Poe's Stories

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Themes and Colors
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Poe's Stories, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Gothic Style Theme Icon

Originating in 18th Century England, Gothic Literature was an important and distinctive movement in literary history, with a body of definite themes and symbols that has grown and changed as the genre has spread across the world and across time. But some core aspects remain definitive of the Gothic style, including: Gloomy settings like castles, dungeons, prisons and vaults; haunting figures, ghostly and somewhat unreal; symbols and colors that suggest the gory and supernatural. The Gothic style of Poe’s stories ties them all together, with their morbid, gory, suspense-filled plots and solitary, romantic settings, like the location of Prince Prospero’s strange masquerade. Colors black and red, and visual symbols like evil eyes and black cats, vaults and cellars, create a very recognizable gothic world, so that all Poe’s stories seem to belong in one collection. Poe is famous for bringing Gothic literature into the Victorian era and incorporating psychology into their themes, making the supernatural more believable and close to home.

The Gothic Style ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Gothic Style appears in each story of Poe's Stories. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Gothic Style Quotes in Poe's Stories

Below you will find the important quotes in Poe's Stories related to the theme of The Gothic Style.
Manuscript Found in a Bottle Quotes

A feeling, for which I have no name, has taken possession of my soul – a sensation which will admit of no analysis, to which the lessons of bygone times are inadequate, and for which I fear futurity itself will offer me no key.

Related Characters: Narrator (M.S. Found in a Bottle) (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator of the short story has boarded a mysterious ship. As he spends more time on the ship, he decides to write down everything he experiences there. The narrator can't quite put into words why he chooses to write down his experiences--all he knows is that a strange feeling has taken over his soul. The narrator refuses to think of the past ("bygone days") or look ahead to the future. Instead, he focuses exclusively on the present, and seemingly remains trapped and confused inside his own consciousness.

The narrator's behavior is characteristic of Poe's isolated, introspective narrators, and also of people in crises in general. The narrator doesn't have the luxury of ruminating on the past, nor does he have the time or hopefulness to think of the future. Every ounce of brainpower he has is devoted to survival in the present moment. The narrator's behavior also foreshadows the frightening end of the story, in which he is pulled down into the depths of the ocean. It's precisely because the narrator thinks he's going to die soon that he's written down his experiences--even if he doesn't survive the shipwreck, his notes, preserved in the titular bottle, will.

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The crew glide to and fro like the ghosts of buried centuries; their eyes have an eager and uneasy meaning; and when their fingers fall athwart my path in the wild glare of the battle-lanterns, I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of Allan columns at Balbec, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.

Related Characters: Narrator (M.S. Found in a Bottle) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story meets the crew of his new ship. The crew members are gaunt and intimidating--almost like ghosts. It's also in this passage that we learn that the narrator is a collector of antiques--in other words, the relics of bygone centuries, once owned by people who are now dead. He also describes his own soul as a "ruin," making an important connection between the aging, frightening settings of the Gothic and the psychologies of Poe's characters.

The passage is important because it establishes the macabre mood of the story (and the entire book) by blurring the line between the past and the present. Although the narrator is trying to focus on the here and now, he has a strange sense of being "pulled" into the supernatural; i.e., the world of the dead. Poe will repeat such a dynamic many times in his stories: a lonely, rational narrator will be swallowed up by the sheer bulk of the Gothic world of sinister settings, ghosts, and monsters.

All in the immediate vicinity of the ship is the blackness of eternal night, and a chaos of foamless water; but, about a league on either side of us, may be seen, indistinctly and at intervals, stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away into the desolate sky, and looking like the walls of the universe.

Related Characters: Narrator (M.S. Found in a Bottle) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Architecture
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Poe gives us a flavor of his hidden impulses and desires--in other words, what he personally finds frightening. In the story, the narrator is aboard a ship that's slowly being sucked into a whirlpool. And yet all around the ship are huge columns of ice.

It's important to notice the claustrophobia of this scene. Even though the narrator is sailing on the ocean--i.e., a completely open place--he has the strong sense of being boxed in by these massive walls of ice. Confronted by the horror of compression and enclosure, death--or being sucked down by the whirlpool--is almost a relief. (In real life, Poe was terrified of being buried alive, and wrote dozens of stories on the topic. This story is an early sign of Poe's claustrophobia.)

The description of the icy walls is also a good example of the kind of Gothic "architecture" that haunts Poe's stories. Even when nothing directly supernatural or horrifying is happening, the setting itself usually suggests something sinister or beyond human comprehension. These icy columns are reminiscent of the Romantic idea of the "sublime" (an experience, usually in nature, of terror and awe at the vastness of existence), and were perhaps inspirational for the setting of Mary Shelley's classic work of horror and the Romantic: Frankenstein

Ligeia Quotes

The night waned; and still, with a bosom full of bitter thoughts of the one only and supremely beloved, I remained gazing upon the body of Rowena.

Related Characters: Narrator (Ligeia) (speaker), Lady Rowena of Tremaine
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the short story has remarried after the tragic death of his wife, Ligeia. The narrator's new wife, Rowena, has fallen seriously ill. Late at night, the narrator keeps watch over Rowena. As he watches, the narrator can only think of Ligeia--dead, yet still very much alive in his mind.

