Detection, Insanity and Mood. The Main Aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories and their Influence on the Movie “The Raven”

Term Paper, 2015

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Introduction

2 A Short Overview of the Main Aspects in Poe’s Short Stories
2.1 Detection
2.2 Insanity
2.3 Mood

3 An Analysis of the Aspects Adopted in the Movie “The Raven”

4 Comparison and Conclusion

Works Cited

List of Illustrations

Illustration 1: The Raven: Edgar Allan Poe & Emmet Fields. TC: 00:56:29

Illustration 2: The Raven: Ivan Reynolds & Edgar Allan Poe. TC: 01:28:22

Illustration 3: The Raven: The Red Death. TC: 00:36:40

1 Introduction

„all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.“

– Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Edgar Allan Poe’s about seventy unforgettable short stories had and have a significant influence on American and world literature. His poem The Raven is still a favorite among school children enforced to memorize a poem for class recitation (cf. Magistrale & Poger 1). Nowadays, it has been immortalized in one episode of The Simpsons which shows that Poe as a highly appreciated American writer still has a continuing influence on literary and popular culture.

Poe’s short stories and their impact on the cinema today attract me. Because of that and because of the rising importance of film studies (cf. Bateman & Schmidt 290), I decided to choose a current film adaptation of Poe’s tales for my work; the mystery-thriller The Raven with John Cusack. Three main aspects of Poe’s short stories are the theme of detection, the theme of insanity and the mood with which he builds up a dreamy semi-reality. So I want to prove the hypothesis that those central elements of Poe’s short stories are still up to date and have a great influence on movies like The Raven. Therefore I will not only use the primary sources of Poe’s short stories and the film The Raven, I will also take into consideration major works by, for instance, G. R. Thompson and Benjamin F. Fisher.

After having formed the thesis, I want to start the paper with a theoretical background of the main aspects in Poe’s short stories; detection, insanity and mood. Secondly, I will analyze the film with reference to the hypothetical framework. In a last step, I would like to methodologically compare Poe’s predominant ideas with their transformation in James McTeigue’s The Raven and give a conclusion of this paper with reference to the depicted hypothesis .

2 A Short Overview of the Main Aspects in Poe’s Short Stories

Poe is especially famous for his short stories. He “wrote [many] short stories, ranging in theme through horror and mystery through ratiocination and fantasy” (Hammond 61). It is somehow ironic that these tales only brought him little financial reward and are now studied and enjoyed wherever we read about English literature (cf. 61). In the following chapter, I want to give a short overview of the main aspects in Poe’s short stories. In the first and second section of this chapter, I will focus on the question: What does Poe tell us in his tales about detection and insanity? In the third section of this chapter, I will find out how he creates a certain mood in his short stories. It is important to mention that I will not take all the tales of Poe into consideration, but only those which are relevant for analyzing the movie The Raven. The creation of such a theoretical basement is necessary for supporting the thesis of this paper.

2.1 Detection

With his tales of detection, Poe gave birth to a new literary form. Poe himself called those short stories tales of ratiocination (cf. Thompson 139). The central figures of three of these short stories are the eccentric French detective C. Auguste Dupin (cf. van Leer 65) and the narrator who must have everything patiently explained to him. He is the one who needs to witness Dupin’s powers of detection (cf. Thoms 144). In this paper, I want to focus on two of the Dupin stories – The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Rogêt – and on their elements of detection because they are essential for the analysis below.

Poe portrays C. Auguste Dupin as “the analyst per excellence” (131; Daniel’s emphasis) who resolves crimes by a process of logic (cf. Hammond 91). He is always able to solve the puzzles with his methodological analysis of data (cf. Daniel 131). The solution is achieved by reasoning backward from an effect to a cause, from the crime to the criminal. With his powers of reason (cf. Barrett 159), Dupin brings order and rationality into a mean world (cf. Magistrale & Poger 2). His name even reflects his acts of duping (cf. Thoms 135) as we will see in the following.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is one of the first tales of ratiocination, a mystery in which the main aim is a solution to an inexplicable situation. Because Poe uses newspaper articles (cf. The Murders in the Rue Morgue 247-148) and witness’s statements (cf. 247-251) in this story, the readers are presented with a detailed account of the crime. By using those potential sources, the author constitutes a journalistic style that reminds us of a report (cf. Kopley 45). When the detective starts to investigate and explain all the solutions to the problem, he often criticizes the actions of the police: “They have fallen into the gross but common error of cofounding the unusual with the abstruse.” (The Murders in the Rue Morgue 253) This happens not only in this story, but also in, for instance, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt. In all of his detective fictions, Poe artfully uses “powerful characterization, compelling argument, and engaging language” (76). Even the endings of those tales are for the most part the same: “The detective has survived and is once more in control” (Magistrale & Poger 28) like in The Murders in the Rue Morgue where the story ends with Dupin finding out that the murder was committed by an orang-utan (cf. 264-266).

In the end of The Mystery of Marie Rogêt the problem is also resolved by the application of pure reason: Dupin works with his professional skills and finds out that the victim “Marie Rogêt was precipitated from a boat” (The Mystery of Marie Rogêt). The tale is based on newspaper accounts of a then unsolved real-life murder. “Poe closely paralleled the details of the actual murder, as reported in the New York press, but for the purposes of the narrative changed the names of individuals and locations.” (Hammond 94) In addition, he often uses the principle of the double in his tales of ratiocination. Here – as well as in the short story beforehand – Dupin is capable of “reenacting the thoughts and feelings of the criminal” (Thompson 840). Critics often refer to this as the motif of the doppelganger (cf. Magistrale & Poger 21).

