Queequeg’s coffin alternately symbolizes life and death. Queequeg has it built when he is seriously ill, but when he recovers, it becomes a chest to hold his belongings and an emblem of his will to live. He perpetuates the knowledge tattooed on his body by carving it onto the coffin’s lid. The coffin further comes to symbolize life, in a morbid way, when it replaces the Pequod’s life buoy. When thePequod sinks, the coffin becomes Ishmael’s buoy, saving not only his life but the life of the narrative that he will pass on.
****** Moby Dick – the obsessive, epic pursuit of the great white whale by Captain Ahab. The central theme of the novel is the obsession of Captain Ahab, master of the whaler Pequod, with a great white whale that had torn off one of his legs. Ahab’s life and journey are dedicated to hunting and killing the whale, a vendetta that drives himself, his ship and crew to destruction. Moby Dick is a complex, multi – faceted novel. The narrative is at times naturalistic, at times fantastic and it is interrupted by metaphysical debates, soliloquies and long digressions on whales and the art of whaling. It is written in an extraordinary variety of styles which range from sailor’s slang to biblical parable to Shakespearean verse. Several themes can be found in the narrative: madness and monomania, the conflict between man and nature, the impossibility of escaping fate. Numerous symbolic associations have been made with the figure of the whale itself. It has variously been interpreted as the personification of evil in the world, the mirror image of Captain Ahab’s soul and the representation of the hidden and powerful forces of nature.
THE TELL-TALE HEART – EDGAR ALLAN POE
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, and died on October 7, 1849. He was a magazine editor, a poet, a short story writer, a critic, and a lecturer. He introduced the British horror story, or the Gothic genre, to American literature, along with the detective story, science fiction, and literary criticism. Poe became a key figure in the nineteenth-century flourishing of American letters and literature. Famed twentieth--century literary critic F.O. Matthiessen named this period the American Renaissance. He argued that nineteenth-century American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman crafted a distinctly American literature that attempts to escape from the long shadow of the British literary tradition. Matthiessen paid little attention to Edgar Allan Poe. Although he long had a reputation in Europe as one of America’s most original writers, only in the latter half of the -twentieth century has Poe been viewed as a crucial contributor to the American Renaissance.
His name has since become synonymous with macabre tales like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but Poe assumed a variety of literary personas during his career. The Messenger—as well as Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s—established Poe as one of America’s first popular literary critics.
Poe also introduced of a new form of short fiction—the detective story—in tales featuring the Parisian crime solver C. Auguste Dupin. The detective story follows naturally from Poe’s interest in puzzles, word games, and secret codes, which he loved to present and decode in the pages of the Messenger to dazzle his readers. The word “detective” did not exist in English at the time that Poe was writing, but the genre has become a fundamental mode of twentieth-century literature and film. Dupin and his techniques of psychological inquiry have informed countless sleuths, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.
Gothic literature, a genre that rose with Romanticism in Britain in the late eighteenth century, explores the dark side of human experience—death, alienation, nightmares, ghosts, and haunted landscapes. Poe brought the Gothic to America. American Gothic literature dramatizes a culture plagued by poverty and slavery through characters afflicted with various forms of insanity and melancholy. In the spectrum of American literature, the Gothic remains in the shadow of the dominant genre of the American Renaissance—the Romance. Popularized by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Romantic literature, like Gothic literature, relies on haunting and mysterious narratives that blur the boundary between the real and the fantastic. In Romances like the novels of Hawthorne, conflicts occur among characters within the context of society and are resolved in accordance with society’s rules. Poe’s Gothic tales are brief flashes of chaos that flare up within lonely narrators living at the fringes of society.
Analysis of major characters
Our narrator is such a wreck, it's hard not to feel sorry for him. He's nervous ("very dreadfully nervous"), paranoid, and physically and mentally ill. He doesn't know the difference between the "real" and the "unreal," and seems to be completely alone and friendless in the world. We suspect that he rarely sleeps. He's also a murderer.
