In the first paragraph we are introduced to the main character who is also the narrator. Immediately he comes across as being mad and crazed. He claims that a disease has ‘sharpened his senses’ and made him healthy. This is obviously quite strange because a disease doesn’t strengthen you it weakens you. He seems to be talking to himself at the beginning, which is an obvious symptom of madness. Poe uses short sentences to convey the nervous agitation shown by the murderer. ‘Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing’, these three short sentences suggest that the murderer is panicking and is anxious, although he tries to hide it
We then meet the old man who has the ‘eye of a vulture’. The murderer fears the eye and makes it his duty to destroy it. When he sees it, it makes his ‘blood run cold’, this implies to the reader that he is insane as he is afraid of an eye. The eye is named the ‘Evil Eye’, which gives the eye a status and emphasises its vileness and vulgar appearance.
Poe uses different techniques to create a chilling atmosphere. When the murderer goes to the old man’s bedroom every night, the atmosphere is supernatural and the pace slows down to match the actions of the murderer, ‘cautiously – oh, so cautiously – cautiously’, this delays the pace of the language, creating suspense, so that the reader is almost hypnotized, especially with the use of repetition which adds to the feeling of apprehension. On top of that, in order for Poe to create a menacing atmosphere, he uses personification of death.
He describes death as an ‘unperceived shadow’ like the murderer is to the old man, unnoticed and murky. Poe also uses long sentences to bring the pace of the story right down. Within these sentences Poe uses pauses, alliteration, sibilance and tautology to slow the tempo. Also Poe uses dramatic sentences to slow the pace but to also convey the abnormal state of mind of the murderer, ‘For a whole hour I did not move a muscle’, this again emphasises the point that the murderer is eccentric, but it also decelerates the pace of the story as it creates an image in the reader’s mind of a very unhurried and non-moving man.
However the pace of the language varies considerably to convey the volatility of the murderer’s thoughts. The pace of the story reflects the murderer’s ever-changing disturbed mind. It seems to the reader that when he is confident, the pace of the story seems to be slow and relaxed, but when he is anxious the pace quickens and he goes almost hysterical and maniacal. To convey this Poe uses exclamation marks and short sentences, particularly towards the end when the murderer hears the heart beat of the old man whom he thought was dead. ‘Louder! Louder! Louder! Louder! Louder!’ accelerates the pace and the short pauses mirror the thumps of the old man’s heart creating an unearthly atmosphere.
The murderer conveys himself as ‘courageous’ and ‘confident’ as he pursues the old man. ‘I fairly chuckled at the idea’, he is so convinced that the old man has no idea that he is there, that he thinks it’s funny, suggesting that he sees things in a twisted way. He thinks he is omniscient, ‘I felt the extent of my own powers’, this suggests to the reader that the murderer believes that he can do nothing wrong and is almost invincible.
Leading up to the old man’s death Poe uses different techniques to get the reader thinking like the murderer. He uses sibilance, ‘stealthily, stealthily’, to describe the murderers actions as though they are cunning and silent like a snake. Then he uses emotive language to get the reader to sympathise with the old man, he ‘pitied him’, this shows the reader that there is maybe a good side to the murderer, but then this thought is short lived as later the murderer ‘chuckled at heart’ when he thinks about what he has to do, this again shows the deranged mind which the murderer possesses.
As the murderer looks at the eye before he has to commit the murder, Poe describes the eye in great detail, ‘a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones’, this description demonstrates the terror and fear the eye is causing the murderer who sees it as almost malevolent. The description paints a vivid image in the reader’s mind like a mutilated corpse might in a modern day horror story.
Just before the murder Poe creates a very uptight feeling. At first the pace is slow matching that of the murderers but then it quickens as the time comes for the murder to occur. Poe uses the old man’s heart to convey a restless environment. He uses a simile, as he compares the beating of the heart, ‘as the beating of a drum stimulates a soldier into courage’, this implies to the reader that the murderer is being controlled by his own disturbed mind as it urges him on and angers him into committing the murder.
During the murder scene, Poe doesn’t describe the actual murder in great detail. Poe concentrates on the atmosphere and the murderer’s feelings, whereas nowadays, writers tend to describe the killings in great detail, often graphic and extreme. With Poe looking at the murder from a different angle, this may frustrate the modern reader, but with Poe focusing on this different perspective, the reader has a better insight on the murderer’s sate of mind. He is frantic and frenzied as the murder takes place, ‘a new anxiety seized me’, this suggests the murderer is almost out of control unable to control his actions, but after the murder he is satisfied that the deed has been done and as he hides the body, he describes his actions as a ‘perfect suavity’, he thinks of himself as dexterous and omniscient.
