Setting Used In Edgar Allan Poe

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’s Writings Essay, Research Paper

Poe’s Menacing Mind

Edgar Allan Poe is a major American Poet of the Nineteenth Century. He is also known for his achievements in short fiction and criticism for American Literature. In Poe’s tales he uses setting to set the mood and to foreshadow certain things in his essays. In the two stories “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Cask of Amontillado” setting is used in great detail to help set the mood and tone of the stories.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is one of Poe’s best-known and admired stories. This story is about a young nobleman, haunted by a family curse. In the story he buries his sister after she falls into a cataleptic trance (Critical 1644). The first part of the story is devoted to a description of the house and surroundings (Magill’s 2105). This quote is taken directly from the story; “upon the vacant eye-like windows -upon a few rank sedges – and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees- with on utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation?” (qtd. In Stoudt 73). In this quote he is explaining the description of the house, but is also using symbolism to resemble a person (Szumski 175). He is describing the house, as a person, because the house is believed to be haunted.

“It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression?” (qtd. In Stoudt 74). In this quote they are explaining the reflections that are being seen. In the pool’s reflection inverted images are seen. The images seen are described as a human head. “Vacant and eye-like windows,” the “web-like fungi” resembling Usher’s hair are just a few examples. The “House of Usher” is referring to both the family and the family mansion. These are yet more symbols of the interior of a disordered mind (Szumski 171).

Another Example of short story, written by Poe, is “The Cask of Amontillado”. The plot of this story is relatively simple. Montressor seeks revenge on Fortunato for some unspecified insult by luring him down into his family vaults to inspect some wine he has purchased. Montressor plans to maneuver Fortunato to where he can wall him up alive. The setting of this story takes place during the carnival season. The story is set in this time so the writer can make people appear as something they are not, a sort of Mardi Gras (Critical 1648). Fortunato says, “I drink?to the buried that repose around us” (qtd. in Beaty 77). This is said in the story as a type of irony, of the setting, of what is to come for Fortunato. Montressor knows how his plot is going to end, so it makes it possible for him to play little ironic tricks on Fortunato. For example, when Fortunato says he will not die of a cough, Montressor replies “true, true” (qtd. in Beaty 77).

More irony is shown in setting when Montressor claims he is a member of the Secret Society of Masons. He proves this by revealing the trowel, a sign of his plot to wall up Fortunato (Critical 1648). The story has many areas of setting symbolizing death. A good example of this is the quote, “Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris” (qtd. in Beaty 78). This quote is explaining the looks of the soon to be lair of Fortunato’s tomb where he will be walled. It is explained that three sides are complete and once filled by Fortunato the fourth side will be completed.

The Settings of all stories are one and maybe the most important parts of the stories. The setting is very important in setting the tone and mood. “As in many of Poe’s works, the mood, sensations, and events of the story are so melodramatically strong that they obscure the ideas that are present” (qtd. in Magill’s 2106). Poe is known to have seen more clearly, than any of his literary contemporaries, how short fiction could work as literature. He imagined the short stories uniqueness, strengths, and possibilities.

Beaty, Jerome, and J. Paul Hunter. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998.

Magill, Frank N. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Critical Survey of Short Fiction. 1981 ed.

Magill, Frank N. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature. 1991 ed.

Stoudt, Ashley, ed. Edgar Allan Poe Reader. Philadelphia: Courage, 1993.

Szumski, Bonnie, eds., et al. Readings on Edgar Allan Poe. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998.