Poe's Stories

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

M.S. Found in a Bottle

The narrator, a self-professed man of reason, has been travelling for a long time, and recently started a voyage on a cargo ship to the Archipelago Islands. Soon the sea and sky grow ominous. It gets very humid and the narrator senses a storm coming. Suddenly one night the ship is pulled by a whirlpool and is wrecked. All of the crew, apart from the narrator and his shipmate, are swept overboard.

The two spend days trying not to succumb to the whirlpool. As they struggle, they encounter the biggest vessel they have ever seen, rising in front of them like a wave. The ship crashes over them and the narrator is flung onto its deck. He hides, stowing himself away in the hold. As the days pass, the narrator writes down his thoughts, hoping to send them out to sea in a bottle someday. He explains how the crew, which is strangely aged and foreign, doesn’t seem to sense his presence at all. The ship reminds him of ships he has known, and has something antique about it, just like its crew, but he can’t figure it out. He observes the captain in his cabin, murmuring like the rest of the crew in an unintelligible way, and fiddling with what looks like ancient scientific instruments and charts.

Walls of ice rise up around the ship, which is headed due south. The crew seem to be excited, as if they heading for some huge discovery. The narrator is terrified but his curiosity outweighs his terror. He keeps writing down his experiences, but as he does, the ship starts to be pulled into the whirlpool and he scribbles his last words as the ship is swallowed up.

Ligeia

The narrator tells us about his late wife, Ligeia. He has trouble remembering how they met, or her full name, but her spirit and appearance is vivid to him, particularly her eyes, which are larger and darker than human eyes should be and have an expression that reminds the narrator of many things, including elderly people and certain passages of literature. Another thing about Ligeia that he loved was how educated she was – she even taught him about metaphysics.

When Ligeia becomes ill, the narrator is at a loss, and the hardest thing is that she herself does not go peacefully to the grave – she resents dying. On her deathbed she confesses her extreme passion for the narrator. She makes him recite a poem that she wrote called The Conqueror Worm and then pleads for death to be conquered instead of her.

After Ligeia’s death, the narrator buys an old abbey in a remote place and marries the Lady Rowena of Tremaine. Their bridal chamber is a tomb-like pentagonal room with tapestries whose figures appear to move. The new couple begins married life but it is far from a loving partnership and the narrator begins to be haunted by dreams of Ligeia. When Rowena falls ill, the narrator watches over her, and strange fancies start to disturb him – he believes he sees a shadow on the ground and, when he tries to revive his wife with a glass of wine, he is sure he sees ghostly drops of ruby liquid fall into the glass from mid air, but he has also been taking opium so blames the visions on that.

Rowena’s condition worsens and on the fourth night, she dies. As he looks at her corpse, the narrator is overwhelmed with memories of Ligeia. As if these memories have stirred the atmosphere, he suddenly thinks he sees a blush come to Rowena’s face, but soon she becomes pale as death again. Memories of Ligeia come flooding back, and again Rowena appears to awaken and this time she sighs, but as before, she is soon corpse-like again. Throughout the night, this pattern continues, memories of Ligeia seem to stir Rowena alive, until near morning, Rowena actually appears to rise from her bed and step towards the narrator, but she seems taller than he remembers. She removes the cloth wrapping covering her and reveals the wild eyes of Ligeia.

The Fall of the House of Usher

The narrator approaches The House of Usher, an incredibly desolate, aged building, with a crack in the façade from roof to ground, which gives him an awful feeling. He rides on to the house anyway, because he has been called upon by a very sick old friend, Roderick Usher, who comes from a family of eccentrics, famous for works of art and music. The family is also interesting for its pure Usher family line.

Inside the house, the narrator finds Usher himself awfully changed, both physically and in his mood, which alternates rapidly between liveliness and sullenness. Usher explains his condition as inherited, and also believes that it is connected to the house. His sister, Madeleine, is also very ill and as she walks through the room, the narrator gets a ghostly feeling.

The narrator and Usher pass their days painting and reading from Gothic books. One day, Usher tells the narrator that his sister has died and they bring her coffin to a heavily reinforced vault below the house. The narrator sees that Madeleine was actually Roderick’s twin and that her disease has left an unsettling blush on her face.

After his sister’s death, Usher becomes more and more manic, and one night, during an electrical storm, Usher visits the narrator's room him in a distracted state. To comfort Usher, the narrator reads from a story, but the actions described within the story are accompanied by noises from within the house. The narrator at first tries to ignore the coincidence but the noise gets more and more real and Usher has now faced his chair towards the door of the room. He starts muttering about the noises and tells the narrator that they have buried Madeleine alive and she is now standing outside. On cue, Madeleine breaks through the door and falls onto Usher. He dies on the spot and the narrator flees. As the narrator looks back to the dreadful house, the crack down the façade splits and the house collapses.

