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 Power of Memory Theme Icon

Many of Poe’s narrators tell stories that have already happened. Often, the difference between the situation of the narrator now, and the narrator then, is profound. For example, the narrator of The Black Cat begins what seems to be a domestic story about his pets, but it soon becomes clear that, as a result of the events of the story, the narrator is now in jail. This forewarning of the consequences of the tale provides the story much of its suspense. But a symptom of this voice of hindsight is a kind of unreliability. When we, as readers, know that the character talking is now in jail, for example, it raises the question of whether the narrator might be either hiding some aspect of the story or whether the traumatic events that led to the narrator's incarceration might have warped the narrator's memory of his own experience.

Stories like William Wilson begin their remembering with a description of the narrator’s childhood self. Through the lens of adulthood, childhood selves become tainted with Freudian implications and seem less than innocent. Many of the descriptions of children seem to mirror what Poe himself was like a child—intelligent and overactive and dominant—but they also portray childhood as including an awareness of violence that doesn’t seem to belong in a child’s world. Viewing childhood in this way, infused with the subsequent psychological deviance of the adult character, produces a version of events that can be deceptive and unclear.

Drugs and alcohol further cloud the reliability of memory. It is mentioned several times, though never explicitly blamed for any of the narrators’ troubles, that there is a lot of alcohol drinking and opium taking surrounding the events of the stories, suggesting that the narrator may be under the influence not just of madness but also inebriation, making it impossible for us, as readers, to trust even an interior monologue.

The Power of Memory ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Poe's Stories related to the theme of The Power of Memory.
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."

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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.

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).