Edgar Allan Poe was a brilliant author who wrote with a dark interest. His poems and short stories have been intriguing readers for many years, and still continue to open new perspectives to writing. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum” are only three of his numerous works. Within these three stories there are deeper meanings that can be brought about through historical criticism and eco-criticism. “The Tell-Tale Heart” holds a story that is based off of one term, the “evil eye”, that has a deeper meaning than some may realize, making it a perfect study for istorical criticism.
The Fall of the House of Usher” tells a sad and haunting story with symbolic details to the story setting, it’s landscape holds many underlying messages that can be unwrapped through eco-criticism. Finally, “The Pit and the Pendulum” holds the same symbolic structure within it’s prison walls, thereby impacting the story through eco-criticism. Edgar Allan Poe had as bleak of a life as his stories depict, and many of the atmospheres created in his stories reflect certain periods of his life. Orphaned at three years old, Poe was separated from both his siblings and taken in by a rich family.
When he went off to college the family gave him less than a third of the money that Poe needed, and therefore doomed him to a humiliating and hostile life. Unsupportive of his dream to become a writer, Poe stormed out of their house and was determined to create a new slate, only to be hit with more death and depression. These emotions and events can be seen through this writing. The house of Usher reflects the surrounding doom and death that Poe must have felt while living there, left without a glimmer of light to his future.
The restricted opportunities he experienced during his time of overty influence the binds that he creates in the details of his stories, both physical and mental. The “Tell-Tale Heart” is narrated by an unsound person who is troubled by the evil eye of an old man. Although the man was well loved, the narrator decides that the only way to free himself of the evil is to commit murder. Through careful practice, he sneaks into the old man’s chamber and murders him without much struggle. The police arrive due to a concerned neighbor soon after the narrator has dismembered and hidden the body.
Although the authorities suspect nothing, the conscientious elon hears the beating of the old mans heart through the floorboards. The sound ends up driving him mad and he begins to shriek, guilty of his crime. The Fall of the House of Usher is also told by an unknown narrator; one who is summoned by a ailing childhood friend. On arrival, he is taken back by the depressing and haunting state of the house of Usher. For several days he attempts to cheer up Roderick, whose sister, Madeline, struggles with a mysterious sickness.
The sister soon dies, and her distraught brother buries her in a tomb beneath the house. Roderick immediately hanges character and becomes more and more uneasy, finally entering the narrators room one night in hysterics. As the narrator begins to read aloud in an attempt to calm Roderick down, he begins hearing strange and unnatural noises from within the house. Roderick begins muttering, and states that he has been hearing these occurrences for days, and believes that his sister was buried alive.
The wind blows the door open to confirm his belief, as Madeline stands bloodied and draining of life. The sibling both die that night, and the narrator escapes the crumbling house of Usher. The Pit and the Pendulum begins with an unknown man amned by court to a dark room with a deep pit in the middle. Calculating the size, the man scouts out his surroundings before being drugged and waking up bound in the same room, but now dimly lit. A razor-sharp pendulum swings overhead, aimed directly over his heart and is being lowered at a maddening slow rate.
As the weapon descends dangerously close, he has an idea and rubs the remaining food on his restricting binds, causing the rats to swarm and chew through until he is free. Upon freedom, the walls begin to heat up and press toward the center of the room. Right before he is forced into the pit, a fatal fall, the ontraption is shut off and the French General rescues the man from his torture chamber. Historical criticism is best used in “Tell-Tale Heart” because it helps decipher the original problem in the story: the evil eye.
While some may read over the terminology used to describe the old man’s vulture eye, there is a more historical explanation as to why it caused the narrator such grief and distress. The term “evil eye” was not made up by Poe himself, and has been referenced in many other works and stories throughout the ages. Historical criticism breaks down the origin and happenings behind the term. True! -Nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am” (Poe 498) The narrator in The “Tell-Tale Heart” begins by describing his emotion toward the man’s eye. “A pale blue eye, with film over it.
Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold”(Poe 498). This description is not uncommon when used regarding the evil eye. One article stated that “The superstition of the evil eye is one of the strongest symbolic images in the world” (Jewish gift place; para 2). The evil eye dates back to ancient days and can be seen through sculptures and literature. The superstition began in Greece and Rome. It was thought that one who received too much admiration would become overly prideful and be cursed with the evil eye. This curse inflicted both physical and mental illnesses to anyone receiving the persons gaze.
It was the punishment of the gods, and if there were any inflicted illnesses that were unknown, that person was said to have suffered from the wrath of the evil eye. One Slavic folktale tells of a father who purposefully blinded himself in order to protect his family from his evil eye. Edgar Allan Poe would have had knowledge of this superstition while writing “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and could have added another perspective within the story. Whereas the narrator seems to be the felon, this piece of information can alter the view of the whole story.
When applying historical criticism, the old man now becomes the villain. The narrator states in the second paragraph that he loved the old man, and then becomes mentally unstable when describing his evil eye. In this case it is the old man who inflicted his pain and discomfort, and in the end dies of his own curse. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a story that is wrapped around one landscape: the house of Usher. Eco-Criticism is pplied throughout the location, as the sickness of mind and body are depicted within the walls of their depressing fate.
The characters also acknowledge this emotion both when encountering the house and after living within. From the beginning of the short story the house of Usher makes a statement on what’s to come of those who are seemingly trapped inside. When first discovering the house of Usher, Poe writes “with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit” (Poe 299). Without even meeting the residents of the house one has already sensed the atmosphere of the story. Furthermore, the narrator never says where the house lies, giving it a more mysterious feel.
The perimeter is described as having decayed trees, symbolizing the death of a once living thing. With it’s “vacant eye-like windows” Poe is creating a picture of an all seeing character within the walls of the manor, foreseeing it’s untold doom. Inside was just as gloomy, being described as having large rooms with insufficient lighting. The furniture provided no comfort, and “an air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all” (Poe 302) Having the feel of a wide space without comfort hows the desolation and damnation crowding the atmosphere.
Within the walls of the house of Usher lies death and destruction that has built up over years of dark secrets. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is also descriptive with specifics in its landscape. The narrator takes great care in calculating his atmosphere, and paints a picture of what he is seeing and how it should be thought as. The story focuses on the torture and endurance of the prison’s victim, but between the lines holds a deeper layer as to what the pit resembles and how it relates to the story. The pendulum also has a major roll in the eco- riticism outlook, because Poe has attached much more to the torture device than is read.
It is symbolic to a common icon for death, but one that he has chosen to add a twist to. Common themes seen throughout “The Pit and the Pendulum” are torture, desperation and death, but when using eco-criticism the words begin to pull back another story that resembles the Grim Reaper himself. To start with, the pit should be seen as much more than a deep hole in the center of the room. This pit resembles the destruction of the victim, one that he immediately recognizes as “a fall into the abyss” (Poe 447). This