It cannot be denied that few writers can manage to match the prodigiousness of a work of the late, great Edgar Allan Poe. This is primarily due to Poe’s distinguishing style. Style can be defined as a combination of many literary elements that serve to individualize a writer’s work from that of others. The examination Poe’s use of symbolism, diction, and figurative language in some of his most famous works, including The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Masque of the Red Death, lead one to conclude that Poe has quite a distinct style.
To begin, Poe relies heavily on the use of symbolism to add depth and relatability to his short stories. For instance, The Cask of Amontillado illustrates the use of symbolism in the quote, A huge human foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel. Although this quote is describing Montresor’s (supposed) family crest, it also describes and represents the conflict between Montresor and Fortunato. Another instance of symbolism in Poe’s work can be found in The Raven: And the raven…still is sitting/On the bust of Pallas just above my chamber door/…the lamplight o’er him throws his shadow on the floor;/My soul from out that shadow…/Shall be lifted”nevermore! The many symbols embedded in the quote above assist more in the cementation than the creation of the story’s ominous mood, but nevertheless contribute to it; they also illustrate the overall meaning of the poem and what Poe is attempting to communicate to the reader (that the memories of his lost love are obstructing his would-be impending joy, leaving him ravaged by a fierce depression that, according to the raven, will not cease). The quote helps the audience to visualize the raven atop the statue and connect that physical situation to the conceptual one of the symbols mentioned. In addition, The Masque of the Red Death, being an allegory, obviously contains symbols left and right, many of which are exhibited in the quote, …he summoned…a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, …retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys…a strong and lofty wall girdled it in…Prince Prospero entertained his friends with a masked ball…. In a nutshell, the symbols mentioned correspond as follows: the prince’s guests represent the human race, the abbey and the wall are physical barriers against the Red Death, Prince Prospero stands for the wealthy and/or privileged portion of society, and the masked ball symbolizes the guests’ denial of their imminent deaths to the pestilence. This contributes to the story by creating the allegory, i.e. giving most objects/concepts in the story a double meaning.
Next, Poe’s particular use of diction serves to create the eerie moods of his stories. For example, in the first two stanzas of The Raven alone, there are numerous instances of this, including midnight dreary, weak and weary, bleak December, each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor, and Nameless here for evermore, which add an ominous atmosphere to the already mysterious mood. As for The Masque of the Red Death, it is believed by some to be unique among Poe’s work as it is not entirely dark on the surface. Examples of words and phrases that exhibit this are extensive and magnificent, eccentric yet august, masked ball of the most unusual magnificence, voluptuous scene, irregularly disposed, windings of the suite, multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances ghastly in the extreme, gay and magnificent revel, bold and fiery, barbaric lustre, much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm, arabesque figures with unsuited limbs, delirious fancies such as the madman fashions, and beautiful…wanton…bizarre…terrible…not a little of that which might have excited disgust. But then, there are periods of darkness, displayed via the use of words such as the redness and the horror of blood, gigantic clock of ebony, dull monotonous clang, the giddiest grew pale, uneasy cessation of all things, a stiffened corpse, Darkness and Decay and the Red Death, and illimitable dominion over all. The mood is quite varied; it seems to the reader that at one moment they are reveling with the revelers and all their strangeness, and at the next worried about how much time they have left, which one might suppose is the intention. Navigating the lines of Masque is an experience comparable to walking through a funhouse; there is such description of the bizarre and unorthodox that it seems all is distorted, and this, of course, plays a part in determining the story’s overall mood as well. Finally, diction is used in The Cask of Amontillado to aid in constructing its suspenseful mood as Montresor and Fortunato descend deeper and deeper into the catacombs and Fortunato’s imminent death looms nearer with each line. A few examples of this are through several suites of rooms, long and winding staircase, for many minutes, I paused again, and descended, passed on, and descending again. Although these three works and their individual moods are varied, Poe uses similar techniques to create the mood in each, thus piecing together his overall style.
Finally, Poe uses figurative language, such as imagery, irony, allusions, etc., frequently throughout his work in order to enhance his audiences’ understanding of his stories. First, in The Masque of the Red Death, the most impactful uses of figurative language are when Poe uses juxtaposition by writing, All these and security were within. Without was the Red Death to illustrate the stark contrast between the masquerade inside the abbey and the outside region beaten into submission by disease, and when he foreshadows the climax by saying, They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress, hinting at the possibility of someone entering/leaving the synthetic and supposed safe haven. Next, important instances of figurative language in The Cask of Amontillado include the use of irony in that the character who is murdered has the name Fortunato (which, ironically, means fortunate) and the various instances of imagery throughout the story, an example of which is the entire 68th paragraph, which describes the situation of bones and crypts in one area of the catacombs, assisting the reader in understanding the layout of the vault.. Lastly, in The Raven, the most critical of the numerous instances of figurative language lie in the multiple allusions to mythology (Perched upon a bust of Pallas…; Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore), which serve to illustrate both the raven’s wisdom and hellishness.
In conclusion, based on the analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s use of symbolism, diction, and figurative language throughout his stories, it is clear that his style is fairly varied between his works, but he uses the same literary elements for different effects in each. He generally uses symbolism for depth, but how that depth affects the individual story it is being in used in is various. The diction he utilizes throughout his stories help to create their moods and even add suspense, and his use of numerous types of figurative language simply assist in enhancing a story as a whole. Overall, Poe writes in the same way that people of his time spoke, he uses extremely descriptive language, and his work is quite advanced; when these elements are displayed alongside one another in his stories, it is obvious that he is an extraordinary writer with a distinguishing style that will not be forgotten
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