The Darkness of Human Nature in Poe’s Short Stories
Edgar Allen Poe grew up experiencing the dark side of humanity ever since he was born. His mother died of tuberculosis, his father abandoned him, and his foster father stopped paying for his college tuition after only one semester. It’s not surprising after all the horrible tragedies that plagued him and his loved ones that he incorporated tragic and bleak elements into his stories. Many of Poe’s short stories focus on morose themes, such as darkness and death, to present the dark side of human nature. His protagonists are often murderers and prisoners, and all suffer ...view middle of the document...
He was found unconscious in a “public house.” He was taken to the hospital and died soon after in 1849. His cause of death remains unknown. His stories still live on and continue to give their grim message of murder and revenge.
“True! –Nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heavens and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.”(Poe 354). “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of Poe’s best stories and is considered by many to be the quintessential gothic tale. The story is a first person narrative of a murder, mixed with themes of a severe mental disorder. The man is admitting killing an elderly man, but trying to prove he is sane. The ironic twist is the more sure he is of his own sanity, the crazier he seems. After he kills the old man and cuts up his body, he then tells how he was so sane he could trick police that he was guilty of no crime. He hid the heart and the rest of the man’s organs under three floorboards and washed the stains off in a tub. After the police were satisfied that he was innocent, they sat down for a bit. All was well until our narrator started to hear a discreet ticking sound. “It was a low, dull, quick sound – much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton…. It grew louder- louder- louder!... “Villains!” I shrieked, “Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! – tear up the planks! Here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!””(Poe 357).
This story shows clear symbolism. For example, the heart in this story serves a dual purpose, both as a presentation of his madness and the inherent guilt from killing an old man. The story is very focused. There are only major characters; there are no subplots or even names given. There isn’t even a slight back-story; the only thing presented is that the narrator has a severe mental disease. Although he did murder a man, the narrator is still a victim. He is tortured day in and day out by his illusions of the old man’s eye. The narrator was sickly and although what he did was atrocious, it was not a clear mind that perpetrated this crime. Unlike the internal torture our previous protagonist faced, the next unsung hero faces tortures no worse than hell itself could offer.
In “The Pit and The Pendulum” the narrator, again nameless, is persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition and sentenced to death. What sets this story apart is the horrific method in which his execution is enacted. “All this I saw distinctly and by much effort: for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. I now lay upon my back, and at full length, on a species of low framework of wood. To this I was securely bound by a long strap resembling a surcingle…. leaving at liberty only my head, and my left arm to such extent that I could, by dint of much exertion, supply myself with food...