Teachers

Poe's Technique

Poe’s Use of Literary Devices in a Short Story
(English SOL 7.4b, 7.5a,b, and c)

Even critics who object to Poe’s subject matter tend to concede that Poe was a master craftsman.  The theories he explained as a literary critic are put into practice in his short stories and poems.  Poe’s primary concern was “unity of effect,” which means that every element of a story should help create a single emotional impact.  Poe’s 1846 tale “The Cask of Amontillado” is one of his best known works.  It is the story of a revenge-obsessed man Montressor who tricks his enemy Fortunato into following him into a catacomb in search of a pipe of Amontillado (a kind of sherry).  Over the course of their journey, Montressor gradually reveals his plan to his victim, who is too drunk to notice.  Finally, the murderer chains his victim to a wall and bricks him up alive in a compartment.  In the following excerpt from the opening paragraphs of “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe quickly and effectively foreshadows the gruesome conclusion of the story with a minimum of unnecessary detail.  Notice the ironic details probably intended for humorous effect.  For example, even the victim’s name, Fortunato, is ironic because he is, in fact, very unfortunate.  At the time Poe wrote this story he was engaged in a literary feud with writer Thomas Dunn English, who Poe would eventually sue for libel.

From “The Cask of Amontillado”

The thousand injuries 1 of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.2 You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat.3 At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my to smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
He had a weak point --this Fortunato --although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine.4 Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially; --I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season5, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him --"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
         "How?" said he. "Amontillado, A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"
            "I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."            
            "Amontillado!"
            "I have my doubts."
            "Amontillado!"
            "And I must satisfy them."
            "Amontillado!"
            "As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me --"
            "Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."
            "And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own. "Come, let us go."
            "Whither?"
            "To your vaults."
            "My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchresi--"
            "I have no engagement; --come."
            "My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre." 5
            "Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado." Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person 6, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.
            There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.
            I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors. 7
            The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.
            "The pipe," he said.
            "It is farther on," said I; "but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls."
             He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication. 8
            "Nitre?" he asked, at length.
            "Nitre," I replied. "How long have you had that cough?"             "Ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh!" My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes. "It is nothing," he said, at last.
       "Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious. 9

 


1. Hyperbole: “the thousand injuries” * Poe does not tell us exactly what Fortunato has done to deserve Montressor’s wrath, but Poe deliberately exaggerates the number and severity of Fortunato’s offenses only say that those offenses pale in comparison to the way in which Fortunato has most recently insulted Montressor.

2. Conflict: The narrator Montressor has been offended by Fortunato and must have his revenge. Montressor does not want to be caught or punished for what he will do, so he must conceive of a plan that will allow him to “punish with impunity.” The first paragraph establishes the conflict.

3. Point of View: The story is told from first-person point of view by a narrator who directly addresses a listener.  Some critics believe the narrator is on his deathbed confessing to a priest.

4. Foreshadowing: Poe reveals that Fortunato has a weakness for wine, and this will play a major part in Montressor’s plan.

5. Irony: This term describes a contradiction between the appearance of something and its reality.  In this case, Fortunato thinks Montressor is trying to talk him out of trying the Amontillado, but the reader knows this is exactly what Montressor wants him to do.

6. Setting: The story begins in a carnival. Montressor may have waited until carnival time to have an excuse to wear a mask in public so that no one would recognize him as he walked with his victim. He might have also waited until then to insure that his servants would all leave the house to attend the festivities so that he would have a private setting for his crime.  Poe has set the story in an Italian city, mostly likely Venice, where such carnivals where common. He also chose a European locale because he needed  a culture, unlike America, in which catacombs were common.

7. Setting: Instead of going to a wine cellar, the murder takes his victim to a catacomb.  Notice how Poe describes not only the appearance but the smell and the texture of the catacombs.

8. Metaphor: “two filmy orbs…” Poe uses this image to describe Fortunato’s eyes in such as way that tells the reader how drunk Fortunato already is.

9. Irony: “Your health is precious.” The murderer pretends to show concern for his victim’s health. The reader of the story knows this, but the victim does not.



How Poe used poetic techniques to convey mood in his poetry:

(English SOL 7.5c and d)

In his essay “The Philosophy of Composition” Poe explained that he was attempting to create a melancholy mood with his poem “The Raven.”  He believed the long “o” sound in the word “nevermore” had a very sad sound, so he repeated that sound at the end of each stanza.  Poe also noted that the saddest subject in the world was the death of a beautiful young woman, so he chose that as the subject of his poem.  He then concluded that the narrator of the poem should be the dead woman’s lover, the one, Poe believed, would be most deeply affected by her death.  Throughout the poem Poe uses imagery that conveys a sense of sorrow over the death of the narrator’s lover Lenore.  For example, he describes the dark night outside his room as a “Plutonian shore,” making an allusion to god of the underworld Pluto.  Poe also devotes a great deal of attention to the lyrical qualities of his poetry in order to convey a sense of beauty, the contemplation of which, he believed, “invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”

From “The Raven”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,1
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, 3
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 4
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more." 5

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain 6
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; 7
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, 8
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

 

1. Ryhme: “...dreary….weary.”

2. Alliteration: “...nodded, nearly napping…”

3. Onomatopoeia: “tapping”

4. Repetition: “...rapping, rapping…”

5. Stanza:  “Once...more.” *This selection includes four stanzas from the poem.  Each stanza ends with a word that rhymes with “nevermore.” 

6. Personifaction:
“..sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain…” *The rustling of  the curtains sounds sad as if the curtains themselves share the misery of the narrator.  Later in the poem a raven will be given human attributes.

7. Assonance:
“...terrors never felt before…”

8. Figurative Language: “...my soul grew stronger…” *It means he overcame his fear.

Meter: octameter acatalectic, alternating with heptameter catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrameter catalectic (a long syllable followed by a short one, the first line consisting of sixteen syllables, the second line of fifteen, the third of sixteen, the fourth of fifteen, the fifth of sixteen, and the sixth of seven).

Event Schedule

December 2014
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      
             
Jan »
January 2015
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
             
Feb » « Dec
February 2015
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
             
             
Mar » « Jan
March 2015
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
             
Apr » « Feb
April 2015
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    
             
May » « Mar
May 2015
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            
Jun » « Apr
June 2015
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        
             
Jul » « May
July 2015
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
             
Aug » « Jun
August 2015
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Sep » « Jul
September 2015
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
             
Oct » « Aug
October 2015
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
             
Nov » « Sep
November 2015
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
             
Dec » « Oct
December 2015
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
             
Jan » « Nov
January 2016
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            
Feb » « Dec
February 2016
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29          
             
Mar » « Jan
March 2016
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
             
Apr » « Feb
April 2016
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
             
May » « Mar
May 2016
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
             
Jun » « Apr
June 2016
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    
             
Jul » « May
July 2016
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            
Aug » « Jun
August 2016
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      
             
Sep » « Jul
September 2016
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  
             
Oct » « Aug
October 2016
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Nov » « Sep
November 2016
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
             
Dec »
« Oct

Next Event