Mystery as Seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories The Fall of The House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat


by Riah Wiratningsih
Thesis : undergraduate program of Sebelas Maret University Surakarta

Edgar Allan Poe was a famous American poet, short story writer, journalist, and literary critic who lived in 1809-1849. As the saddest and the strangest figure in American literary history, he had unique style in expressing his works. Death played a major part in many of his writings. He blended the sorrow, despair, anger and suffer from loss, as in his short stories The Fall of The House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. The death in the three short stories brings the reader to a mystery. This is interesting to be analyzed. In the three short stories there are some questions, full of secrets, and have surprise endings. Mystery gives reader uncertainty about the conclusion of the story. In some stories the reader may guess the conclusion before they even finish reading them, but when author adds mystery into their masterpieces, the stories become far more interesting and keeps the reader wondering whether the conclusion of the story would end like they thought and therefore keeps the reader wanting to read more.
This research is descriptive; it takes form of statements, quotations, and explanations that found in the short stories. The method of collecting data is through library research. It is only a study to book references, which are provided in library. After reading and understanding the short stories, essays, comments and other writing that support the subject matter of the research, the researcher can analyze the three short stories. The purpose of the research is to reveal the mystery in Poe’s short stories The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat. In order to achieve the purpose, the researcher employs structural approach as the guide step.
In those three short stories discussed in this thesis, Poe creates the appearance of mystery through idiosyncrasy of his characters. His technique of characterization can be identified with the creation of uniqueness and strangeness. Point of view, setting, plot, foreshadowing, and diction support his technique of characterization. Based on the analysis, it is found that those elements work in unity; inside everything contribute to the effect of mystery. Through those three short stories, it shows that Poe’s creation are dominated by mystery.

1. Introduction
Literature is an imitation of life, which expresses and communicates thoughts, feelings and attitudes toward life. Thus it can be seen as a mirror of life. Literature generally gives people good lessons of life, for literature gives a chance for people to be wiser, to be realistic, mature and humane. So far it helps us understand human sentiments, human interests, human problems, and human values. According to Rahardjo, literature endows us with vision, from which we can draw our conclusion and interpretations about behavior, and about what is worth striving for in live (Rahardjo, 1995:6).
From all kinds of literary works: prose, drama, and poetry, prose has detail in setting (time and place), and narrative characteristics. These two points can be found in novel and short story, whereas drama is a literary composition, which consists of dialogue, direction, narration and usually exposes human conflict. Drama has three major divisions: tragedy, comedy, and tragicomedy. While poetry has arranged words in verse, rhythmical composition, fact, emotion in imagination: kinds of poetry are ballads, epic, lyric and so on.
As mentioned above, prose consists of novel, short story and novella. The researcher will only discuss about short story, because short story is interesting. It is a short piece of prose fiction aiming at unity of characterization, theme, and effect. It conveys a single mood, has a surprise ending and fast moving. By its nature, it concentrates upon a single incident or action. It has few characters. Its setting and characterization must be evoked then developed in detail. Its effect must be made quickly and sharply. As being short it does not mean of being slight. Short story should be long in depth and should give an experience meaning. The author would not tell the whole history. This implies more than it tells to the reader. The style of writing varies in narration, description, and dialogue. When the author tells the reader what happens, he will describe events in a clear, reportorial style. When he describes characters or a scene of the style, his choice of words may become more poetic. He will use striking figures of speech to clarify the characters or the setting in order to help the reader visualize them. He may also imply rhythmical sentences with an abundance of comparison and detail for the reader’s enlightenment and entertainment. It can be seen in the short story The Fall of the House of Usher.
Discussing about short story particularly, we surely keep well in mind that there are three great American short story writers: Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathanial Hawthorne. The first one is widely known as the writer of tales of mystery and terror. The researcher is interested in Poe because most of in his short stories, he wrote about death. Each page is filled with mystery with torture, terrible death and ghost or demons. He used anger, loss, fear, loneliness and nervous characters to create reader’s suspense.
The popularity of his story spreads through Europe, especially France. Patric F Quin remarks: “Not only did Poe become a great man in France; he has become, thanks to Baudelaire, a world figure…” (Regan, 1967: 64). Therefore it is ironic that Poe’s works come into vogue earlier in France than in his own nature country.
His background of life can be said as the unhappy one. He is a man who has never been loved. He could only see the bad things in life, never the good. In Poe’s writing man is always doing something to another object. This object represents Poe at some points in his life. For example, a man in The Black Cat treated his cat unfairly; while, all the women in Poe’s life seem to die. These deaths play a major effect on Poe’s writing style and evoked a mystery.
Mystery tales in Poe’s works (short story) are interesting to analyze because there is something unexplained, unknown, or kept secret. This mystery excites the reader’s curiosity, heightens the tension and increases the suspense. Surprise solutions hints through clues in the stories, many scenes and incidents are revealed at the end, even though neither has a detective or an explicit puzzle to solve.
