Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Poe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poe. Show all posts

05 October, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Pit and the Pendulum"

"The Pit and the Pendulum," told in 1st person, takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. A man is imprisoned in a cell in the center of which is a deep pit. A pendulum terminating in "a crescent of glittering steel" and "as keen as that of a razor" swings overhead, slowly descending, "with a descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages."

The story is set in 1808, Toledo, Spain, some thirty years before "The Pit and the Pendulum" was written and published.

The strength of the story is not the way the horror is described but the psychological insights and evolutions into a man's mind whose life is likely and knowingly about to be taken violently. From the beginning, we know that he is saved, "when they at length unbound me," so that he can tell his tale.

One paragraph tells how a man facing death worries about something minuscule in relation to the current situation, "...for what could be of less importance, under the terrible circumstances which environed me, than the mere dimensions of my dungeon?" Nevertheless, he even tries to calculate how he miscalculated, "I busied myself in endeavors to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. The truth at length flashed upon me."

He realizes that the dungeon is constructed of iron, the floor stone and upon the walls many images of "monstrosities." Then on his back he finds himself strapped to a board with only his head and left arm, "free only from the elbow to the hand," with freedom to move. He can reach some salty meat but no water. Rats appear and the prisoner sees an image of "Time" on the ceiling as well as the pendulum. As the pendulum descends he "grew frantically mad, and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful scimitar." Again he tries to calculate the "sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen, glistening axe upon my bosom."

His arm becomes a pendulum to scare the rats from the plate of meat. " At last, the straps and his robe has been cut away. " some invisible force, through the ceiling" the pendulum stopped and was raised. "Lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal." Now the pit seems cool. Then, "There had been a second change in the cell..." It is closing in on the prisoner. "...hum of human voices" and "blast of many trumpets" and the walls start to recede and "an outstretched arm caught my own as I fell." The French army had arrived in Toledo.

31 August, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Roderick Usher has called his friend from school to come visit. Usher is ill and wants his friend, the narrator, to ease him through his illness, "nervous agitation," for "some alleviation of his malady." The narrator felt he could not disobey the "very singular summons." The House of Usher refers to both the
family in its "direct line of descent" and the edifice, "the family mansion."

Three long pages are devoted to the arrival of the narrator to the gloomy House of Usher. One of my favorite descriptions is about the interior of the house. "Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene." Then the physical descriptions of Roderick are specific and visual, "cadaverousness of complexion," and "delicate Hebrew model," and hair of "wild gossamer texture."

Eventually we learn that Usher has a twin sister, "his sole companion for long years." As far as I can really tell Madeline, the sister, is suffering from some sort of failure to thrive, "a gradual wasting away of the person." She eventually dies and is entombed. To pass the time, Roderick and the narrator spend time painting, reading and listening to "his speaking guitar."

The narrator decides to read a story made up by Poe, "Mad Trist," to Usher, which is about gaining entrance to a hermit's dwelling but finds a "dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor and of a fiery tongue" inside. As he is reading the story aloud, the narrator hears a "muffled reverberation." Usher decides that they must have buried his twin sister alive. The "mighty walls rushing asunder" and we have the fall of the House of Usher."

Poe Museum, Richmond, Virginia
Edgar Allen Poe Society