Lu, Kate Lin and Josephine Liao. Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 His parents died before he was three, and shortly afterwards Poe was adopted by John Allan

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Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe

Elaine Chen, Penny Lu,

Kate Lin and Josephine Liao

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Edgar Allan Poe

  • Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809

  • His parents died before he was three, and shortly afterwards Poe was adopted by John Allan

  • Poe Attended school in England during 1815-20, and entered the University of Virginia in 1826, but did not finish because of financial problems.

  • Published his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems

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Edgar Allan Poe (2)

  • Broke off the engagement to Sarah Royster

  • His supportive friends published Poems for him.

  • Poe was also an assistant editor of Southern Literary Messenger, who moved to Richmond, and secretly married Virginia in 1835

  • Poe had also published the short story The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and then moved to NY

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Edgar Allan Poe (3)

  • Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838, became the co-editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, and published The Fall of the House of Usher in 1839.

  • His poem, “The Raven,” had made him a principal reviewer of the Broadway Journal.

  • His beloved wife, who is his cousin, Virginia died in 1847.

  • Poe died of congestion of the brain on October 7, 1849, perhaps due to his constant drinking and opium taking.

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Poe’s Works

  • Poems: The Raven, To Helen, Annabel Lee

  • Articles: Criticism

  • Short Stories: The Tell-Tale Heart

  • Detective: The Murders in the Rue Morgue

  • Horror: The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher

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Features of Poe’s Works

  • The atmosphere in the work of Poe is rather dark and strange

  • The characters in his tales include those aristocratic madam, self-tormented murderers, neurasthenic necrophiliacs and other deviant types (700, B 1509-10)

  • Poetry was a “passion,” and not a “purpose” (700, B 1510)

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“To Helen”

  • Sarah Helen Whitman (1803-1878), for whom Poe wrote "To Helen”

  • The poem itself could be considered as a letter to Helen of Troy.

  • Metaphors to present beauty of Helen

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Metaphors in “To Helen”

  • The warm and comfortable feelings Helen gives the narrator: That gently, o’er a perfumed sea/The weary, way-worn wandered bore to his own native shore

  • Beauty of Helen: her timeless face, hyacinth hair, nymphlike temperament and the pride of Greece

  • Helen is also portrayed as the narrator’s mentor—Psyche, the agate lamp

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“Annabel Lee”

  • The purpose of the poem was to be a representation of Poe’s wife, Virginia.

  • The theme includes two parts, including perfect and true love

  • In the poem, there are metaphors to show the perfect as well as selfish love between the narrator and Annabel Lee

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MetaphorsPerfect Love and Selfish Love

  • Mythical Setting: “It was many and many a year ago/In a kingdom by the sea” (lines 1-2)

  • Innocent Love: I was a child and she was a child (lines 7-8)

  • Pure Love:

    • We love with a love that was more than love…with a love that…seraphs…covet her and me (lines 8-11)

    • But we loved with a love that was more than love—me and Annabel Lee (lines 8-9)

  • Selfish Love: This maiden she lived with no other thought/that to love and to be loved by me (lines 5-6)

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Metaphors—Eternal Love

  • The moon and the stars:“For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams/ Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; / And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes/ Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.” (lines 34-37)

  • Annabel Lee’s tomb by the sounding sea: “And so, all the night tide, I lie down by the side/ Of my darling [ . . . ]/ In her sepulchre there by the sea—/In her tomb by the sounding sea.” (lines 38-40)

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The Fall of the House of Usher

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“The Fall of the House of Usher”

  • “The Fall of the House” is widely acknowledged to be one of Poe’s finest and most representative tales, which is also an early and supreme example of the Gothic horror story.

  • The story exhibits Poe’s concept of “art for art’s sake”--this idea is that a story should be devoid of social, political, or moral teaching.

  • Poe’s aim in his representation of horror in his tales was to create the sense of “terror” of the soul and mind.

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Summary I

The story begins with the first-person narrator riding on horseback toward the ancient home of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher. In the opening, the narrator has established an overwhelming atmosphere of dread. The house seems to have collected an evil and diseased atmosphere from the decaying trees and murky ponds around it. The narrator also notices that the structure of the house is solid, and there is a fissurein the front of the building from the roof to ground.

The reason the unnamed narrator rushes to the house of Usher and stays there is that his friend, Roderick, has written him a letter, asking for the narrator's visit. Besides, Roderick mentioned in his letter that he felt bodily and emotionally ill.

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Summary II

The narrator also explains that the Usher family is an ancient clan that never flourished, and only one member of the Usher family survives from generation to generation. When the narrator walks in the house, he finds the inside of the house is as dreary as the outside. He also notes that his friend is paler and less energetic than he once was. Besides, Roderick suffers from nerves and fear because he was also afraid of his own house.

