dgar Allan Poe is credited as the author of the American horror story and is known for his vivid word images that portrayed unique characters. His characters dealt with deep emotions that many times affected their human psyche. His use of the English language remains thought provoking many years after his death. The heartache of losing his mother and father at a young age no doubt fueled his passion for writing. Likewise, the death of his dear wife along with a dysfunctional relationship with his adopted father affected his writing style. Poe understood the effect that emotions had on the human psyche and this is why his writings are so profound. He coined the phrase “single effect” to describe the importance of manipulating human emotion to draw the reader into the story. (Poe) This single effect manipulated the intellect and the emotions of the reader. He was the master of manipulating the linguistic of language to achieve this purpose.
“The Raven” is a poem whose speaker is in deep depression from the loss of his love Lenore. Poe uses sound devices, repetition and Gothic elements that provide intrigue to the reader as the speaker of the poem is struggling through this heartache. The speaker is reading and dozing, as one would often does when suddenly he hears someone “gently rapping” at his door. The denotation of the words “gently rapping” provide the reader with the physical and mental state of the speaker who is awakened by this gentle but loud noise. The contrast between gentle and rap usher in the state of insanity that is about to take place in the narrator’s life, hence the contrast between intellect and emotion that produced the single effect in this poem.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.” (Poe)
The visitor rapping is a raven. The bird, the raven, represents insanity and the ease that people can slip into this mental state who suffer from depression and isolation.
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (Poe)
This visitor is described in “ungentle” terms lending the reader to believe the narrator has crossed the line into mental insanity. Also, the very fact that the name of a common bird, Raven, is capitalized gives it profound power over the narrator of the story. The connotative meaning of these initial words “gentle and rapping” provide a vivid image of someone who begins the story as the proper gentleman, yet ends as one who is beyond control, begging for his mental stability. (line 4) The image of “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous” to describe the Raven provides the contrast between mental stability and total desperation.( line 46) The conversation that the narrator and the Raven have is the struggle of mental wholeness after a devastating loss. The power that the Raven has over the narrator is disturbing. The Raven tells the narrator that he will “nevermore” feel whole after the loss of his love Lenore.(line 90) The rhyme of Lenore and nevermore add to the infinity of grief and depression in this story. The overall “single effect” of this manipulation of the English language is provocative yet universal. Anyone who has suffered a devastating loss knows the pits of depression.
“The Tell Tale Heart” is a story about human passion at the base level. It is a rhetorical argument written to explain paranoid schizophrenia. (Zimmerman) The specific word order and description of the speaker provide ambiguity to the reader. The question remains between deliberate acts and impulsivity of a crime and draw the reader to ambiguity as well.
TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” (Poe)
Poe used the word mad interchangeably throughout the story of the Tell Tale Heart to explain the unfortunate murder of his house companion. The repetition of this word provides his “single effect” of the break between intellect and emotion that causes devastating consequences.(Poe) The word mad defined in Merriam-Webster as completely unrestrained by reason and judgment or as an action arising from a mental disorder is at the foundation of this story. (“mad”) The narrator of the story explains, “The disease sharpened his senses”. Why did Poe use the word “disease” to describe madness? The juxtaposition of the word disease with sharpened is very interesting. Diseases typically do not make the body better. Again, the reader is questioning the narrator’s intellect.
The elevated diction proves the narrator is thoughtful and reasoning in his actions, “with what dissimulation I went to work! … Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph.” However, the narrator also loved the old man he lived with.
“I love the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! …Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold.”
This constant juxtaposition of word meanings and images provides the single effect that Poe wanted in this story. The narrator was wise, the narrator loved the man yet he murders him. “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing…You should have seen how wisely”. The line between intellect and emotion is crossed. Ultimately, the narrator and confessed to the murder. Poe built upon the word mad by showing how the narrator’s mind worked, “It was a low, dull, quick sound-much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” This is profound because one would barely hear this sound. The caused the narrator to become agitated, “I talked more quickly-more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued bout trifles, in high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased.” The effect of the word choice by Poe draws the reader to the single effect that the narrator was indeed mad.
Finally, “The Masque of the Red Death” filled with symbolism and specific word choices propel the reader to the ultimate theme that death stops for no man. Poe’s use of setting as a festive ball initially captures the reader’s attention and provides the contrast between the outside and inside worlds of Prince Prospero. The prince summons his court and locks them away in his castle from the plague of the Red Death. He is saving the people from this gruesome death by providing them refuge in his castle:
“But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.”
We have the juxtaposition of the terrible situation outside the castle and the “deep seclusion” inside the castle, which on first glance is safe. We also see the distinction of the clientele that the prince wanted to save, “knights and dames”.
Throughout the story, the word blood has multiple meanings depending upon the semantics in the sentence and the story as a whole. Poe uses the word “blood” throughout the story to mean the life force of the human body, as well as, the death force when the life of a human has ceased. The connotation of the word blood also means the actual symptoms of the disease called “the Red Death” in this story as it manifests on a person’s face. Poe describes the disease as, “No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood”. Based on the context of this sentence, the deixis meaning of the word blood is the “Avatar” or the deity. (Curzan 208) The other connotative meaning of the word blood is also the disease and the symptoms of the disease on humans. For example, blood is shown on the victim “scarlet stains upon the body…” Another connotative implied meaning of the word blood-red death also refers to a higher power to take life away. “He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall”. The allusion of “a thief in the night” is traced to the Bible. The level of meaning in the word blood provides the reader with the connotative meaning to be harsh, cruel, and unavoidable. (Zimmerman 52) The symbolism throughout the story also provides meaning.
Poe enjoyed writing about characters that struggled with the age-old debate between intellect and emotion. This struggle provided a “single effect” in his poems and short stories that continue to be appreciated today. His manipulation of the English language is inspirational to writers and provides thought for readers. Without his extreme heartache, it is unlikely that we would have such provocative stories today.