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Edgar Allan Poe: Examining the Death of A Beautiful Woman and Other Tales

Updated on November 28, 2016

Eleonora

Eleonora is a short story published in 1842 and has a happier ending than most short stories by Poe. The story is about the narrator who lives with his cousin, Eleonora and his Aunt in a beautiful isolated meadow type of paradise. This land is untouched by other man and these people live like this for many years. After a while a love romance begins between the narrator and Eleonora, but once again we have the infamous death of a beautiful woman. Eleonora was sick, “made perfect in loveliness only to die. Eleonora like most of the beautiful women in Poe’s stories and poems doesn’t fear her death, but instead fears that the narrator will leave and find another to give his heart to after she dies. So the narrator makes a promise to Eleonora that he won’t marry another. Now after she dies the meadow begins to die, as if the life is being sucked from the grass. This causes the narrator to leave and he meets another and marries her, Eleonora visits him and gives them her blessing. So here we have that theme that Poe loves so very much, but a happier ending where the narrator is allowed to be happy with his new wife. Unlike Ligeia where the narrator marries a new wife only to have her die as well, this one ends on a more pleasant note.

Ligeia

This short story was written in 1838 and is about a man and his wife Ligeia. Ligeia is a woman described as having a unique kind of beauty. She has dark mysterious features, dark eyes and raven-haired according to the story. The narrator goes into great detail describing his love Ligeia and spends a particular amount on describing her face. Poe writes, “In beauty of face no maiden ever equaled her. It was the radiance of an opium-dream—an airy and spirit-lifting vision more wildly divine than the phantasies which hovered about the slumbering souls of daughters of Delos. Yet her features were not of that regular mold which we have been falsely taught to worship in the classical labors of the heathen.” The narrator is saying that the beauty of Ligeia matches up to no woman. She is a one of a kind find, the rarest of beauties and that’s what makes her so special. Well after some time Ligeia falls ill and eventually dies. The narrator is grief stricken and ends up finding comfort in another woman Rowena, who is fair-haired and blue-eyed. I believe her features are fair and light to illustrate that powerful beauty Ligeia held. Well 2 months into his second marriage the narrator’s wife falls ill and she too also dies. The narrator ends up staying with the body of his second wife and begins to notice signs of Rowena reviving, but falls to death. This period of reviving and dying happens throughout the evening and finally when the narrator touches the head of his dead wife the bandages fall away revealing not the fair-haired, blue-eyed Rowena, but the dark eyed, raven-haired Ligeia. Poe was fascinated with beauty and the death of a beautiful woman was the most poetic and beautiful thing, according to an essay he had written. So it’s no surprise that he has this constant theme in many of his poems and stories about beautiful women dying. But to some the death of Ligeia is more than just the death of a beautiful woman, because of how Ligeia dies. She dies apparently of weak will. So the story is about people with weak wills dying and if your will is strong you can be kept alive, but it is unclear as to whose will brings Ligeia back from the grave, hers of her husbands. However could Ligeia being resurrected through Rowena be an opium induced dream created by the opiate addict, the narrator.

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The Oval Portrait

The Oval Portrait was published in 1842 and is a short story about a story within a story. It opens up with the narrator who has an unknown injury and seeks refuge in a Chateau. Here he spends his time admiring the artwork on the walls and proceeds to “criticize and describe” each of them. Until he lays his eyes on a portrait which he cannot look away from. He stands for hours in awe of the portrait, which is of a “young girl just ripening into womanhood.” The narrator appears to get lost in this entangling portrait of a young beautiful woman and seeks the story behind the portrait. The portrait is of the painters wife and “she was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter.” The young girl in the portrait fell in love with an artist and he wished to capture her beauty on canvas, but while painting his lovely bride he became consumed with the painting itself and soon paid no attention to his bride at all. Once he finished his work he stood back to admire it and finally gazed upon his wife only to discover that she had died, “the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved: She was dead!” What I love about this story is the message about what happens when someone falls in love with an image of beauty instead of real beauty. They end up losing time and before you know it, you can’t get that time back and your love has slipped right through your fingers. It could also be read from a feminist point of view, in that when men admire a superficial kind of beauty they get lost and ignore the women who are in their lives and soon those women have gone. And of course once again we see the theme of the death of a beautiful woman that Poe loves so much.

