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Tension In Edgar Allen Poe´S The Tell Tale Heart And The Cask Of Amontillado

1003 words - 5 pages

Tension is a commonly used tool to hook and grasp the readers’ attention, by using conflict to raise the emotional intensity to a maximum. Edgar Allen Poe’s display of tension can be identified in two of his gothic fiction works, The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. Both stories are confessions of a murder told in first person. The Tell Tale Heart is regarding a man killing an old man simply because of a vulgar eye, without any intimate passion. However, The Cask of Amontillado describes the protagonist’s grudge that leads to carrying out revenge without impunity. These short stories create an atmosphere of horror and build suspense by the use of setting, style, characters and actions.

The first narrative, The Tell Tale Heart is set in a dark, confined room, creating an eerie atmosphere that conveys horror. “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers.)” The dictionary meaning of ‘pitch’ is stated as ‘a sticky resinous black or dark brown substance that is semiliquid when hot, hard when cold.’ This definition of ‘pitch’ gives visual and tactile imagery of the room, which increases the tension since readers have in their minds the visual conception of the dark and sticky room. The story, set during the night, creates a metonymy. Nighttime, usually the symbol for unfortunate events, such as death, increases the suspense. Also, the metonymy is used to foreshadow the event to come, making readers strain and think about the horror involved in the story. Similarly, The Cask of Amontillado, is set in a confined, discreet location inside the abandoned house of Montressor, the main antagonist. As the two characters descend down the stairs of the vaults, the narrator constantly describes the catacombs, peaking the reader’s curiosity. “At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris.” Because the surroundings of the catacombs are full of human remains and bones, it also indicates a bad omen and a sinister atmosphere.

Additionally, the first person unreliable narrators contribute to the heightening atmosphere of the stories. In both cases, readers are able to identify the insanity of the narrators from the very start of the story. This contributes to the tension, since it allows the readers to step inside the narrator’s shoes, and realize their agony. “TRUE! – Nervous – very, very nervous I had been and am. But why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them.” Edgar Allen Poe uses punctuation, dashes, exclamation marks and repetition in The Telltale Heart to convince readers that the narrator is mad, thus making him unreliable. Another example Poe gives supporting the idea that the narrator is mad is the use of the term...

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