Maybe this explains why he doesn't share his name, or any other identifying characteristics. He wants us to know what he did, but not where to find him. We actually have precious little to go on in discussing his character. We have to do lots of investigation and reading between the lines to come up with possibilities.
Before we explore some of those possibilities, we should clear up a fine point. Poe doesn't explicitly tell us if the narrator is male or female. The only reason we feel comfortable calling the narrator "he" is these lines: "You fancy me mad. Mad men know nothing" (3) (our italics). This isn't one hundred percent proof that the narrator is male, so it's important to consider the possibility that the narrator is female. But, for now, we are clinging to those lines to get out of having to use the awkward "he/she."
2.The old man
The old man is even more of a mystery than the narrator, partly because we only see him through the narrator's skewed perspective. We know he has money (the narrator shows the old man's "treasures" to the police). We also know he has a blue eye that the narrator is afraid of, and which fits the description of a corneal ulcer. We know he's old, and that he's a fairly sound sleeper. According to the narrator, the old man suspects nothing because the narrator was nice to him the week before he killed him. We can't prove the old man wasn't suspicious, but because he leaves his bedroom door unlocked we can assume it. We know the man isn't naturally trusting – he's afraid of robbers. But, it seems he does trust the narrator enough to give him the run of the house while he sleeps. Nothing the narrator tells us about the old man fits our idea of "madness" or "insanity," but the old man does fit neatly into the narrator's definition of madness: 1) "destroyed" or "dulled" senses; 2) "Madmen know nothing" (2).
His senses are definitely dulled – he only hears the narrator on the eighth night. He doesn't seem to have the slightest idea what's going on around him and is incapable of defending himself. Perhaps the narrator is slyly hinting that he thinks the old man is "mad." This makes us wonder if the old man was very senile, dependant on the narrator's care. Alienated - We know that at least one neighbor is suspicious of the goings on in the house of the old man and the narrator. Otherwise, he or she would not have been so quick to call the cops after hearing a little scream, and wouldn't have been able to convince the powers that be to send not one or two, but three policemen. We don't know if this suspicion is directed toward the old man or toward the narrator or both. But, it's possible that the narrator wasn't the only one afraid of the old man's eye. The old man could be an alienated figure both in and out of the home, and thus the narrator's murder of him could be symbolic of prejudices and abuses that stem from physical "difference."
1. Love and Hate
Poe explores the similarity of love and hate in many stories, especially “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “William Wilson.” Poe portrays the psychological complexity of these two supposedly opposite emotions, emphasizing the ways they enigmatically blend into each other. Poe’s psychological insight anticipates the theories of Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis and one of the twentieth century’s most influential thinkers. Poe, like Freud, interpreted love and hate as universal emotions, thereby severed from the specific conditions of time and space.
The Gothic terror is the result of the narrator’s simultaneous love for himself and hatred of his rival. The double shows that love and hate are inseparable and suggests that they may simply be two forms of the most intense form of human emotion. The narrator loves himself, but when feelings of self-hatred arise in him, he projects that hatred onto an imaginary copy of himself. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator confesses a love for an old man whom he then violently murders and dismembers. The narrator reveals his madness by attempting to separate the person of the old man, whom he loves, from the old man’s supposedly evil eye, which triggers the narrator’s hatred. This delusional separation enables the narrator to remain unaware of the paradox of claiming to have loved his victim.
2.Self vs. Alter Ego
In many of Poe’s Gothic tales, characters wage internal conflicts by creating imaginary alter egos or assuming alternate and opposite personalities.
3.The Power of the Dead over the Living
Poe often gives memory the power to keep the dead alive. Poe distorts this otherwise commonplace literary theme by bringing the dead literally back to life, employing memory as the trigger that reawakens the dead, who are usually women.
