While many of Poe's characters are married, and others are often visiting with friends or acquaintances, the overriding sense of Poe’s stories is one of loneliness and solitude. Each story leaves the character alone to face his destiny, fear, pain, or crime by himself. In The Pit and the Pendulum, the narrator is alone in a cell and describing each encounter with mortal terror—he exists in the cell solely with death. In M.S. Found in a Bottle, the narrator writes a diary of his struggle aboard a paranormal vessel. The installments of his adventure seem like the narrator is confiding in us, the reader, and we alone are privy to his impending doom when he knows the ship is entering a whirlpool.
The aspect of loneliness to Poe’s narrators gives us a window into the mentality of the characters, giving a view of precisely how their consciousness changes, how they go from calm to panic, and a host of other psychological phenomena. For example, when the narrator first enters the House of Usher, he experiences a strange sensation in his mind that he cannot quite explain, which grows stronger and stranger as he looks into the water that surrounds the house and sees its inverted image. But even though the solitary, interior-monologue-led narration provides an intimate view of a character’s consciousness, it also accentuates the disconcerting atmosphere of the story when it becomes clear that the narrator is unreliable and can't be trusted. The Fall of the House of Usher shows us that as we delve deep into the interior consciousness of Poe’s characters, their irregularity and even madness becomes apparent, and the themes of self, solitude and consciousness become tinged with menace and suspicion.
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness ThemeTracker
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Quotes in Poe's Stories
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.
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.
They were, I must believe, far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race. They were even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of the valley of Nourjahad. Yet it was only at intervals – in moments of intense excitement – that this peculiarity became more than slightly noticeable in Ligeia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.