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Summary III

Later on, the narrator sees Roderick’s sister, Madeline, who has taken ill with a mysterious illness. After few days, Madeline dies, and Roderick decides to bury his sister in the vaults in the house. When the narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, he notices that Madeline has rosy cheeks as some do after death.

Over next few days, Roderick becomes even more uneasy. One night, the narrator cannot sleep either, with Roderick knocking on his door, apparently hysterical. He leads the narrator to the window, from where they can see a bright-looking gas all around the house. However, the narrator has used a rational way to explain the phenomenon.

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Summary IV

In order to calm Roderick down, the narrator reads the “Mad Trist” to him. As he reads the story, he hears noises that correspond to the description in the book. Although the narrator tries to ignore it; however, the noises becomes more distinct. Moreover, the narrator hears the murmuring of Roderick, and Roderick believes that they have buried his sister alive and she is trying to get out. Suddenly, Roderick yells that his sister is standing behind the door. The wind blows the door open, with his sister really standing in white robes bloodied from her struggle. She falls upon her brother, and Roderick dies of fear eventually. The narrator then flees from the house, and as he does so, the entire house cracks along the break in the frame, with everything crumpling to the ground.

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The Setting of “The House”

  • The house establishes an atmosphere of dreariness, melancholy, and decay.

  • “The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.” (720, B 1537)

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The Setting of “The House”

  • The house sets the scene for an eerie, diseased and black tale.

  • It is a symbol for the Usher family, since the house was not only personified but that it was also just as crumpled as the family was.

    • “I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls— upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium—the bitter lapse into everyday life—the hideous dropping off of the veil.

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The Setting of The House

There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart —an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it —I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?” (718, B1534-35)

  • “It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have

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The Setting of The House

exercised upon the other [ . . . ] consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the "House of Usher"—an appellation which seemed to include, [ . . . ] both the family and the family mansion. (719, B1535-36)

  • “Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. [ . . . ] While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened— there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."(730, B 1541)

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  • Unnamed narrator: first person POV, and considered to be rational

    • He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth—in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated—an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit—an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence. (721, B1538)

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  • Roderick--- is ill bodily and emotionally, as well as superstitious

    • Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the ennuyé man of the world. [ . . . ] A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a

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countenance not easily to be forgotten. [ …] The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity. (720, B1537)

  • The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones –[ . . . ], and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence --the evidence of the sentience— was to be seen, he said, [ . . . ] in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, [ . . . ] ,and which made him what I now saw him—what he was. (725, B1541-42)

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  • Madeline has unknown disease, which is mysterious

    • The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. (722, B1539)

  • Narrator represents science

  • Roderick Usher : superstition

  • Madeline represents the mystery and the cause of the collapse of the house.

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Other Themes in the Story

  • Dream— Poe entices readers to view the narrator’s experience as a “dream,” which include iterative images of water, sleep and descent as well as its repetition.(718,719, 722/ B1534-35, 1536, 1538-39)

  • Evil — Poe creates an evil atmosphere through the narrator’s description of the Usher family home and Roderick and Madeline.

    • A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! [ . . . ]. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. (720, B1537)

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Other Themes in the Story

  • Terror—Poe intends to arouse a sense of unearthly terror that spring from a vague, hinted and mysterious source in the story.  His aim is to create tales of terror

    • Madeline is only seen briefly before she dies, stirring up the feeling of “dread.”

      • “As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance [ . . .] then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her horrible and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had dreaded.” (730, B1547)

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Other Themes in the Story

  • Roderick has a ghastly look of the pale skin he has on his body, which creates an eerie feeling for the audience.

    • “Upon my entrance, [ . . . ] The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous luster of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.” (720, B 1537)

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Poe’s Short Stories

  • Gothic literature

    a. A tone that is gloomy, dark and threatening.

    b. Events take place must be strange,

    melodramatic or evil.

    c. Two categories:

    (1) The grotesque —refers to more realistic

    stories with human interaction.

    (2) The arabesque —involves very few people but many ideas, and are frequently in abstract location.

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Important Themes in Poe’s Works

  • Doubling: The paralleled scenes or characters closely mimic each other.e.g. “The Fall of the House of Usher”

    • At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment, paused; for it appeared to me [ . . . ]—it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo [ . . . .] of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. (728, B1545)

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Important Themes in Poe’s Works

  • Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement—for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound—the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon's unnatural shriek as described by the romancer. (729, B 1546)

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Important Themes in Poe’s Works

  • Kinds ofhorror—Psychological & Physical

    • “The Cask of Amontillado”

    • “The Fall of the House of Usher”

  • Conflicts — e.g. science and superstition

  • Revenge —e.g. “The Cask of Amontillado”

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The Tell-Tale Heart

“True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but will you say that I am mad?”