As we gradually realize, however, Rowena seems to be transforming into Ligeia. Poe creates the illusion that the phenomenon is something supernatural and horrifying, but also that it's the narrator's own obsession with Ligeia that brings her back to life. The real victim here, of course, is Rowena, who seems to be no more than the empty vessel into which the narrator pours his obsession with Ligeia. Rowena is only a replacement for Ligeia--and here, with the narrator clearly hungering for his dead wife's return, Rowena herself seems "melt away."

The Fall of the House of Usher Quotes

I know not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Fall of the House of Usher) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Architecture
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, the narrator of the story looks upon the House of Usher and immediately feels a sense of gloom and horror. The house has been the site of great misery in recent years, and here, Poe suggests that this misery is palpable--the house itself seems to record and radiate the emotions of the people who lived there.

The passage is a great example of Poe's Gothic style. The Gothic genre, popular in the 19th century, often hinges upon a big, intimidating house full of memories and mystery. The house is practically a character in the story, just as it is in the best Gothic novels. The house is like the "Greek chorus" of the story--both witnessing the events of the plot and elevating them to their emotional peak.

William Wilson Quotes

Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation. This has been already too much an object for the scorn – for the horror – for the detestation of my race.

Related Characters: William Wilson (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Poe introduces us to William Wilson--a man who's taken on his current, fake name because his real name has become associated with too much scandal and evil. Right away, Poe creates a mood of suspense and excitement--we want to know what, exactly, Wilson did that was so awful. The story also reveals itself to be another "retelling" from memory, as many of the stories in this collection are--and so Wilson is immediately made somewhat unreliable in that he's telling his own story, and may be misremembering or falsifying information.

We should note that William Wilson is the first named narrator in Poe's collection of short stories. And yet the name "William Wilson" is obviously fake--in other words, the fact that we've got the narrator's name doesn't mean that we know anything more about him than we did about the unnamed narrators in the previous stories. And just like the other narrators in the book, William Wilson is an unlikely everyman--even if we can't relate to all of his experiences, we're meant to identify with his point of view, and his horror becomes our own.

A large mirror, – so at first it seemed to me in my confusion – now stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait.

Related Characters: William Wilson (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

In the finale of "William Wilson," Wilson realizes that he's killed himself. Wilson has spent his entire life fighting with a mysterious doppelgänger (double of himself), who undermines everything that Wilson tries to do. At the end of Wilson's life, however, the truth becomes clear: Wilson's doppelgänger isn't another person; it's Wilson himself.

To appreciate the full power of the story, one shouldn't take the ending too literally. One could say for example, that Wilson is schizophrenic, or that he has some other mental disorder that's caused him to hallucinate another person who looks and sounds just like him. But the more powerful and symbolic interpretation of the story is that William Wilson--as his bland, everyman name would suggest--represents the dual nature of all human beings. Like the titular characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all people have a good side and a bad side. William Wilson has fought a constant war with his own soul and conscience, and in the end, he's the first and only casualty of that war.

The Murders in the Rue-Morgue Quotes

Had the routine of our life at this place been known to the world, we should have been regarded as madmen – although, perhaps, as madmen of a harmless nature. Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no visitors.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Murders in the Rue Morgue; The Purloined Letter) (speaker), Auguste Dupin
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story establishes the time that he has spent with Auguste Dupin, the great detective. Dupin is a prototype for Sherlock Holmes--he's smart and sophisticated, but he's also an incredibly odd, eccentric person (and Poe arguably invented the modern detective story through the character of Dupin). Dupin and the narrator live together in a house and stay up late every night reading and putting their minds to use. While they're both highly intelligent people, their behavior could easily be mistaken for insanity.

It's a mark of Poe's devotion to eccentricity and strangeness that even in a story about a detective--supposedly a paragon of rationality and self-control--the characters seem like "madmen" trapped in a sinister, isolated house. Dupin and his friend use their intelligence to solve crimes, but intelligence is not enough--intuition and eccentricity of imagination are vital in understanding the world, a surprising reminder of Poe's own eccentric worldview.

The Tell-Tale Heart Quotes

I loved 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! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) (speaker), The Old Man
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story tries to explain why he killed an old man. The narrator's explanation is that he didn't like the man's eye--which, according to the narrator, resembles the eye of a vulture.

For Poe, the eye is the ultimate symbol of man's irrationality and unpredictability. The eyes are the window to the soul, and thus for the narrator to be repelled by an eye is for him to be frightened by an inexplicable, irrational fear of another person's soul. Put another way, there is no rational motive for the narrator's act of murder--as he makes very clear, he doesn't kill the old man because he hates him, or to get his gold. As with so many of the bizarre and frightening things in Poe's stories, there is no real reason for them to happen; and yet they happen all the same, making them all the more uncanny.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? – now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Tell-Tale Heart) (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator of the story has now murdered the old man and buried his body underneath the floorboards. As he sits in the old man's room, talking to the police, he begins to hear a strange ticking sound--a sound which he believes to be the beating of the old man's heart.

