Gothic and Macabre: an Explication of Selected Works of Edgar a. Poe
Edgar Allen Poe uses elements both of a gothic and macabre nature in order to develop an atmosphere of intense horror within his short stories. Thus several stories take place in dark and gloomy settings, allow characters to undergo violent and unusual events, and generally end with an inevitably bizarre form of death for some characters.
Many of Poe's stories take place in settings characterized as being dark and oppressive. These settings often contain large, decrepit, and antiquated dwellings with countless rooms and secret vaults and passageways. The dwellings are usually set in remote and desolate locations, which effectively cut occupants off from the rest of civilization. Such a setting can be found in the story "Ligeia," where the narrator explains that after the death of his beloved first wife he took up residence in a dismal abbey located in a remote part of England. Within the abbey is an unusually shaped bridal chamber atop a high tower, which is where the narrator supposedly witnesses both his second wife's demise and first wife's subsequent resurrection.
In the story entitled "William Wilson" one of its major settings is a vast Elizabethan schoolhouse characterized with having countless subdivisions and being located in an ancient town. This schoolhouse setting is significant because it is where the narrator encounters his doppelganger for the first time. The story "The Masque of the Red Death" also contains a dark and gloomy setting, though it is not stated in an outright fashion. The prince's castellated abbey is located in a deeply secluded area and the suite in which he finally loses his life is characterized as being dark and dreary, due to having black furnishings and a blood-red tinted window. One of the most strangely oppressive settings is found in "The Cask of Amontillado" in which much of the story occurs within the gloomy atmosphere of the catacombs.
The story entitled "The Fall of the House of Usher" is the most particular about creating a gothic setting for its tale because the Usher mansion is central to the storyline. It is thus described as being so bleak and full of decay that, much like the terrible state of its owners, the sight of it causes viewers to feel an unbearable sense of gloom. From afar the mansion is described as being structurally stable, but upon closer inspection it is seen that its individual stones are crumbling down and its exterior is covered with fungi. Its interior is described as having dark and complicated passageways and containing outdated furnishings. The mansion's depressing atmosphere is partly responsible for Usher's illness, as he claims that the home is actually a sentient being capable of inflicting mental anguish upon him. Thus due to the mansion's significance to the storyline, the gloomy setting works especially well within this story.
Another gothic and macabre element found within Poe's stories is that characters often undergo violent and unusual events. One such event is that of being buried alive, which is a theme especially apparent within the stories "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Fall of the House of Usher." In the former story Montresor lures Fortunato into a deep dark chamber where he is subsequently entombed alive. In the latter story the…