In American literary history, one greatest but unhappiest names is that of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), who is a master of Gothic stories and a celebrated poet of natural human instincts. His whole life is noted for the fits of madness and depression which made him attempt suicide in 1848. This had a great influence on his writings and evidence of such fits can be traced in his short stories and poems. In this discourse two of his famous short stories, ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ and “The Cask of Amontillado” are studied in an attempt to better understand the use of symbolism, the literary tool of irony, and the theme of terror as a Gothic element in the stories. One of Poe’s most famous short stories, ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’’ (1843) can be best understood as a psychological portrait of a mad narrator who kills a man and afterward hears his victim’s relentless heartbeat. It is simultaneously a horror story and psychological thriller told from a first-person perspective. In his best-known Tales of horror, “The Cask of Amontillado,” (1846) Poe suggests that pride can be a very dangerous thing. He “presents the compelling drama of two men, one who will stop at nothing to get the revenge that he deems himself and his family worthy of, and another whose pride will ultimately be the catalyst for his death.” In this analysis, we find the best study on the symbols, irony, and theme of the two masterly short stories.
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In the story ‘Tell-tale heart’ the protagonist kills an old man not because the old man did anything wrong to him or he did not like the person but the idea to kill comes to him naturally. He blames it on the old man’s ‘pale blue eye with a film over it’ being the reason for the murder but how much of it could be true depends on the sanity of the narrator. The narrator is not in a position to explain how the idea to kill the old man came to his mind but it started haunting him once it is conceived. With the plan hatched, he executes the murder and makes sure the old man is stone dead, and then conceals his body leaving no evidence of the crime at the scene. When the police arrive the narrator takes them to the place where he committed the crime. His faith in his ability to hide the murder is so strong that nothing seemed to bother him. However, all of a sudden, his conscience haunts him and he is made to confess the truth by the inner self. The murder, how horrifying it might be, did not haunt him as powerfully as the insanity that the narrator felt forcing to confess the crime without any external pressure.
In the story “The Cask of Amontillado”, the author presents the convincing drama of two men, Fortunato and Montresor. The story tells how the latter plans to revenge the other, and the latter falls prey to the revenge of the other just because of his pride. It may be concluded that it is for the sake of his pride that Montresor takes revenge on Fortunato.
Symbolism denotes the use of symbols that give a meaning that is beyond the apparent or denotative meaning of the work. Symbolism, which can be understood as the practice of attributing symbolic meanings to objects, events, or relationships is often a very important aspect of literature. They are powerful communicators of the main themes of a story. An author quite often uses symbols to represent a major theme in his work and Poe is such a writer who used powerful symbols for his themes. In the stories ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ and “The Cask of Amontillado” we find several symbols all of which give particular meaning to the works. In the story “The Tell-Tale Heart” the author puts forward many symbols indicating his intention. Symbols such as ‘pale blue eye,’ ‘pale,’ ‘dark,’ ‘ringing in my ear’ and many such symbols signify the horrifying mood and tense situation. These symbols all refer to the mental capacity of the narrator as well. Poe’s stories are known for their horror and intense situation. The primal instincts in human being and their mental faculty are clarified by such symbols. Edgar Allen Poe’s best-known tale of horror, “The Cask of Amontillado,” suggests that pride can be a very dangerous thing. Through the use of symbolism, Poe presents the drama of two men. Pride and revenge are symbols of one’s destiny and the symbolism in the story is a constant reminder of the inevitability of death. Such symbols like ‘pipe,’ ‘wine’ ‘catacombs,’ ‘jingling of the bells,’ the coat of arms, and the like have a prominent place in the development of the theme.
Literary work one
In the story ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ the narrator, in the very opening, expresses his reason to kill the old man was nothing other than his eyes which is a strong symbol of the conscience of a person or the window that connects the inner personality with the world outside. The narrator says, “I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye… Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold… rid myself of the eye forever.” (‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ Edgar Allen Poe) Here the eye is the symbol of everything that makes a person and the narrator escapes the conscience. When, towards the close of the story, the narrator mentions “a ringing in my ears” it becomes a symbol of the haunting conscience of a guilty person.
Literary work two
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a powerful story using several symbols that make the intention of the author very clear. When Montresor, the narrator, introduces Fortunato at the beginning of the story he also introduces the symbol of pride which stands for the self-destructive force of a human being. He introduces Fortunato as “a man to be respected and even feared… prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine.” (“The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allen Poe) This is the same pride that brings his ultimate destiny. In the final session of the story, Montresor uses the symbol of bells that reminds him of the act he committed. “There came forth in return only a jingling of bells.” (“The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allen Poe)
In an essay on Poe, the characteristics of his symbolism are explained. “Like many of Edgar Allen Poe’s works, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is full of death and darkness. Poe used many of the real-life tragedies he experienced as inspiration for his gothic style of writing. Poe dealt with many aspects of death and madness in his stories, madness again is playing a key role in the plot. In this short story, Poe used literary devices such as point of view and symbolism to give it a more dramatic effect and add to the madness the narrator portrays.” Another essay gives the peculiarities of Poe’s symbolism exemplifying the coat of arms in “The Cask of Amontillado” “The short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” contains many accounts of symbolism. The coat of arms of Montressor’s family is perhaps the best example of symbolism in the whole story.” Thus, we can see the great role of symbols in the development of the story’s theme.