As we can guess, there is probably no actual heartbeat in the room. One could argue that the narrator, full of repressed guilt for his actions, has projected the sound of the heartbeat, undermining his own carefully planned murder. It's also possible that Poe intends the heartbeat to be a supernatural event--the old man is haunting his murderer from the grave, forcing him to divulge his secret to the police. In either case, though, the narrator's greatest enemy is his own irrational mind and his "over-acute" senses. Try as he might to get away with a crime, the narrator's own fear and anxiety destroy his chances of getting off scot-free.

The Pit and the Pendulum Quotes

I had swooned; but will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber – no! In delirium – no! In a swoon -- no! In death – no! even in the grave all is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) (speaker)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, a man is sentenced to torture by the Spanish Inquisition. As he's sentenced, the man faints, and yet still remains somewhat conscious of his surroundings. As the man puts it, it's impossible to be truly unconscious--whether you're awake, asleep, delirious, or dead, some part of you is always at least somewhat aware of where you are and what's going on.

The passage is a grim bit of foreshadowing, because there will be many times in the story when the narrator wishes he were totally unconscious. But there is no relief for the narrator--his dreams are just as terrifying as his reality. The sense of inescapable horror--of being "buried alive," whether literally or metaphorically--is typical of Poe's style.

Looking upwards I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. […] In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that, in lieu of a scythe, he held what, at a casual glance, I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Architecture
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator becomes aware of his torture. In a dungeon, there is a painting of the figure of Time, carrying a large pendulum that resembles a scythe (a symbol of how Time must "reap" the human race via death). Although the narrator doesn't realize it right away, the painting of Time--and the very real, very sharp pendulum that he's carrying--will be the narrator's next form of torture. The pendulum is a symbol of the inevitability of death--just as time brings all human beings closer and closer to death, the pendulum threatens to kill the narrator, who is trapped in his Gothic torture-chamber, with increasingly terrifying force.

The Black Cat Quotes

I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Black Cat) (speaker), The Black Cat (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator of the story tortures his own cat by gouging out one of its eyes with his knife. What's interesting to notice in this passage is that the narrator seems both remorseful and remorseless as he describes how he tortured his pet. On one hand, the narrator describes the cat as a "poor beast," and claims that he shudders as he writes about his own actions. On the other hand, the narrator seems to have hurt his cat without any real remorse at the time-it's only later that he begins to regret his actions.

In short, the narrator is a deeply divided person--simultaneously good and evil, attracted and repelled by crime. In Poe's stories, the narrators' greatest enemies are themselves--they're trapped by their own divided natures, and can't commit a crime without later being wracked by their own self-hatred.

The Masque of the Red Death Quotes

The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.

Related Characters: Prince Prospero
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, a haughty prince, Prospero, holds a grand party in his palace. At the party, the guests try to distract themselves from the realities of their kingdom: all around them, there's a horrible disease called the Red Death, which is killing off many innocent people. The Prince and his guests believe that their joy, wealth, and imagination will protect them from the disease.

Poe is clearly critical of Prospero's ignorance and arrogance with regard to the Red Death. Instead of accepting the reality of the horrible disease, or trying to do something about it, Prospero turns his back on the Red Death altogether. Some critics have suggested that Prospero is Poe's caricature of his literary contemporaries, authors who, unlike Poe himself, ignored the horror and banality of life and tried to focus too excessively on aesthetics or fantasy. (As the story suggests, there was a class element in Poe's critique of his contemporaries: Poe was the first American author to support himself entirely through writing, and seemed to have resented his wealthier peers.) Where other writers try to forget how dangerous and horrifying the world really is, Poe uses literature to address to world's horrors head-on.

[…] while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.

Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Poe describes the party that Prospero organizes for his court. At the party (held in a magnificent, mysterious Gothic abbey) there is a room decorated all in black, in which there is a large clock, which tolls every hour. When the clock tolls, the guests at the party become frightened and pale. While Poe never explains exactly why the guests are so influenced by a clock, he implies that the clock is a symbol of the guests' mortality--i.e., the very thing Prospero is trying to forget. By the same logic, the clock is a symbol of impending, inevitable death: the Red Death is coming to Prospero's party to kill everyone there, punishing them for their indifference to suffering.

The Cask of Amontillado Quotes

I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Cask of Amontillado) (speaker), Fortunato
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final story in the book, a narrator prepares to enact his revenge upon Fortunato. The narrator is obsessed with obtaining revenge upon those who humiliate him in some way (though we're never told how, exactly, Fortunato humiliated the narrator, making us wonder if the narrator is just a sadist or a madman). And yet the narrator also makes it clear that he doesn't want revenge to "overtake" him--he just wants to get even with Fortunato and then move on with his life. At the same time, he wants Fortunato to thoroughly realize that the narrator is taking revenge on him--no accidents or sudden deaths.

Revenge, in short, is a kind of balance between becoming too obsessed with getting even, and not being obsessed enough. It's odd that the narrator describes revenge as a form of moderation, since there's absolutely nothing moderate about the revenge that the narrator enacts upon Fortunato (he buries the poor guy alive).