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Characters and Setting

  • The characters in this story include the narrator, the old man (someone the narrator that intended to kill), and the police

  • The setting is in the house, in the old man’s room, where the old man is killed on the bed.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart”

This grisly story was first published in a magazine called The Pioneer, 1843. It was reprinted twice in Poe’s lifetime but never as part of the collections of his fiction in book form.

It has been adapted for stage, radio, movies, and television. Its combination of action, confessional commentary, and accompanying sounds make it especially suitable for the radio.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • The story reflects the wretchedness, sense of pain, and psychological malaise that Poe was undergoing toward the end of 1842, when he left Graham’s, and his wife Virginia became gravely sick.

  • The story “The Tell-Tale Heart” is very dramatic and has separate segments which conform to the five parts of traditional drama.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart”

  • First, the narrator introduces himself and his victim, and denies himself as sane, of acute senses, and committed to a murderous course.

  • Second, suspense mounts as he enters the old man’s room, time after time.

  • Third, he returns a final time to consummate the deed.

  • Fourth, his clean-up activities constitute falling action, leading to the end.

  • And fifth, the catastrophic entrance of the police officers and the revelation by the killer of his deed and his victim’s body.

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The Old Man

  • It has been said that the old man, whom the narrator feels obliged to murder may be an authoritarian figure, perhaps Poe’s foster father, John Allan, or other members of the literary and publishing establishment which Poe could not conquer, and that he felt a sense of relief, while vicariously destroying them all.

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The Conscience

  • In this story, the narrator takes great pain to conceal the body, but the imperceptive police still attempts to search the old man.

  • The narrator confesses the repulsive unmotivated murder of the harmless roommate, driven by remorse of conscience; he gives himself away when he hears—or fancies he hears—the beating of the dead man’s heart.

  • The beating could be viewed as the narrator’s conscience-stimulated tell-tale heart that beats louder and louder, then eventually reveals the murder.

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The Moral

  • The moral has to do with the perverse compulsion of the guilty to unmask themselves.

  • The narrator here surely could have gotten away with the act of murder but for his inner being’s urge to come out into the open.

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“The Raven”

  • The narrator moves through a sequence of changing moods. When first awakened by the raven, he is gloomy. Terror quickly follows, then curiosity as he seeks a simple explanation for the tapping. The entrance of the bird makes him smile. But soon the uncanny aptness of the same, cruel answer causes bitter self-questioning, sad memory, near hysteria, and finally permanent hopelessness. The raven in the end never flits, still sitting there, with devil eyes, its shadow falling on the floor; and the man’s soul is in that shadow, forever.

  • The subject of the poem deals with the death of a beautiful woman, which could be Virginia or others whom the Poe speaker loves, and the sorrow of a lover whose beautiful lady has been taken from him by death.

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“The Raven”

  • This poem was first printed on January 29, 1845, in the New York Evening Mirror and was soon reprinted in the February issue of the American Review.

  • Poe received $10 for it but also with world-wide fame.

  • “The “Philosophy of Composition” had explanatory notes step by step on the creative process Poe went through in fashioning the poem.

  • The poem exists in 16 different versions, which suggests that Poe had built it up over a period of years (1841-1844).

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The Symbol

  • The next-to-last stanza describes the end of action, since the raven refuses to leave, and what follows is the unending feeling of stark wretchedness, symbolized by the immobile raven, with its evil dreaming eyes and its engulfing shadow.

  • The raven is revealed as a symbol—not of death, but in Poe’s memorable phrase, of “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.”

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“The Philosophy of Composition”

  • This piece of work was written in 1846, as an essay on the creation of “The Raven.”

  • Poe describes that composing a poem is a mathematical problem  “by a species of fine frenzy - an ecstatic intuition - and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes.” (753, B1599)

  • Poe expresses that a piece of work must have a single effect which could be read at one sitting  Length: 100 Lines/poem, and “The Raven” has 108 Lines (754, B1599-1600)

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The Philosophy of Composition

In addition, “The Raven” is written backwards.

  • Effect  Plot  The piece of work

  • Beauty + Death=the death of a beautiful woman

  • Melancholy

  • Subject and Tone

  • “Nevermore”

  • After the climax no meaning for the narrator the search the moral of “Nevermore”

  • "Mournful and never-ending remembrance."

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Works Cited

  • “Who was E.A. Poe?” Edgar Allen Poe.


  • Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1949)


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