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The Black Cat

The Black Cat was first published in 1843 and this short story plays on the psychology of guilt, this story is often paired with The Tale-Tell Heart since both stories have similar themes of guilt. In this story we have a man and his wife and the narrator tells us that they are lovers of animals. They own many animals, including a black cat named Pluto. The man and the cat are very close and seem to enjoy one another’s company. Well the man takes up drinking and becomes an alcoholic and after a night of drinking he begins to feel that Pluto is rejecting him and goes to grab the cat and Pluto bites him. In his alcoholic rage the man takes a pen-knife and gouges the cat’s eye out. The man immediately regrets what he has done, but still takes the cat out one morning to the garden and hangs him from a tree and the cat dies. That night his house burns down mysteriously and him and his wife are forced to move. The man then begins to see images of a gigantic cat hanging, at first he is terrified, but then convinces himself that there is a logical explanation for the hanging cat that resembled the cat he had just killed. So while in the cellar of their new house the cat runs under the man causing him to stumble he takes his axe to go after it and is stopped by his wife then takes the axe to her and conceals her body behind a brick wall in the cellar. The police get involved and investigate the wife’s sudden disappearance and the man and police go down to the cellar and begin to hear “a wailing shriek” from behind the wall and when the wall was removed they found the wife’s body and the cat on top of her head, “Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman.” This is an interesting story because it plays on the human psyche and guilt. I love the psychotic feel to the story, at first you believe the man is growing mad with guilt or maybe it is his tendency to stay in this alcoholic induced states that are creating this. When I first read this story I thought all of this was in the man’s head and that his guilt was playing with him, up until he killed his wife and concealed her in the cellar.

Good Charlotte- My Bloody Valentine inspired by The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart was first published in 1843 and is a short story about a narrator who is trying to convince the readers of his sanity, all the while describing a murder he had committed. This is another story that plays on the psychology of guilt. The victim of this crime was an old man with a “vulture eye” as the narrator describes him. The murder of this old man is something out of an episode of Dexter. It is carefully calculated and the body of the old man is dismembered and placed under the floor boards. Throughout the tale the narrator believes he can still hear the old man’s heart beat from beneath the floor. What is interesting about this story is how it plays on hallucinations, is the narrator really hearing the man’s heart beat or is it the guilt kicking in when an officer comes knocking on his door asking about the old man. The officer can clearly no hear the old man’s heart beating, but the narrator is so consumed with the guilt of murdering him that the heart beat won’t leave his ears, until finally he confesses. “’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 narrator is clearly off his rocker and is one crazy dude. What makes this man crazy is his reasoning for killing the old man, because the narrator does state that he loved the old man and that he isn’t killing him for greed, but his “vulture eye”. “I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And I did this for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.”

The Masque of the Red Death

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The Man of the Crowd

The Man of the Crowd is an interesting read about a narrator who follows an elderly man around the streets of London through crowds of people. It’s interesting because something stands out to the narrator about this elderly man that haunts him and causes him to follow the old man. Before noticing the old man the narrator is people watching and categorizing people he notices in the crowd, but the elderly man can’t be placed in a category and that bothers the narrator to the point where he follows the elderly man through the night and into the day just to see where he goes and what he does. This story invites the readers in and allows them to try to uncover the reasons behind this elderly man’s aimlessly wandering. It opens the door for what secrets this man must be hiding and that’s what I love the most about this story is that it leaves you wondering why the old man was wandering and allows you to use your imagination to find the answer, to sort of tell your own ending I suppose.

