Imagery is how an author paints a picture in a reader’s mind or stirs up appropriate feelings for the plot of a story. Imagery uses words that appeal to the five basic senses a human has: taste, touch, smell, seeing, and hearing. The use of imagery anticipates emotions toward a subject or characters. Edgar Allen Poe is famous for his ability to show images of horror, fantasy, and murder, with the theme of death appearing in the majority of his poems and short stories. His many writings reflect many stages of his own life, and he takes these experiences to levels of his imagination that explore all characteristics of death.
This paper will detail the imagery in the short stories “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Black Cat”, all written by Edgar Allen Poe at different stages of his life. The story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” is centralized around death and hypnosis. Told in the first person, the speaker fascinates the reader with mesmerism and hypnosis. He desires to experiment on a dying man and chooses M. Valdemar. Valdemar is dying of tuberculosis and aneurisms of the aorta; he is not expected to live but one more day.
Valdemar consents to the mesmerism. While in the mesmeric trance, Valdemar is asked, “Are you sleeping or in any pain? ” (Poe, “Facts” 94) Valdemar weakly responds, “Yes, I am asleep. I am dying, leave me alone! “(Poe, “Facts” 94) The patient dies in the trance and is asked again, “Are you still sleeping? “(Poe, “Facts” 96) His answer is “I have been sleeping and now-now- I am dead. ” (Poe, “Facts” 96) Valdemar was left in this state for seven months and then again is questioned, “Can you tell us what your feelings or wishes are now? ” The response is quick, Quick!
Quick! Put me to sleep or awaken me! I say to you that I am dead! ” (Poe, “Facts” 99) The mesmeric trance is lifted and for a few seconds during which Valdemar shouts “Dead! Dead! ” (Poe, “Facts” 99). Then, his body rots away as if he has been buried and his body decomposed. From the beginning of this tale, as an effect of imagery, the reader is given awareness of death and decay. The dark, twisted, and sick imagery in this story comes from the descriptions of the events in the story. Many of the words used are horrid and are used to build suspense.
The eyes rolled themselves slowly open, the pupils disappearing upwardly; the skin generally assumed a cadaverous hue, resembling not so much parchment as white paper…. ” (Poe, “Facts” 95). Poe also increases suspense by being very brief in his descriptions. He does not provide the reader with much detail: “.. amid ejaculations of ‘dead! Dead! ‘ absolutely bursting from the tongue and lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once – within the space of a minute, shrunk –crumbled and rotted away beneath my hands” (Poe, “Facts” 99).
The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story about a man who is summoned by his lifetime friend, Roderick Usher. Roderick and his twin sister Madeline are suffering from strange illnesses. Roderick is somewhat of a superstitious man and believes the house has control over him. He fears what will become of him. In his desperation, Roderick summons his lifetime friend and rides horseback to the house of Usher. Once inside, the old friend realizes the reality of the illnesses the Usher twins suffer from.
The old friend finds himself a guest for several days, and one evening Roderick informs his friend that Madeline is no more. Roderick then goes on to share his intentions of preserving the remains and resting them in a vault. The two men struggle to fulfill Roderick’s wishes as they move the body to a vault under the room where the friend stays. Roderick’s physiological conditions worsen from this point. While Roderick and his friend sit quietly reading stories of Sir Lancelot, they hear sounds of scratching, tugging, and moaning.
Roderick then explains that the sounds are Madeline returning from the grave, and, at that moment, Madeline’s corpse appears in the doorway. The friend flees from the mansion looking back only once to see the wild storm flash a light over the house of Usher as it crashes to the ground. “… Upon vacant eyes-like windows- upon a few rank sedges- and a few white trunks of decayed trees… there was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart- which no goading of the imagination could torture-… What was it?… he House of Usher” (Poe, “Fall” 102).
This physical description of the house is intended to cause the reader to have feelings of darkness, oppression, and gloom toward the structure. Poe uses imagery in events of terrible nature: ‘the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher” and “blood upon her white robes… evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emancipated frame” (Poe, “Fall” 110). This illustrates imagery created by the descriptive details Poe fully uses in such scenes of terror.
This descriptive information is important to setting the emotional effect of terror. “The Black Cat” is also associated with death. The narrator of this story tells of a horror and murder from a jail. The speaker describes his love for animals and the different pets he has living in his home along with himself and his wife. His favorite pet is Pluto, a black cat. After a while, he starts to despise his pets, mostly due to the effects of alcohol. One night, when he comes home in a drunken state, Pluto lashes out at him and scratches his hand. Because of this, Pluto loses an eye.
The man’s ill temper leads to many violent acts such as killing the cat and striking his wife with an axe. He conceals the body between the walls in the basement. The police come to investigate and decide they have found nothing. Once they start to retreat, the new black cat, for which the man wishes companionship, gave away the murderer. The cat had been boarded up between the walls with the corpse. In “The Black Cat,” Edgar Allen Poe’s uses imagery to show how the narrator is driven into madness: “I seized him… The fury of a demon instantly possessed me.
I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-natured, thrilled every fibre of y frame… ” (Poe, “Black” 165). With this description the reader is able to picture a common man turn crazed. His facial features turn evil and demonic. Poe also notes that the man is not able to recognize himself or his behavior. The next hint shows that the evil man feels relieved and is himself again for a couple of days: “The monster, in terror had fled the premises forever!
I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little” (Poe, “Black”174). Again, the description identifies the emotions of the character at that point in time. Words like “fled the premises forever” make the reader think that he is a new man who plans to change his evil ways. Poe reminds us what fine lines there are between sanity and insanity. “Imagery can be described as the representation through languages of sense of experience” (Arp and Johnson 771).
Imagery appeals to a reader’s senses: taste, touch, smell, seeing, and hearing and sets the scene for a single emotional effect to be delivered in the most influential way. Did Poe experience the subjects of death, murder, and torture? No, not literally. Poe was a talented author who was able to paint pictures through the use of words. Poe’s short stories have been produced by imitators: plays, films, and composers. Each year, hundreds of books and articles are written about one or more sides of Poe’s life or works.
Such as Rachmaninov (choral symphony “The Bells”) and Debussy (the operas “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Devil in the Belfry”) have made it to theaters by copying his stories. (Dameron) Poe’s reputation has not been forgotten. For a man who has been dead for over one hundred years, Poe still inspires strong feelings. “Poe is superior in respects in the creation of character and in wholesomeness and sanity” (Campbell) Poe lived an extraordinary life, though he never fully attained the fame and success that he sought until after his untimely death in 1849.
Whatever opinion readers have of his work, his genius and influence in the world of writing cannot be denied. We may never know if any of his life tribulations affected his ideas or style, or if he was simply destined to write what he did. What we do know is that as readers we will never be the same. The things that have secretly scared us since childhood are forever entrenched in the stories by Edgar Allen Poe, and the subject of fear will never grow cold. “