[R]eappearance and repetition are inherent in the very structure of the detective fiction, as the investigator rewrites and, in explaining his case, retells the hidden story of the crime; consequently, to some extent, the detective necessarily reproduces the original anxiety, which is re-experienced by his audience. (Thoms 145)

So the principle of the double – or of the reappearance – does even have an effect on the reader, the effect of creating tension. Moreover, Poe uses motifs that are still common in detective stories or TV series today. Central themes like the murder in the locked room (cf. The Murders in the Rue Morgue 247), the unjustly accused subject, the analysis by psychological deduction (cf. 248-250) and the complementary solutions of the least likely person – the orang-utan in The Murders in the Rue Morgue – and the most likely place (cf. van Leer 65) often come across us. All these things are essential elements of detection that Poe made use of in his short stories. In the next chapter, I will look at aspects of insanity in Poe’s tales of terror. The detective tales, unlike the horror stories, concentrate on the detective rather than the monster (cf. Magistrale & Poger 21). The detective story emphasizes psyches under control whereas in the horror story, “the evil that is released is something out of control, something chaotic” (31).

2.2 Insanity

In this part of the paper I want to illustrate elements of insanity in Poe’s gothic tales. Therefore I want to take a particular look at the following short stories that are important for the succeeding study: The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart. Poe wrote many works about sanity versus madness (cf. Fisher 86). “The vividness of Poe’s impressions lies in his uncanny ability to involve the reader directly in the spiritual and psychological torments of his characters.” (30; Hammond’s emphasis) That is why very little action takes place in Poe’s typical tale of terror; these tales rather derive advantage from the mental energies of their figures (cf. Magistrale & Poger 14). The characters in his stories are unstable minds that are not able to discipline their darkest urges (cf. 14). This is also what he claims in The Imp of the Perverse: “’The Imp of the Perverse’ argues that within each person there exists not only an impulse toward the willing of his own happiness and well-being, but as well a contrary impulse, toward his own self-destruction.” (22) Poe’s tales reveal this human ability for self-destruction; they originate from his interest in phrenology. In Poe’s short stories, we listen to the obsessed voices of the traumatized narrators and find out that their insanity is the reason for their criminality (cf. 2). Because we read first-person-tales of deranged minds, we are able to see the obsession from within (cf. Smith 279).

We can find this psychological depth, for instance, in Poe’s mystery tale The Cask of Amontillado. The first-person-narrator and aristocrat Montresor who seems to suffer under his madness, only thinks of “revenge” (The Cask of Amontillado 415) and finally murders his enemy Fortunato (cf. 421). “[T]he fact that he tells his story in specific detail half a century later indicates that he is still obsessed with his crime.” (Sova 43) He even buries Fortunato alive which is a common motif of Poe. “The homicidal victimizer Montresor is fully aware of the horrors of enclosure and enjoys them, after having planned to make them as terrifying as possible.” (43) By telling the story from Montresor’s point of view, we get an insight into the human psychology of the protagonist. It becomes obvious that pride developed Montresor’s desire for revenge (cf. The Cask of Amontillado 415). Another significant point that underlines the insanity of this story is the setting of the carnival season: “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend.” (The Cask of Amontillado 415) This also occupies the idea of the masquerade and the double. In The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor mirrors his enemy Fortunato: “Most obviously, both men are connoisseurs of wines, and it is this common expertise which affords the main device of the revenge-plot[.]” (Thompson 839) According to Sova, Montresor and Fortunato are two sides of the same man and one side gets buried alive because it occupies the narrator’s hostile feelings and thoughts or rather the repressed instincts of the own personality (cf. 43). With these elements and the permanent foreshadowing of Montresor’s actions (cf. The Cask of Amontillado 417), Poe is able to create suspense and a feeling of insanity in this tale of terror.

Another gothic tale in which Poe uses the theme of insanity is The Masque of the Red Death. The change in the spelling from Mask to Masque with which “Poe evokes the medieval tradition . . . of libidinous yet sinister masked festival[s]” (Thompson 299) is the first sign of madness. Once again, the author includes the idea of the masquerade into one of his short stories. Especially the grotesque creature of the Red Death (cf. The Masque of the Red Death 303) and the strange character of the main figure – Prince Prospero (cf. 301-302) – underline the concept of absurdity. The insanity of the protagonist is described in the following way:

He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. (301; Poe’s emphasis)

This is why there is no doubt that this tale reflects the deranged state of mind. The third tale of terror that I would like to mention is The Pit and the Pendulum. One cannot deny that this story also possesses the typical insane quality of Poe’s short stories. Here, the victim actually admits that he “grew frantically mad” (The Pit and the Pendulum 312) because he suffered under human torture (cf. 305). By describing the horror of confinement and the fear of the convict “awaiting as yet unknown evil from his tormentors” (Hammond 78), Poe makes the bizarre situation complete. He proves that he can create a feeling of absolute panic when he describes “the remorseless descent of the pendulum and the helpless feelings of the prisoner watching the almost imperceptible advance” (79). During this torture and the upcoming swarm of the rats (cf. The Pit and the Pendulum 311), the victim is watched by his unseen tormentors (cf. 312). This progression from one agony to the next underlines the madness and horror of this tale.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Detection, Insanity and Mood. The Main Aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories and their Influence on the Movie “The Raven”
University of Duisburg-Essen
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Detection, Insanity, Mood, Edgar Allan Poe, Poe, Edgar Allan Poe's Short Stories, Short Story, Short Stories, The Raven, Movie, Influence, Analysis, Film Analysis, Film, Cinema, Film Studies, Film Adaption, Poe's Tale, Poe's Tales, Mystery-Thriller, John Cusack, Dream, Semi-Reality, G. R. Thompson, Benjamin F. Fisher
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Sarah Höchst (Author), 2015, Detection, Insanity and Mood. The Main Aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories and their Influence on the Movie “The Raven”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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