At masquerades Poe’s characters abandon social conventions and leave themselves vulnerable to crime. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” for -example, Montresor uses the carnival’s masquerade to fool Fortunato into his own demise. The masquerade carries the traditional meanings of joy and social liberation. Reality is suspended, and people can temporarily assume another identity. Montresor exploits these sentiments to do Fortunato real harm. In “William Wilson,” the masquerade is where the narrator receives his double’s final insult. The masquerade is enchanting because guests wear a variety of exotic and grotesque costumes, but the narrator and his double don the same Spanish outfit. The double Wilson haunts the narrator by denying him the thrill of unique transformation. In a crowd full of guests in costumes, the narrator feels comfortably anonymous enough to attempt to murder his double. Lastly, in “The Masque of the Red Death,” the ultimate victory of the plague over the selfish retreat of Prince Prospero and his guests occurs during the palace’s lavish masquerade ball. The mysterious guest’s gruesome costume, which shows the bloody effects of the Red Death, mocks the larger horror of Prospero’s party in the midst of his suffering peasants. The pretense of costume allows the guest to enter the ball, and bring the guests their death in person.
In Poe’s murder stories, homicide requires animalistic element. Animals kill, they die, and animal imagery provokes and informs crimes committed between men. Animals signal the absence of human reason and morality, but sometimes humans prove less rational than their beastly counterparts. The joke behind “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is that the Ourang-Outang did it. The savage irrationality of the crime baffles the police, who cannot conceive of a motiveless crime or fathom the brute force involved. Dupin uses his superior analytical abilities to determine that the crime couldn’t have been committed by a human. In “The Black Cat,” the murder of Pluto results from the narrator’s loss of reason and plunge into “perverseness,” reason’s inhuman antithesis. The story’s second cat behaves cunningly, leading the narrator into a more serious crime in the murder of his wife, and then betraying him to the police. The role reversal—irrational humans vs. rational animals—indicates that Poe considers murder a fundamentally animalistic, and therefore inhuman, act. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the murderer dehumanize his victims by likening him to animal. The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” claims to hate and murder the old man’s “vulture eye,” which he describes as “pale blue with a film over it.” He attempts to justify his actions by implicitly comparing himself to a helpless creature threatened by a hideous scavenger. In the “Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor does the reverse, readying himself to commit the crime by equating himself with an animal. In killing Fortunato, he cites his family arms, a serpent with its fangs in the heel of a foot stepping on it, and motto, which is translated “no one harms me with impunity.” Fortunato, whose insult has spurred Montresor to revenge, becomes the man whose foot harms the snake Montresor and is punished with a lethal bite.
In “MS. Found in a Bottle,” the whirlpool symbolizes insanity. When the whirlpool transports the narrator from the peaceful South Seas to the surreal waters of the South Pole, it also symbolically transports him out of the space of scientific rationality to that of the imaginative fancy of the German moralists. The whirlpool destroys the boat and removes the narrator from a realistic realm, the second whirlpool kills him.
In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator fixates on the idea that an old man is looking at him with the Evil Eye and transmitting a curse on him. At the same time that the narrator obsesses over the eye, he wants to separate the old man from the Evil Eye in order to spare the old man from his violent reaction to the eye. The narrator reveals his inability to recognize that the “eye” is the “I,” or identity, of the old man. The eyes symbolize the essence of human identity, which cannot be separated from the body. The eye cannot be killed without causing the man to die. Similarly, in “Ligeia,” the narrator is unable to see behind Ligeia’s dark and mysterious eyes. Because the eyes symbolize her Gothic identity, they conceal Ligeia’s mysterious knowledge, a knowledge that both guides and haunts the narrator.
Poe uses his words economically in the “Tell-Tale Heart”—it is one of his shortest stories—to provide a study of paranoia and mental deterioration. Poe strips the story of excess detail as a way to heighten the murderer’s obsession with specific and unadorned entities: the old man’s eye, the heartbeat, and his own claim to sanity. Poe’s economic style and pointed language thus contribute to the narrative content, and perhaps this association of form and content truly exemplifies paranoia. Even Poe himself, like the beating heart, is complicit in the plot to catch the narrator in his evil game.