William Wilson

The narrator tells us to call him William Wilson, an alias that he has chosen because his own name is now detestable to him and everyone he knows. He describes the school playground and dorms in which he spent his youth, and tells us that amongst his peers, he was dominant and confident. But the arrival of another boy of the same name changes everything. They are almost identical, sharing both physical appearance and date of birth. Their only difference is the other boy's voice, which is a whisper. They form an inseparable but destructive relationship, always trying to fool each other and pick up on the other’s weakness.

One day they have a violent altercation and from then on, the rivalry is intense. One night, the narrator steals into his double’s closet-bedroom, but as he sheds light on the sleeping menace, he doesn’t recognize the face he sees. He is terrified and leaves the school at once.

William studies at Eton next, and gets into drinking. He manages to forget his past, but during one night of revelry, a stranger enters the party with the familiar whisper of his doppelganger, and he realizes he has not escaped. He moves on to Oxford, and gets into gambling. One night, he tricks and financially ruins a man called Glendinning in a game of cards, but the doppelganger shows up and reveals to William Wilson's friends at the gambling table how William was cheating.

Now shunned by his friends, William flees the country, trying to get away from his double. But everywhere he goes, the other William goes too. In Rome at a masquerade ball, as he is trying to have an affair with a married woman, his doppelganger turns up again. This time William confronts and tries to kill him. The room changes and he sees a mirror before him, and the face of William Wilson, coming towards him, telling him that he has murdered himself.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The narrator explains the analytic mind, and then describes his friend Auguste Dupin and the time that they spent together in Paris. To show what strange but ingenious company he is in, he explains how Dupin one day broke their silence by continuing one of the narrator’s silent thoughts, and then explaining how he did it.

Next the narrator describes a recent unusually brutal murder, of a girl and her mother, which has the police baffled. The witness testimonies suggest that there were two voices heard in the apartment, one shrill, one gruff, and the former so foreign as to be unintelligible to a diverse host of witnesses.

Dupin believes that the police misread the crime scene and arrested an innocent man. He and the narrator investigate the crime scene themselves. Dupin already seems to know something that nobody else does, and tells the narrator that he is expecting a visit from a man involved in the crime.

Dupin explains to the narrator how he has reasoned out the solution: the gruff voice, he says, was not in any human language; an extremely agile murderer could have come into the apartment through a window in a way the police did not consider; and the criminal would have to have had superhuman strength to inflict the injuries upon the victims. Then he reveals his suspicion that the criminal is not human, it is an Ourang-Outang. The man Dupin is waiting for is a sailor, who soon arrives, anxious to get back his troublesome animal. Dupin orders him to tell him everything he knows, and the fearful sailor obliges, telling him exactly what he had suspected. The chief of police is secretly perturbed that Dupin has outdone him.

The Tell-Tale Heart

The narrator insists that what he is about to describe is not an act of madness. He explains that he did not hate the old man that the story is about. The problem was the old man’s vulture-like eye. When the old man looks at him, he is filled with fury.

So he plots to kill him, and goes every night for a week to his bedchamber, each time, slowly easing a lamp inside the room and letting a tiny ray of light in. But, seeing the eye closed each time, the narrator does not do the deed. On the eighth night, when the narrator approaches the old man wakes, and cries out, obviously in fear of his life. They both wait in the dark for a long time. The narrator begins to hear the ticking, ticking of the old man’s heart, louder and louder. Then the narrator sneaks a look and sees the vulture eye staring ahead. This does it. The narrator kills the old man, then chops up the body and hides it below the floorboards.

The narrator feels a moment of relief but moments later, the police arrive having heard reports of screams. The narrator welcomes the police in and calmly takes them on a tour of the property. He is so confident that he even tells them to rest in the old man’s chamber and seats himself over the man’s remains as they talk. The narrator's calmness sets the police at ease, but as the small talk continues, he imagines that he can hear the ticking of the old man’s heart again. He begins to believe that the police are mocking him, and that they know he is a murderer. As the sound of the heart gets louder and louder, the narrator confesses.

The Pit and the Pendulum

The narrator receives a sentence of death during the Inquisition, and faints. When he awakens, he is in a pitch-black tomb-like room. He tries to work out the dimension of the room, and in doing so realizes that it has a deep pit in its center that he could fall into. Now the narrator nervously stays close to the wall and eventually falls asleep. Upon waking, he finds some bread and water, which he consumes. He then falls again into a death-like sleep. He awakens and now light is entering the cell somehow. He realizes too that he has been strapped to a board and there is a descending pendulum, sharp as a razor, descending step by step, coming towards him. There is also a plate of meat beside the bed.

The narrator watches the descent of the razor, alternately panic-stricken and calm. But he notices that the rats in the cell, which are monstrous and come from the pit, are eating the meat. He spreads the oily leftovers of the meat over the ropes tying him down, and the rats chew threw them, freeing him just before the pendulum hits him.

Suddenly, the walls of the room start to inch in, forcing him towards the pit. When he is inches from certain death, the walls stop pushing. He is saved by a French General.