The irony is a strong literary tool that affirms the author’s points and interests. Through the use of irony, an author puts forward the contrasting elements in a character, the contradiction in a dialogue, and other such ambiguities all of which aim at clarifying the important theme of the writing. By using irony an author views and stresses the main theme in different but self-explaining concepts. Among the prominent writers of the use of irony, Poe stands out with his unique way of stressing the main content. Accordingly, the stories ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ and “The Cask of Amontillado” are particularly noted for their use of irony. In the first story, the irony is evident in the character of the narrator who is confident about his ability to hide the crime at the same time finds it difficult to get it done. The many dialogues of the character also suggest the irony in the story. The second story “The Cask of Amontillado” also provides many examples of the use of irony.
Literary work one
We can find evidence of the use of irony in many parts of ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ and the most obvious one would be in the following remark of the narrator. At the beginning of the story, the narrator gives the reason why he would kill the old man. He remarks, “I never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him.” (‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ Edgar Allen Poe) This is irony in its maximum. We may also find the same irony working in the statement by the same character in the second half of the story when the narrator states, “I smiled, –for what I had to fear?” He feels that he does not need to be afraid of anyone as he can hide the crime, but it is proven wrong at the end when his inner struggle compels him to confess the truth. Thus, an irony in its full strength runs through the story making it a literary masterpiece.
Literary work two
As in the above case, “The Cask of Amontillado” as well suggests the power of irony in a short story. The irony in the story makes it more interesting. One of the examples of irony in the story is found when Montresor seals Fortunato in his tomb. The irony is clear in the remark of Fortunato, who, even after the continual insistences of the other to go back, remarks, “the cough’s a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.” (“The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allen Poe) Here, the irony is in work and it is his adamancy that kills him. There are many such instances of irony in the work. Another example is in the final part of the story when Montresor says, “In pace requiescat” which may be translated as “rest in peace.” (“The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allen Poe)
As an analysis of “The Cask of Amontillado” suggests, in the story “Edgar Allan Poe utilizes irony to make his tale more interesting and entertaining for the audience. Throughout the story there are several different examples of this… irony is indeed a very important part of this story, and it would have much less impact on the reader if it did not contain this literary device. The irony seems to pull the reader into the story and make them active in the story because as they notice it they feel as if they’re interacting with the text.”
There is a very important aspect of any short story. It is one of the most important parts of the story’s layout. The theme is the controlling idea that the author is trying to convey to the reader in his work. The theme of the writing decides, mainly the merit of the work. Edgar Allen Poe was a writer who used a dark and negative theme in his works. ‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ and “The Cask of Amontillado” are the best examples of the theme of terror in Poe’s stories. This is a theme that places the works of Poe in the Gothic tradition of literature. The stories of Poe are especially noted for their actions of murder and violence, which are instincts of man. The stories likewise tell the relation between the dead and the living and the ceremonies related to death. These give the Gothic effect of terror as well.
Literary work one
In the first story, the loud beating of the concealed victim’s heart, rising in a crescendo gives the relation between the supernatural and the normal world which results in the Gothic situation of terror. The final cry of the narrator in the story proves the worth of the theme of terror. “Villains!’ I shrieked, ‘dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here! it is the beating of his hideous heart!’” (‘‘The Tell-Tale Heart’’ Edgar Allen Poe) The theme of terror is evident here as in the instance where his conscience haunts him to confess the crime.
Literary work two
In the second story under consideration, the story is directed, from the start, toward a conclusion in a murder that results in terror. “There came forth only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick… I hastened to make an end to my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up… In pace requiescat!” This situation creates a Gothic environment that results in terror. The tale ends with the admission that this occurred fifty years ago and that the place has not been disturbed. (“The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allen Poe) The power of this theme of terror is clear in this passage.
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One of the commentaries of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ proves that terror is a great theme worked out by the author. “In ‘The Tell-Tale Heart, it is the loud beating of the concealed victim’s heart, rising in a crescendo, which, like a sign from the other world, betrays the guilt of the murderer: No doubt I now grew very pale; — But Talked more fluently and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath… but the noise steadily increased…. O God! What could I do?… I felt that I must scream or die—and now—again—hark! louder! louder! louder!” The theme of terror makes Poe a great writer in the Gothic tradition.
In conclusion, we may note that the two famous stories of Edgar Allen Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Cask of Amontillado” mainly deal with the theme of horror. Murder is horrifying, but not as horrifying as insanity itself. The symbols of the stories are directed towards a better explication of the themes. Both the stories share many qualities in common and the themes and symbols of both the works occur as interchangeable. The use of irony is a great effort from the author. It is an effective literary tool in the hands of the master craftsman and the stories prove the same. There is a great relationship among the various stories of Poe and this discussion proves the fact. Thus, the relation between the two stories in symbolism, irony, and theme proves that the author is successful in their use throughout his works.