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The Single Emotional "Poeffect"
Essay written by Henry George
When reviewing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales, Edgar Allen Poe pronounced that the
short story, if skillfully written, should deliver a single preconceived effect- an effect
upon which incidents be fashioned to accommodate that effect. Edgar Allen Poe was
indeed a skillful writer. His short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a flawless
example of a story in which all elements contribute to the delivery of a single emotional
effect. Poe accomplishes this by achieving a perfect tone, developing suspense and
unifying stylistic elements thereby meeting his own criteria.
In his pronouncement Poe also wrote that "In the whole composition there should be no
word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one
pre-established design." Thus, in "The Fall of the House of Usher" Poe creates a perfect
tone critical to the delivery of his preconceived effect. The senses of "insufferable
gloom," "utter depression of soul" and " sinking, sickening of the heart" which pervade
the narrator’s spirit immediately establish the tone. The narrator’s description of the
scene as "dull," "dark," "bleak," "desolate" and "terrible" all function in communicating
the tone. These concrete and denotative words ensure a clear and solid tone is
conveyed to the reader thereby contributing to the overall effect of terror. The regular
use or repetition of the words "dark," "gloomy" and "oppressive" in some form serves
function to further define and emphasize a perfect tone. It also perceivable that Poe’s
choice in the narrator’s role being the participant supports his intent to communicate
consistent feelings; hence consistent tone. In order to strengthen his already
established tone, Poe selectively uses imagery in scenes of terrible nature. The imagery
created by the descriptive details of "the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady
Madeline of Usher" and the "blood upon her white robes… evidence of some bitter
struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame." exemplify the imagery created by
the descriptive details Poe exclusively uses in such scenes of terror. The reserved
creation of imagery in these scenes is invaluable to the clarity and emphasis of the
tone-a tone vital to the delivery of the single emotional effect of terror.
Along with devising a perfect tone, Edgar Allen Poe builds a high degree of suspense in
order to bring about his desired effect. Poe is able to skillfully structure long involved
sentences that contain several ideas to fit his purpose of creating confusion and
mystery. The expression of the narrator’s "feeling of wild amazement" and his claim that
he "did actually hear a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted and most
unusual screaming or grating sound" exemplifies the mix of thought and numerous
descriptions that all appear in one sentence. This technique draws the reader into a
state of ponder as he tries to make sense of a somewhat overwhelming group of ideas.
The intentional absence of detail, imagery and explanation of certain factors in the
story, such as how, exactly, Madeline dies and the nature of her malady, serves
function to arouse a great deal of curiosity in the reader as to the answer of these
questions. The vagueness of such events result in a high level of suspicion felt by the
reader. In preparation for the single emotional effect, Poe sets up his audience through
suspense in order to ensure the effect is successfully delivered in a most powerful
manner. This is accomplished through the rising level of anticipation he breeds in the
reader with the anticipation the narrator feels as he reads "The Mad Twist." While
reading this story, the narrator, at intervals, hears "the very cracking and ripping sound
which Sir Lancelot had so particularly described," the "low and apparently distant, but
harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound" and the sound of "a
shield of brass… fallen heavily upon a floor of silver". Through the exposure to these
increasingly realistic and believable sounds, Poe transposes his audience into the
correct mindset for the delivery of his single emotional effect.
From the first sentence where the approach to the Usher House is met by intense
feelings to the last sentence of utter terror, Edgar Allen Poe creates each paragraph as
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English-language films, The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe, House of Usher, Poe, Haunted
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