The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death was published in 1842 and is a part of Gothic Fiction. In this story Prince Prospero’s tries to avoid this plague that is taking the lives of many, mostly the lower class. The plague is identified as the Red Death. This prince has a masquerade ball in the middle of these tragic events only allowing nobles into the ball, when an unknown guest shows up disguised as the Red Death. In the Prince’s abbey there are 7 rooms and each room is a decorated and illuminated in a different color. The colors are blue, purple, green, orange, white and violet, and the very last room is decorated in black but illuminated in the color red. The seventh room is the one where no one will enter because of the blood red hue is gives off. The unknown guest who arrives as the Red Death is pursued by the Prince and the venture through each room until they reach the seventh where the guest turns to the Prince and the Prince drops dead. The other guests rush to the room and unveil the masked killer only to reveal that the guest is no guest at all but the actual Red Death itself. What I enjoyed about this story is how is illustrates that your social status cannot save you from a disease, because a disease doesn’t kill based on your status it infects anyone it comes into contact with. It plays with the whole death is inevitable no matter what walls you try and hide behind it will find you.

The Mystery of Marie Roget

The Mystery of Marie Roget is often described as the sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue and “is the first murder mystery based on the details of a real crime”. In this story we follow the mystery of the death of Marie Roget, a perfume shop employee. The detective on the case is C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator. This story is based on the real murders of Mary Cecilia Rogers, who disappeared on July 25, 1841. Her body was discovered floating in the Hudson on July 28 near Hoboken, New Jersey. This murder still remains a mystery and is unsolved. This is an interesting story because it is one of the first of its kind, an actual crime turned into a murder mystery story. Poe, I think, was a pioneer of his time and his darker views on the world were very misunderstood. He seemed to be a very blunt writer and I think many people feared that about him.

The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum is a story that accounts the torture that went on during the Spanish Inquisition, slightly fabricated for dramatic effect. What is most terrifying about this story is how it plays on the readers senses. Poe does an excellent job of putting the tortured details in very graphic ways that allow the reader to imagine what is going on. It helps to heighten the reality of the tale scaring the readers to death as they flip through the pages. The story takes place during the Spanish Inquisition and accounts the narrator’s horrific tortured account while he was imprisoned. The details in the story are literally like something straight out of a horror movie, in fact it reminds me of the saw movies and how the people were tortured in those films. What I love is the horror feel this story exhibits; my absolute favorite genre in movies and books is horror so this is by far one of my favorite Poe stories. One of my favorite descriptions is when the pendulum is inching down, closer and closer to its victim. As a reader you really get a sense of the fear the narrator is experiencing every time the pendulum inches closer and closer. “Down—still unceasingly—still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled at each vibration. I shrunk convulsively at its every sweep. My eyes followed its outward or upward whorls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair; they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent, although death would have been a relief, oh, how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen, glistening axe upon my bosom.”

Morella

Morella is part of the graphic horror genre, one of my favorite genres written by Poe because I love his dark twisted mind. This story is about an unnamed man who marries Morella who is studying German philosophers and the question of identity. Her husband begins to notice she is deteriorating and wishes for her to die, and she does while giving birth. After her child is born the father leaves her unnamed and notices the uncanny resemblance his daughter has to his wife. Once the child turns 15 he decides to have her baptized because the resemblance to her mother is now frightening, but this back fires. The mother’s soul enters the daughter and when the priest asks for her name the narrator says Morella to which the girl cries out “I am here” and then dies. This is a horrific story that is like something out of a scary movie of possession, only instead of the child being possessed by a demon she is possessed by her dead mother and then dies. I like this story for its drama and horror feel, and this too is centered on the theme the death of a beautiful woman.

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    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Brittany Kussman great Hub on one of my favorite 19th Century authors!

    • Brittany Kussman profile image
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      Brittany Kussman 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Thanks I'm glad you enjoyed the read. Poe is my absolute favorite author and I have written many papers on his poetry and short stories. I love how dark and twisted his mind was.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Brittany Kussman if I might say, I agree his mind may have been twisted from emotional and physical problems, but not mentally aberrant or deviant. His emotional losses, alcohol abuse, depression and maybe other ailments contributed to this.

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      Brittany Kussman 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Yes I agree completely.

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