As a study in paranoia, this story illuminates the psychological contradictions that contribute to a murderous profile. For example, the narrator admits, in the first sentence, to being dreadfully nervous, yet he is unable to comprehend why he should be thought mad. He articulates his self-defense against madness in terms of heightened sensory capacity. Unlike the similarly nervous and hypersensitive Roderick Usher in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” who admits that he feels mentally unwell, the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” views his hypersensitivity as proof of his sanity, not a symptom of madness. This special knowledge enables the narrator to tell this tale in a precise and complete manner, and he uses the stylistic tools of narration for the purposes of his own sanity plea. However, what makes this narrator mad—and most unlike Poe—is that he fails to comprehend the coupling of narrative form and content. He masters precise form, but he unwittingly lays out a tale of murder that betrays the madness he wants to deny.
Another contradiction central to the story involves the tension between the narrator’s capacities for love and hate. Poe explores here a psychological mystery—that people sometimes harm those whom they love or need in their lives. Poe examines this paradox half a century before Sigmund Freud made it a leading concept in his theories of the mind. Poe’s narrator loves the old man. He is not greedy for the old man’s wealth, nor vengeful because of any slight. The narrator thus eliminates motives that might normally inspire such a violent murder. As he proclaims his own sanity, the narrator fixates on the old man’s vulture-eye. He reduces the old man to the pale blue of his eye in obsessive fashion. He wants to separate the man from his “Evil Eye” so he can spare the man the burden of guilt that he attributes to the eye itself. The narrator fails to see that the eye is the “I” of the old man, an inherent part of his identity that cannot be isolated as the narrator perversely imagines.
The murder of the old man illustrates the extent to which the narrator separates the old man’s identity from his physical eye. The narrator sees the eye as completely separate from the man, and as a result, he is capable of murdering him while maintaining that he loves him. The narrator’s desire to eradicate the man’s eye motivates his murder, but the narrator does not acknowledge that this act will end the man’s life. By dismembering his victim, the narrator further deprives the old man of his humanity. The narrator confirms his conception of the old man’s eye as separate from the man by ending the man altogether and turning him into so many parts. That strategy turns against him when his mind imagines other parts of the old man’s body working against him.
The narrator’s newly heightened sensitivity to sound ultimately overcomes him, as he proves unwilling or unable to distinguish between real and imagined sounds. Because of his warped sense of reality, he obsesses over the low beats of the man’s heart yet shows little concern about the man’s shrieks, which are loud enough both to attract a neighbor’s attention and to draw the police to the scene of the crime. The police do not perform a traditional, judgmental role in this story. Ironically, they aren’t terrifying agents of authority or brutality. Poe’s interest is less in external forms of power than in the power that pathologies of the mind can hold over an individual. The narrator’s paranoia and guilt make it inevitable that he will give himself away. The police arrive on the scene to give him the opportunity to betray himself. The more the narrator proclaims his own cool manner, the more he cannot escape the beating of his own heart, which he mistakes for the beating of the old man’s heart. As he confesses to the crime in the final sentence, he addresses the policemen as “[v]illains,” indicating his inability to distinguish between their real identity and his own villainy.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
“The Fall of the House of Usher” possesses the quintessential -features of the Gothic tale: a haunted house, dreary landscape, mysterious sickness, and doubled personality. For all its easily identifiable Gothic elements, however, part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. We cannot say for sure where in the world or exactly when the story takes place. Instead of standard narrative markers of place and time, Poe uses traditional Gothic elements such as inclement weather and a barren landscape. We are alone with the narrator in this haunted space, and neither we nor the -narrator know why. Although he is Roderick’s most intimate boyhood friend, the narrator apparently does not know much about him—like the basic fact that Roderick has a twin sister. Poe asks us to question the reasons both for Roderick’s decision to contact the narrator in this time of need and the bizarre tenacity of narrator’s response. While Poe provides the recognizable building blocks of the Gothic tale, he contrasts this standard form with a plot that is inexplicable, sudden, and full of unexpected disruptions. The story begins without complete explanation of the narrator’s motives for arriving at the house of Usher, and this ambiguity sets the tone for a plot that continually blurs the real and the fantastic.