The Black Cat

The narrator explains that as a child, he’d preferred animals to people. When he grew up, he married and his wife filled their home with pets, including a large, clever black cat, Pluto, which was his favorite. Yet the narrator started to become increasingly temperamental and angry. Eventually he even took things out on Pluto and one day was so frustrated that he gouged out the cat’s eye. Though the cat avoided his master for a while, he soon came back, more affectionate than ever, as if taunting his conscience, until it became too much for the narrator and he killed the animal by hanging him on a garden tree.

That night, the narrator’s house caught on fire. The narrator and his wife escaped but when they return the next day, they find that sole remaining wall has on it the shape of the black cat in the plaster.

The narrator starts drinking and one day, in a bar, he sees another black cat sitting on a barrel, an exact double of Pluto apart from a patch of white on its breast. He takes the animal home, but his affection for it is very short lived and its similarity to Pluto soon begins to unnerve him to the point of fury. The patch of white also begins to resemble a gallows and reminds the narrator of his guilt.

The narrator becomes crueler than he’s ever been, but the cat is insistently affectionate. One day he tries to kill the cat, but when his wife tries to stop him, he kills her instead. He hides her body in the wall. The black cat disappears. Four days later the police come, asking to search the property. The narrator shows them around, confident of his concealment of the body. His bravado increases and he even knocks the wall hiding his wife’s body with his stick for show. A horrible sound comes from the wall. The police knock down the wall and discover the body and on top of it, the black cat, which had been buried alive.

The Purloined Letter

The narrator and his friend Dupin, from The Murders in the Rue Morgue, get another visit from the Prefect of police. He explains that the Minister D___ has stolen a letter from the royal lady, which he has been using to blackmail her.

The Prefect explains how thoroughly the police has searched the Minister’s apartment, but has found nothing. Dupin tells him to search again and the Prefect goes away disappointed. The next month, he comes back. He has performed another search but still found nothing. He admits that he will personally pay a lot of money to have the letter brought to him. Dupin surprises everybody by asking the Prefect to write him a check, and promises to produce the letter, which he does.

The Prefect rushes off to get his own reward from the royal lady, while Dupin explains to the narrator how he got the letter. He went to the Minister’s apartment in a pair of dark glasses and pretended to keep up conversation while he looked around, operating with the suspicion that the Minister has hidden the letter by not actually hiding it at all. Eventually he spots it, a letter right on the Minister's desk that has been turned inside out. Dupin distracts the Minister, pockets the letter, and replaces it with a copy that contains a message from Dupin to the Minister. It turns out the Minister once wronged Dupin, and the message is a quote, warning that the first insult is always remembered.

The Masque of the Red Death

The plague of the Red Death has seized the country and Prince Prospero, ignoring the pleas of his people and in an effort to avoid the plague himself, has moved into an ornate abbey of his own unusual design with his entourage. As the disease reaches its height, the Prince decides to hold a masked ball in his imperial suite.

The seven rooms of this suite are decorated in various colors and the fires that burn behind the windows of each room make the colors jump and dance. The seventh room is decorated with black drapes and scarlet windowpanes, and has a clock whose chime sends the guests into a dreamlike state. Affected by the colors and the chimes, the dancers writhe around the rooms, until midnight when the clock’s twelve chimes bring a deeper reverie than before and an unsettling rumor grows in the crowd that the Red Death is among them.

The figure of the Red Death appears, totally shrouded in grave-like clothes, before the Prince, who orders him to be unmasked and hung. But no one will go near and the figure proceeds through the apartment to the final room. The Prince follows and confronts him but dies as soon as he touches him. The Red Death then takes over the whole party, one by one, with its bloody contamination.

The Cask of Amontillado

The narrator describes his friend Fortunato, a wine connoisseur, against whom he has vowed revenge because Fortunato committed some unnamed wrong against him. The narrator meets Fortunato and tells him about a recent purchase of a case of vintage wine called Amontillado. He needs someone to help him verify that the wine is authentic. Fortunato seems struck by the mention of the Amontillado, but the narrator tells him not to worry if he is busy, that he plans to see another wine connoisseur. Fortunato dismisses this other connoisseur and is keen to see the wine now.

As they head into the narrator's wine cellar, the narrator keeps telling Fortunato to turn back, because the wine is in a deep vault with nitre coating the walls and Fortunato is already coughing. Fortunato insists they carry on. They go deeper and deeper into the tombs underneath the Palazzo until they reach a kind of catacomb, where the narrator's own ancestors are entombed. Within this chamber is the pitch-black entrance to where the narrator says the Amontillado is stored. A pile of bones lies before this dark entrance, the remains of a fourth wall.

As Fortunato looks into this dark corridor, the narrator locks Fortunato to the stone wall. He then starts to build up the fourth wall again, shutting Fortunato in the dark. Fortunato moans in terror, but then he lets out a terrifying laugh as if the whole thing is the narrator’s idea of a joke. The narrator laughs in return until Fortunato falls silent, then builds the rest of the wall. He says that the tomb remains undisturbed half a century later.