The researcher wants to discuss Poe’s work, especially his short stories, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tale-Tell Heart, and The Black Cat. Poe commonly writes in first person narration. The narrator becomes one of the characters of the tale, giving the stories a sense of limited perspective and lending an air of believability. In the first short story, the narrator visits the mansion of Roderick Usher and tries to open Roderick’s secret. The tale brings us to a feeling of shiver as we hear the Lady Madeline ascending from the tomb toward the room where her brother awaits her inevitable coming. On that level the tale offers the readers the pleasure of mystery; in the architecture of the house, the rooms, the furniture give a perception that everything in the house is mysterious. So does in the physical body of Roderick Usher and his characteristic.
The second short story is about torturing black cat by cutting one of its eyes from the socket and hanging to the lamb of the tree then killing the narrator’s wife by axe and inserting the corpse to wall in the cellar. While in the last short story, it tells about the darker side of a young man who has killed an old man just because he wants to get rid of his fear. Both stories are going to be tragic. The narrator has done something sadistic and too horrible. Finally, it becomes a hidden mystery.
Through the three short stories, the researcher has found something mysterious. Poe blended his experiences with sharp idea as explorer on heartache and suffering. We cannot find his unique style in others. In the researcher’s opinion, Poe’s stories are difficult to study. Studying his stories is a great challenge. The researcher considers that those three short stories can be the representative of his creations. This stimulates the researcher to analyze his work, which is focused on the appearance of mystery, that dominant in the three of his works.
In this analysis the researcher applies a structural approach to reveal the appearance of mystery in the three short stories. There are two approaches used in every study of a work of art that are formalism and structuralism. Formalism sees literary work as a world of words. This approach is about mastering the language or understanding the meaning of the words in the work. Whereas, it is not easy to understand the right meaning of the words in a work. It can be multi interpretable. The sense of words and its context is needed to dig up the implicative and connotative meaning, such as the case in Poe’s works that is unique (he puts the unique object, unique setting, and unique characters) and hard to study. So formalism approach is necessary to help the researcher in understanding the meaning of words in a work.
While structural approach is an important means to study the relationship between one element with others in the work of art’s structure as a whole. All elements such as theme, plot, characterization, setting, style, point of view, foreshadowing and tone all contribute to the total meaning of the work. Those are separated from other things or extrinsic aspect; author, reader, and social culture must be pushed aside, because it has no correlation with the art’s structure. Both approaches linked together in answering the problem statement. Here, the researcher took the element such as characterization, point of view, setting, plot, foreshadowing, and diction to reveal the appearance of mystery in the three short stories. After examining those elements, the researcher finds the interrelationship among them. At the end it bring to a mystery.
Based on the introduction above, the researcher formulates the problem as follow:
“How does Poe create the mystery in his works as reflected in the short stories The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat?

2. Analysis
As stated above, the researcher will apply structural approach to reveal the appearance of mystery in Poe’s works. Here, researcher only analyzes the element of literary work, especially short story that are characterization, point of view, setting, plot, foreshadowing, and diction to give a clear mysterious picture of what Poe wants to tell the reader.
2. 1. Characterization
An author has his own style in creating his fictional characters. Poe is no exception, his characters always represent people who are mentally disturbed and they are obsessed with evil acts. He wrote about a man who is driven outside of the real world to the edge of madness.
There are three significant characters in The Fall of the House of Usher: the narrator, Roderick Usher and Madeline Usher. The narrator is an old friend of Roderick’s. Roderick and Madeline are twins. They came from ancient family. Physically what we can see in Roderick’s performance is vagueness. There is something mysterious in him; the miraculous luster of the eye, his action and his voice. The eye are two luminous windows that later, when madness causes his eyes to become red litten window. His lips are very pallid and smile no more. Roderick’s reserves are always unobtrusive, charity, excessive and habitual. He is fond of music and book. Yet the character of his face is like an ordinate expansion of above the regions of the temple. But now the expression of his face is vagueness. His voice is a tremulous, weighty, abrupt, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation as he says: ‘I shall perish,’ said he,’ I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost.’(Poe, 1990:18). What narrator finds in Roderick’s voice is like a bounden slave. He is enchained by certain superstition impressions.
The other characteristic of Roderick described by the narrator through small picture of his gloom interior and the condition of auditory that morbid. He has a fantastic characteristic. The verses that entitled ‘The Haunted Palace’ also as an expression of Roderick’s characteristic. The verse from the first until fourth describe about the greatness of the palace, the greenest of the valleys, cooled wind blow, and bright color of the sun light. It is like a picture of a peaceful palace. Next the fifth and sixth verse describe the opposite of the palace. The power of evil has assailed the glory of the palace. It blushed and bloomed destroy without reminder. Through these verses narrator describes that Roderick as a daring, trespassed characteristic.