Poe creates a sensation of claustrophobia in this story. The narrator is mysteriously trapped by the lure of Roderick’s attraction, and he cannot escape until the house of Usher collapses completely. Characters cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so it assumes a monstrous character of its own—the Gothic mastermind that controls the fate of its inhabitants. Poe, creates confusion between the living things and inanimate objects by doubling the physical house of Usher with the genetic family line of the Usher family, which he refers to as the house of Usher. Poe employs the word “house” metaphorically, but he also describes a real house. Not only does the narrator get trapped inside the mansion, but we learn also that this confinement describes the biological fate of the Usher family. The family has no enduring branches, so all genetic transmission has occurred incestuously within the domain of the house. The peasantry confuses the mansion with the family because the physical structure has effectively dictated the genetic patterns of the family.
The claustrophobia of the mansion affects the relations among characters. For example, the narrator realizes late in the game that Roderick and Madeline are twins, and this realization occurs as the two men prepare to entomb Madeline. The cramped and confined setting of the burial tomb metaphorically spreads to the features of the characters. Because the twins are so similar, they cannot develop as free individuals. Madeline is buried before she has actually died because her similarity to Roderick is like a coffin that holds her identity. Madeline also suffers from problems typical for women in -nineteenth--century literature. She invests all of her identity in her body, whereas Roderick possesses the powers of intellect. In spite of this disadvantage, Madeline possesses the power in the story, almost superhuman at times, as when she breaks out of her tomb. She thus counteracts Roderick’s weak, nervous, and immobile disposition. Some scholars have argued that Madeline does not even exist, reducing her to a shared figment Roderick’s and the narrator’s imaginations. But Madeline proves central to the symmetrical and claustrophobic logic of the tale. Madeline stifles Roderick by preventing him from seeing himself as essentially different from her. She completes this attack when she kills him at the end of the story.
Doubling spreads throughout the story. The tale highlights the Gothic feature of the doppelganger, or character double, and portrays doubling in inanimate structures and literary forms. The narrator, for example, first witnesses the mansion as a reflection in the tarn, or shallow pool, that abuts the front of the house. The mirror image in the tarn doubles the house, but upside down—an inversely symmetrical relationship that also characterizes the relationship between Roderick and Madeline.
The story features numerous allusions to other works of literature, including the poems “The Haunted Palace” and “Mad Trist” by Sir Launcelot Canning. Poe composed them himself and then fictitiously attributed them to other sources. Both poems parallel and thus predict the plot line of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” “Mad Trist,” which is about the forceful entrance of Ethelred into the dwelling of a hermit, mirrors the simultaneous escape of Madeline from her tomb. “Mad Trist” spookily crosses literary borders, as though Roderick’s obsession with these poems ushers their narratives into his own domain and brings them to life.
The crossing of borders pertains vitally to the Gothic horror of the tale. We know from Poe’s experience in the magazine industry that he was obsessed with codes and word games, and this story amplifies his obsessive interest in naming. “Usher” refers not only to the mansion and the family, but also to the act of crossing a -threshold that brings the narrator into the perverse world of Roderick and Madeline. Roderick’s letter ushers the narrator into a world he does not know, and the presence of this outsider might be the factor that destroys the house. The narrator is the lone exception to the Ushers’ fear of outsiders, a fear that accentuates the claustrophobic nature of the tale. By undermining this fear of the outside, the narrator unwittingly brings down the whole structure. A similar, though strangely playful crossing of a boundary transpires both in “Mad Trist” and during the climactic burial escape, when Madeline breaks out from death to meet her mad brother in a “tryst,” or meeting, of death. Poe thus buries, in the fictitious gravity of a medieval romance, the puns that garnered him popularity in America’s magazines.