When thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, do horrifying stories and twisted tales come to mind? In Poe’s stories, he demonstrates how symbolism can be used to show abstract ideas. In his unsettling works, he uses the symbolism of death, revenge, and insanity to strengthen the plot.
Symbolism is found quite often in most of Poe’s tales. In The Tell-Tale Heart the idea of death is prominent. The first example is the insect chosen by the author. The butler states that, night after night, I hearkened to the death watches in the wall. The death watches were used because they are an omen of
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death. The second example is the shadow of death on the wall. The narrator says, …because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. This means that Death had known the old man’s time had come. Poe also symbolizes revenge. The first example is the beating of the old man’s heart. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage. This means that the narrator had imagined the old man’s dead heart beating, when in reality that couldn’t be. The second example is the the police men mocking the butler. They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror! This final piece of evidence proves that the narrator was imagining that the officers were laughing at him, because he had a guilty conscience. Tell-Tale Heart symbolizes insanity as well. The first example is the narrator having self-doubt. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. How, then, am I mad? The second example is the butler comparing himself to a madmen. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this… A third example is the narrator doubting others. …but why will you say that I am mad? This shows that the narrator has to persuade himself that he is in fact not a madmen. Poe used symbolism in his story The Tell-Tale Heart, to further strengthen the plot, and to make the story more interesting.
Poe’s story, Cask of Amontillado also has symbolism, death being the major one. The first example is the silence of Fortunato. No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. Fortunato knew that he was going to die. A second example is the last line of the story. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat! (rest in peace) This means that Montresor’s actions had stayed a secret, and no one had suspected a thing. The third example is Montresor slowly getting closer to his goal: killing Fortunato. It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. This means that Montresor was almost done with burying Fortunato alive. Revenge is another example of symbolism. The first example is Montreser’s thought that Fortunato must suffer. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled. This shows that Montresor would take revenge, no matter what. The second example is the fact that Montresor not only believes that Fortunato must be punished, but punished greatly. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. This means that Montresor feels that if he doesn’t do anything, he will live with guilt and shame for the rest of his life. A final form of symbolism is insanity. The first example is how Montresor plans on getting revenge. …but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. This means that Montresor had planned getting revenge the second he got insulted. The second example is Montresor’s attitude towards his plan. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong. This shows that Montresor is insane enough to kill someone for one insult. Poe used symbolism in Cask of Amontillado, to further exaggerate the conflict.
In another one of Poe’s disturbing stories, The Masque of The Red Death, he includes symbolism to add excitement and suspicion to the story. Across all of Poe’s dark tales, death sticks out. The first example in, The Masque of The Red Death, is the Red Death. THE Red Death had long devastated the country. This shows that the majority of people in the kingdom were dead. A second example is the black room with the scarlett windows in the castle. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet ” a deep blood color. The room was black with blood-red windows to symbolize death. Another main idea is revenge. The first example is the Prince ignoring his subjects and the Red Death. But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated This means that the Prince Prospero could care less for the poorer people in his kingdom. The second example is the Red Death taking revenge. And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. This shows that the Red Death ended up taking its revenge. Insanity is also symbolized. The first example is the Prince’s idea that he can escape death. All these and security were within. Without was the Red Death. This proves that the Prince believes he can avoid The Red Death. A second example is …it was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence. This shows that the Prince had kept The Red Death out for a good amount of time, but would soon face the consequences. The Masque of The Red Death proved that death is inevitable, no matter what you do.
As stated previously, Edgar Allan Poe uses symbolism in his stories to entice readers. In Poe’s disturbing stories he uses the symbolism of death, revenge, and insanity to help strengthen the plot. Closely analyzing three of Poe’s stories showed that he uses symbolism quite often. Whether it is used to foreshadow future events, or focus the reader’s attention, Poe demonstrates symbolism in the darkest manner possible.
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