suspense in Poe's short storiesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread
hi, I'm writing my literature paper about suspense in Poe's short stories, especially the techniques the writer uses to develop suspense. My main stories are The Cask of Amontillado and The Fall of the House of Usher. If you could help me and give me any ideas about where to look for or what to concentrate on I would be really greatful.
-- Anonymous, February 19, 2005
I need to know about "The House Of Usher".
-- Anonymous, February 20, 2005
These stories start out with the imminence of doom. Montresor immediately states his intention upon revenge. The suspense comes mainly in the duping of the victim as he is led deeper and down into his death chamber. A further issue of suspense is whether the narrator will have a change of heart, slim though that is. The double jolt of course is in the final realization of the victim's horror and the murderer's defiant blasphemy. it is one of ghoulish method and the hidden taunting with clues and even the invitation to the victim to turn back- for his health.
In the second story the entire atmosphere is one of cluastophobic destiny involving the whole estate and family of usher. Again the fated victim knows his fate even as he remains and defiantly escapes through the arts with his solitary friend/narrator. Usher himself is organically wrapped in his own destruction through his own weak body, his family and his sickly estate as described in the observations of the narrator and the poem "The Haunted Palace". The suspense builds with the death of the sister. The inevitable moves parallel and hidden to the final escapist recitation(and storm outside!)of a Gothic medieval fantasy until the escaping revived Madeleine breaks in and drags Usher down to his death by shock. The brilliance of suspense is in the unity of all forces(nature, falling house, sister, Usher's deadly excitement, narrator's surging horror and view of the entire process as he backs out of the collapsing house panning to the fuinal implosion.) So total is the destruction, black hole style, that the escape of the narrator(needed to relay the whole vision) is itself in doubt. During the sojourn clues and details add constantly to the inevitable progression so it again becomes a question of how, not if, Usher will die. The perspective of normalcy and the outside eye upon the introspective collapse gives the narrator a special role and the non-ommiscient human perspective that makes suspense more natural and all elements suggestive and even questionable.
For example, "vertigo" by Hitchcock is relayed almost entirely from the detective's point of view as he confronts the clues and his own psyche, is fooled then solves the murderous hoax. irony and misperception and fate engage the reader in the process of discovery and the movement toward the abyss- and whether one will escape at the end. The reader is engage- as the masters know- by the foreknowledge and the certainty hovering around the curtains of final revelation and denouement. Then in this mood the process is organically leading, teasing, terrifying, mystifying to a jolting conclusion. Humor or delays or sidebar comments and thinking prolong the suspense and tease with some relief or faint hope. it is up to the master not to make the conclusion a disappointing let down.
Poe's endings in fact do have a hard time living up to the growing suspense and the claustrophobic corners and extreme emotions build up. "The Pit and the Pendulum" shows the soldier- with absolutely no escape- triumphant at least in keeping his sanity- then swiftly rescued by outside forces. "Ligeia"- the horrible resurrection and in the novel about Pym, the extreme climax is open ended after too much sensationalism for any epilogue. The mastery of anti-climax comes with poe's invention of the detective story where suspense leads to masterful resolution and defeat/explanation of the evil. the other problem Poe could probably have seen with his early story "Ms. Found in a Bottle" where the descending victim obviously could say no more in his last minute scribbling. There's only so much a victim can do after all- sink or swim. So it is about suffering, fighting, thinking and feeling as things progress.
It all lies in the building process, the discovery of those within and the reader outside the drama.
-- Anonymous, February 25, 2005