Horror from the Soul: Gothic Style in Allan Poe’s Horror Fictions

Chunyan Sun
Chunyan Sun

There is no other passion than fear that can effectively deprive people from actions and thoughts. In Poe’s works, we have profound comprehension that all the terrifying souls were fully immersed in the atmosphere of the Gothic horror Poe had depicted for them.

The danger does not really exist, but Poe turned them into reality with his imagination and formidable narrative ability, and updated the frightening degree, so people could not but feels scared.

Valery said that Poe was the person who created the world, and the only writer who did not have any defects. He never made mistakes. He was not guided by the instincts, but his way of explaining things. He created forms from nothingness.

In the world view of Allan Poe, he treated original unity as phenomena of the universe. This principle, reflected in his creation, aims to achieve perfection in art. All the Symbolism and suspense in his works left enough space to the readers, which made it possible for them to experience the magic of terror.

The first person narrator made the story more real and close to the readers. The readers can see the characters’ naked soul in which they may see themselves. The continuously high lightening of atmosphere, anti-closure, the readers are experiencing the invisible fear. Through all these means, Poe tried his best to construct an intact and uniform, mysterious and shaking effect.

All Poe’s novels are told in first person. But all the American writers before him chose the third-person perspective when they wrote. Poe had his own purpose in choosing the first person view.

The first person narrator told the readers the chilling stories either they saw or they experienced themselves, which objectively presented and narrated his own opinion and the readers can see the vivid behaviour and the direct effect. Also, the readers can imagine themselves in a plot Poe set where they could experience the feelings of craziness and terror which only the narrator could experience. And another advantage of the first-person narrators’ technique is that we can see the inner world and the state of mind of the narrators themselves.

In Poe’s novel, the first-person narrator used an experience-recreating technique to describe his experience, which made the readers become the mainstay of the story, is one important narrative technique which runs through the whole process.

The author gave a vivid description to the whole process of commission of crime, including criminal motive, murder and confession by analysing the madman’s abnormal psychology. Furthermore, it was conveyed in the form of psychological feelings and constructed the horrible atmosphere for the readers, so it achieved the author’s predicted effects.

He seemed to look or think, however, “I” disappeared in the rhetorical structure. The readers realized that what they face maybe their own subjective impression.

The early Thriller Writers impact people by directly describing the horrible experience, yet Poe used this indirect method as a way by which emotions would easily be aroused; the key difference of this method is that the readers treat the reactions of the ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is considered by the public as the best horror fiction.

The leading character, Roderick Usher, is a typical character Poe created in the novel. In the process of narrating, on the one hand, Poe paid great attention to every fine change in Usher’s psychotic brain; on the other hand, he placed a friend beside Usher in order to observe him, and then the man came back and told the terrible process of how Usher died.

In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, the narrator started the story with memories. The gloomy and decadent environment the narrator described set the tone for the readers’ imagination. A series of hints and signs fired the imaginations of the readers. Gradually, we get involved in the observation and thought toward this family and the house which was in the eyes of the narrator and allowed him to bring us into a real and fantasy world.

The first person narrator’s perspective helped to profoundly analysing the characters’ inner world. The author did not tell you why the characters in his story committed crimes, nor did he want to re-educate his criminals. Instead, Poe depicted an overstated process of commission of crime and the psychological change of the characters in the process. He depicted the process so delicate and incisive that the readers are truly in their parts before they know it.

The heroes in ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ and ‘The Black Cat’ were both murderers, however, Poe by using the first person, openly and directly told the criminal’s psychology. Consciously or unconsciously, he showed the psychology activities of the characters to the readers. He let the inner voice of the heroes be heard. Reading this kind of stories is just like directly facing the characters’ soul, listening to his last words, which affect us and move us to sympathy.

In ‘The Tell Tale Heart’, “I” was an oversensitive mania and killed an innocent old man without any other motivation, just because “I” disliked and even could not bear the old man’s vulture-like eye.

We can read it in the story: “It took me 8 days to observe the old man and I killed him eventually and dismembered the corpse and hid it under the floor.” In order to exaggerate the mysterious and horrible psychology activities of the madman in the process of commission of crime, Poe described many times in the novel “the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it” and “the beating of the old man’s heart”.

“The terrible vulture eye and the louder and louder heartbeat were only the patient owns feelings. The police officer did not hear the heartbeat (Exactly speaking, there was no such sound at all!). The criminal just got an illusion of the heartbeat after he committed the crime because of terror or his guilty conscience. The heartbeat just tortured me and I could bear it no more, ‘Villains’ I shrieked, ‘Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! –here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!’” (Note 1)

In these stories, the narrator himself properly participated in telling the readers his own experience in the novels, which definitely aroused the people’s attention to every intension to the main theme. The narrator in the novels became Poe’s messenger whose mission is a media connecting common and noble, sufferings and stimulation, plain and poetic and articles and readers. These stories recorded the narrators and the imaginative readers’ entering the frightening world in their hearts through the power of words.

Poe’s works are full of suspense and passion. Terror always came in an unguarded moment and the readers experienced an exaggerate excitement because of the terror. In order to achieve this effect, and make the story seem real, Poe used the first-person narrator in most of his works, which made the readers go down into the deepest part of the heroes and read his mind, so the terrible scene in the story could be reconstructed and the effect of terror of the soul could be achieved.

Poe made the readers directly face his own feelings through the narrator. The narrator’s hesitation, suspense and terror were totally accepted by the readers.

The first-person narrator went down into his own inner world and influenced the narrative object by his own ideas and feelings, which made the story, seem very real and vivid. Compared with the calm and objective third-person narrator, it can cover or decrease the work’s imaginary plots, which will easily arouse the readers’ sense of reality and fully show the people the charm of the language in Poe’s works.

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