Edgar Allan Poe Elements Of Suspense

Edgar Allan Poe: Elements Of Suspense Essay, Research Paper

Elements of Suspense

Becki Cox

The literary genre known as horror has intrigued readers’ for centuries. One of the masters of horror, Edgar Allan Poe, uses many elements to horrify and captivate his audience. These elements include sense of sight, and sense of hearing. In the stories “The Tell Tale Heart,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Poe uses the above elements to add suspense, and meaning to the theme of each tale.

Edgar Allan Poe uses the theme of eyes, and the loss of sight in “The Tell Tale Heart,” and The “Pit and the Pendulum,” but in dissimilar ways. For example, in “The Tell Tale Heart,” an anonymous narrator kills an old man. The narrator’s motive was the old man’s “vexing eye.” The eye was described as follows: “[the eye] resembled that of vulture-a pale blue eye, with a film over it.” The narrator had nothing against the old man, but his eye was so repulsive to his assassin, that the only way it could be dealt with is by destroying the old man. The narrator explains how he crept into the old man’s room, and proceeded to kill the old man. The motive for murder is reinstated in this quote: “I grew furious as I gazed upon [the eye]. I saw it with perfect distinctness-all a dull blue, with a hideous veil that chilled the very marrow in my bones;” This was definitely a startling quote, and it deepened the suspense of the story because the it interrupted the killing. If the old man had not had the “vexing” eye, there would be no reason for the narrator to murder the old man, therefore leaving “The Tell Tale Heart” without a plot.

In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the eyes were used differently to capture the reader. The narrator was a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, and kept captive. The narrator describes the dark vault were he is held in the following quote: ” My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me.” This definitely impacts the reader, because the only way this man can realize his surroundings is by relying on his other senses. The story immediately becomes more intriguing by the loss of the narrators sight. The following quote relates his reaction to the darkness: Perspiration burst from every pore . . . my eyes straining from their sockets in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. The narrator soon regains composure andt tries to find out the shape and size of the dungeon. To do this, he feels his way around the wall of the dungeon. This adds to the suspense of the story, because at this point the captor begins to deals with his fate. Later in the story, the narrator finds there is a deep pit in the middle of his dungeon. The loss of sight is crucial to the suspense at this point, because he finds out about the pit by accident. If he hadn’t been pitch black in the dungeon, the captor wouldn’t have almost fallen into the pit, and therefore eliminating suspense. Poe uses the eyes in both “The Tell Tale Heart,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” to create suspense for the reader.

Poe also uses sound as an element in both The Tell Tale Heart, and The Pit and the Pendulum. In ” The Pit and the Pendulum,” the narrator uses sound to orient himself with his surroundings, and Poe used sound to describe setting to his reader. It was especially important when he discovered the pit, because he had no idea how deep the pit was. To find out, the narrator dropped a stone down the pit, and listened for when it dropped to the bottom. This quote describes how deep the pit was: “For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent; at length, there was a sullen plunge into water, succeeded by loud echoes. The narrators loss of sight again creates suspense. If he were able to see, there would be no reason for him to know how deep the pit was.

Sound also becomes very important to the ending. The last paragraph explains the ending, using sound as an element : “There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders [as the fiery walls rushed back]!” Poe effectively uses sound to describe how our hero escapes untimely death, and was rescued.

Sound is used as the unfortunate downfall of the narrator, rather than as a way to explain setting, in The Tell Tale Heart. The narrator managed to deceive everyone about the death of the old man. He would have gotten away with the murder – - if he hadn’t confessed that he killed the old man. The narrator starts by explaining his senses: “[It] had sharpened my senses-not destroyed-not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute.” He was pretty much bragging about how fine his senses were’ (especially his sense of hearing) but his ability to hear everything led to his destruction. As the narrator is about to kill the old man, he hears the old man’s heart beating. At one point, the narrator thinks its so loud, that he is worried it will wake the neighbors. At the end of the story, the narrator heard the old man’s heart beating underneath the floor boards which he was buried. It got louder, and louder, and louder, until he couldn’t stand it, and he confessed to killing the old man. The most suspenseful point in “The Tell Tale Heart” was when the narrator begins to hear the old mans heart. Obviously, without the use of the sense of hearing, the story loses much of its suspense.

Poe was a master of horror. Part of the success of his tales is his ability to create suspense, and “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell Tale Heart” are excellent examples of this ability. In each of these tales, the eyes and loss of sight, and the sense of hearing were crucial to suspense. Without these important elements, much of the effect of these stories would be lost.


Edgar Allan Poe


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