However, when the police arrive and begin to interrogate him, his boldness gradually withdraws from him. At first he remains confident when they arrive and describes his murder as a ‘perfect triumph’, but as he begins to hear a ringing noise he shows his guilt and becomes distressed and agitated. Poe uses long sentences, exclamation marks and the repetition of a rhetorical question to show this. The murderer begins to lose self-control, he becomes angry and psychotic using, ‘violent gesticulations’ to express his anger. Then he loses control completely and ‘admits the deed’ bringing the story to an abrupt conclusion, leaving the reader to imagine what the police might do with him.
In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, the reader is instantly met by a bleak, sepulchral and dismal atmosphere. Poe uses immensely depressing sentences to show this. The narrator who is a friend of the diseased Roderick Usher states, ‘insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit’ when he sights the house, this suggests to the reader that this house has a paranormal atmosphere to it to be able to cause such an effect on anyone who looked at it. He describes it as giving you ‘a sinking, a sickening of the heart’, the use sibilance in this sentence gives the feeling that the house is evil and sombre like a snake and makes you feel ill and intimidated just like you might feel if you see a snake. Poe also uses long sentences crowded with description to emphasise the gloom the house emits. He describes the clouds as hanging ‘oppressively low’ in the sky which paints the picture in the readers mind of a dark house hiding among low lying clouds giving a bleak setting for the story.
In the story Poe uses description to create the atmosphere more than he did in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, this is particularly effective when he describes the house. He personifies it, ‘vacant eye-like windows’, this gives the impression that the house is alive and watches you everywhere you go. This creates a disheartening atmosphere for anyone near the house as illustrated by the narrator. Poe describes the ‘mansion of gloom’ in great detail. He describes the exterior of the house to full effect. ‘Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior’, this suggests to the reader that the house is extremely antiquated and desolate and may even be abandoned. Poe also describes a ‘perceptible fissure’, which goes all the way down to the ‘black and lurid tarn’ surrounding the house. This fissure plays a significant role in the outcome of the story so it could be described as foreshadowing.
Poe goes on to describe the interior of the house, which is depicted as having a very melancholy atmosphere. ‘I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow’, this is how the narrator felt when he was in the house. It suggests the house has got a life of its own as it causes anyone who is inside it to feel doleful and depressed. The house is portrayed as being very dark and to the reader it may seem that it is not very lived in. The furniture is described as being ‘profuse, comfortless, antique and tattered’, this highlights the dullness and gloominess which the house emits, as though it is withering away. Poe uses cheerless words to characterize the house, ‘irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all’, this creates a dusky atmosphere, which affects anyone in the house as shown by the narrator. This is similar to today’s horror literature when writers illustrate houses as being very grim and morbid.
When the reader is introduced to the main character, Roderick Usher, he is depicted as being very lonely. Just like the murderer’s victim in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, Usher seems vulnerable and without hope. Poe uses harsh descriptive language to indicate this, and paints a nauseating image of him in the reader’s mind. Poe uses a lot of alliteration to draw this image. ‘Cadaverousness of complexion’, this creates a very vivid appearance as it compares him to a corpse, which suggests to the reader that he is very ill and near death, the use of alliteration aids the flow of writing and the use of the same letter emphasises the word, constructing an even more detailed image in the reader’s mind.
Poe defines the eye in much intricacy, ‘large, liquid and luminous’, the use of alliteration slows down the sentence highlighting these words to form a detailed image in the reader’s mind. Eyes are said to be the windows into the soul and to the reader these words may suggest he is quite pathetic and anxious as his eye is dilated as though he can sense that something bad is going to happen, but he has given up hope of trying to stop it.
As he begins to hear things Usher is constantly fearful and full of trepidation. Towards the end of the story, he is almost mad with anxiety as he senses what is going to happen. To show this, Usher begins to talk to himself manically, and the pace of the language becomes very inconsistent, sometimes there are long flowing sentences and then there is a bombardment of short and snappy sentences. Poe uses lots of rhetorical questions to demonstrate this. ‘Have I not heard her footstep on the stair?’ This implies to the reader that he expects his sister to enter at any moment creating tension and a very edgy atmosphere. The story ends with the house falling down killing Usher and his sister but the narrator escapes unharmed. To the modern reader this comes as little surprise, almost foreseeable and maybe too clichï¿½d.
Both ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ have quite simple storylines. Poe creates tension and suspense in both stories formulating a sinister and ominous atmosphere, which may appeal to the modern reader as it fits in more closely with the orthodox modern day horror genre. However, Poe doesn’t use unambiguous descriptions and images to create that fear, instead he relies on the reader’s imagination to create these meticulous images in their heads. Poe uses more antiquated and sophisticated sentences such as ‘I fancied a ringing in my ears’, the modern day reader may not be used to this type of language.
Poe’s sentence structure can also prove a challenge to understand, which means the reader has to spend more time and effort to be aware of what is going on, the modern day reader may not be up to the challenge and not be willing to make the effort. Nowadays we are used to straightforward language, which is easier to comprehend. Overall I believe that Poe was a successful gothic writer as he has used clever description to create the atmosphere he wants and to form a picture of the abnormal characters he uses in the two short stories.