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Rationalization & Suspense In Poe’s “The Raven” & “The Tell Tale Heart”

1149 words - 5 pages

Edgar Allan Poe is famously reputed as a master of mystery and horror; his literary works absolutely support this notion, and Poe utilizes a variety of methods to achieve his notoriety as a doyen of suspense. Though his means for crafting a sense of the ominous is achieved in a variety of ways (repetition and denaturalization of what is “sane” amongst his tactics), he engages in a particularly interesting rhetorical strategy in which the act of failed rationalization is used to build suspense and fear, and to foreshadow sinister things to come. This tactic is particularly evident in Poe’s poem, “The Raven,” and short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart”: In both literary works, denial of paranoia becomes key to the story’s sense of suspense, and ultimately functions to alert the reader that they should fear for the protagonist. Rationalization becomes ominous, a concept that is just as terrifying today as when Poe initially wrote his works.
“The Raven” structurally makes use of rationalization and denial with the repetition of the phrase “nothing more,” ultimately culminating in the realization of the narrator’s fear manifesting as a bird repeating the phrase “nevermore.” In the eighteen stanza poem, the phrase “nothing more” ends six of the initial seven stanzas. Denial and suppression of suspicion are repeatedly alluded to, slowing the process of mounting fear, and building suspense: the “tapping at my chamber door” is “some visitor,” “darkness,” or “the wind,” and “nothing more” (638). And yet, if what the narrator is experiencing is truly “nothing more” than an easily rationalized occurrence, why must he repeatedly remind himself of this? Here, the ominous quality of Poe’s suspenseful device surfaces. Denial becomes confirmation that something bad will happen. And, certainly, by the seventh stanza, when the tapping is revealed to be “a stately raven of the saintly days of yore,” it becomes evident that something bad is happening: ominous denial becomes an ominous bird, who realizes the narrator’s fears with its repetition of the phrase “nevermore” (638). This phrase becomes the ending to the last eleven stanzas, occurring and reoccurring as a distinct confirmation that the narrator’s denial foreshadowed the arrival of his fear, the confirmed loss of Lenore, manifested as a bird.
The fact that Poe chooses to document the narrator responding to the tapping at his door through quotation and not merely narration is also worthy of exmination: by stating the phrase “my door” with each attempted rationalization, the reader is implicated in the narrator’s action. When read aloud or in one’s head, “my” could mean the narrator’s door, or the door of the reader, and this transference very effectively conveys a sense of fear and suspense. Furthermore, the narrator’s acknowledging of his own quotes as belonging to him (for example, “’Sir,’ I said, ‘or Madam’” (638)) further enmesh the reader in the narrator’s situation, as “I” feels just as interchangeable...

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