the effectiveness of the Unreliable Narrator : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I am writing an essay on the concept of the unreliable narrator and its effectiveness, regarding Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher". Can you give insight into some different directions that I can take this essay? How does this narrative technique prove useful in this story? Please resond ASAP. Thank you, K.

-- Anonymous, November 03, 2002


Curiously, the unreliable narrator may be more often the first person protagonist himself since many of them are dysfunctional, sel-f-deceived as a prequisite for their distorted visons and the trouble they get themselves into. If Usher was alone and told his story in the first person who would he be relaying his story to? So enclosed and doomed is his world that there has to be a stepping back. Masque of the Red Death is third person. pit and Pendulum where the hero overcomes(maintains sanity)and escapes, is first. The Black Cat and Tell-Tale heart are confessional as if told through cell bars, relaying their defeat in getting there.

The question of reliability separate from the best perspective to weave a tale with ambiguous horrors is the mispeception, ignorance and unwitting clues laid at the feet of the reader who reacts faster if not differently to the narration. This culiminates in the assistant to the detective, the first Dr. Watson, who reveals without first being aware, led by the nose by the detective amid clues that a reader will at least get before the good doctor or at least in a conspiracy of superior intellect with the detective. The narrator in Usher sees a series of closing, inescapable rings of existence from the moment he nears the house. Entry, going deeper, escaping as if in reverse, everything is bound, an image better seen from the outside since it encompasses Usher's house, not just the tormented invalid. He too must have everything explained even as he senses and sees the doom everywhere in his dread. The philosophy of Usher, the art of Usher, the poem, the physique of Usher, the family tale, the dying sister, the house and environs, are all relentlessly bound, one and the same decating into a last plunge into the abyss. The mute helplessness of the narrator as he is present to understand and witness these unities is something from which we too find hard to escape. But is it not the telling, the insight of the narrator which binds this into a story? The narrator is so caught up in Usher that even in escape he has no independent attitude or thoughts of his own except horror at the tragic conjunction of tragedy. He matters as little in the end as the butler who is not even mentioned in the fall. "I alone anm escaped to tell thee." The narrator is lost in his witness and theologizing of the experience. To relay this closed, hopeless tragedy is a dark religion. Is he relaying Usher's perspective as a disciple? Usher is more fatalistic or escapist, then comes the fall. What does the nameless narrator add at this point? The affirmation that the house doom is truly encompassed, collapsing after the family of Usher is dead.

Some more truly unrelaible, self-deceived or deceiving narrators are better seen in "The Cask of Amontillado" where the murderer is more guilt ridden than his boasting would have you believe. In all cases the idea is of unwitting or gradual revelation to the reader who can seem to stay one step ahead of the narrator, to be drawn in with a sense of fate by a dawning greater knowledge or dread which the narrator is slower to admit or understand. This makes us partiicipants.

Compare that to the more slam bang gore of modern horror or cheap fiction which just magnifies incident and spectacle in the vain hope of sickening and shocking the reader in ways much less profound or powerful. Poe was varied and careful in regards to the perspective, always trying for the best and closest involvement in the power of the story, closing us in, drawing us in as critics and participants. At the same time the vagueness substitutes for blatant supernatural invasions, misconceptions and mental wildness for external forces.

-- Anonymous, November 04, 2002

Masque of the Red Death is in FIRST person. There are three mentions of "I". The narrator is a paradox because he/she/it says that everybody there dies, yet it lives on to tell the story.

If you would like more information, I suggest that you find an article written by somebody with the last name Dudley (his first name escapes me). I am doing a paper on the impossible narrator in Masque and his article was a lot of help.

P.E. Murphy doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

-- Anonymous, December 22, 2002

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