After the entombed of Roderick’s sister, his characteristic became worse. He roams and runs from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. He has owned fantastic impressive superstitions. All the characters that appear in Roderick’s performances, voices, and his actions above arouse a strange or mysterious feeling. This excites the narrator (reader)’s curiosity to learn and reveal more about the hidden mystery of Roderick.
Madeline is associated with the material and temporal. Madeline matches her brother’s pallor. Her special mark is red. A faint blush when she entered, blood on her garments when she emerged, this was timely by the blood-red light of the emergent full moon at the moment of destruction on the house. Roderick and Madeline Usher are the sole. They are twins (two parts of one personality). Roderick and Madeline are so close that they can sense what is happening to each other. Roderick represents the mind of intellect. While, the portion of personality (senses) is represented by Madeline. Roderick tries to detach itself from its more physically oriented twin. This can be seen in Roderick aversion to his own senses as well as by his premature entombment of his twin sister. Living without Madeline (without the senses) makes him suffer from an “… intolerable agitation of the soul”. At the end story the two are reunited in death. This becomes a hidden mystery in both characters, also an important aspect in the unity of effect of this story.
What we can notice from the characterization in The Tale-Tell Heart is that Poe creates the character (narrator) like an insane man. The man says that he hears the voice in heaven but certainly he does not. “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth, I heard many things in hell” (Poe, 1990 : 88). Here Poe does not show the appearance of man’s character, but from what man says and does. The man is obsessed killing the old man who bears an extreme fear of his evil eye. Actually, it is the evil eye that the man murders, not the old man. The old man has done nothing wrong to the man as Poe illustrates: “I loved the old man. He never wronged me. He had never given me insult….” (Poe, 1990: 88).
The man’s obsession shows that he has owned mystery in his characteristic. Why has he the heart to kill? In a deeper sense, the murder does have a purpose to ensure that the man does not have endured the haunting of the evil eye any longer. The man suffers and commits a crime because of an excess of emotion over intelligence. So the mystery in the narrator had been solved. Poe relates how the man believes the validity of previous statement: ‘… 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” (Poe, 1990: 88). The disease in this case is obviously a severe case of emotion ad nervousness. The man has the reason and plans but not to distinguish right from wrong. As stated by Robert Regan in his essays “… they approach us and speak to us what is true and what is so mysterious as to confound our categories of truth and falsehood (Regan, 1967: 10). Poe also creates the police officers characters as the minor characters since they are not developed. However their appearance in the end of the story gives special significance to the story. It increases the intensity of action of the story.
The characterization in The Tale-Tell Heart is quite similar to the characterization in the tale of The Black Cat. Here, Poe shows narrator, like the main character is an individual who suffers from mental disorder, who has owned mystery too. For the first time the narrator shows his good behavior to his pets. “I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them” (Poe, 1990: 198). Suddenly, the narrator was driven by mental disorder. He becomes high tempered and this is illustrated in the way he treats his cat. “I took from my waistcoat-pocket a penknife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity” (Poe, 1990: 200). The spirit of perverseness possesses the narrator. It urges him to commit continual evil acts. It can be seen in the way he kills his black cat. “… I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cold blood, slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree. (Poe, 1990: 201).
The narrator’s spirit of perverseness was possessed by evil thoughts. He unfortunately killed his wife by axe then inserted the body on the wall. He clearly shows his very strange behavior. Though he commits a series of crime, he looks as if he were not guilty at all. “… I soundly and tranquilly slept; eye, slept even with burden of murder upon my soul!” (Poe, 1990: 209). Through the actions of the narrator, it can be inferred that in narrator’s character of strangeness convincingly creates mystery. Poe also presents the narrator’s wife and group of police as the minor characters. They are not developing at all, but their presence supports the intensity of the action.
2. 2. Point of View
Point of view is a way as the position from which the story is told. It is important in telling a story, for it determines how much the reader must know, and can know of what is happening. It has significant functions to produce a certain effect in the story. This is an author’s chief method of placing the reader in the framework of the story. Point of view helps the reader imagine and understand the author’s relationship with the character’s experience to his fictional world, especially to the minds of the characters. As stated by Robert Stanton:
If, therefore, we are to imagine a character’s experience, we must share his point of view. But if we are also to understand his experience, we must understand his point of view; and understanding is different from sharing. We must understand the character himself, and consciously recognize everything that colors his view of things (Stanton, 1965: 28).
In a story a character’s experience is the “camera”. Like the camera, a character can brings us into an author’s point of view so that we share his experience. Also the author must be able to remove reader from the character so that reader can contemplate and understand him.
The technique of narration that Poe commonly writes is first person point of view. For Poe, the narrator becomes one of the characters of the tale. The narrator as a main character tells his own story. The narrator conveys his attitude through the way narrative devices are handled, including choice of words. Sometimes the narrator will state point-blank how he feels about a subject; the narrator’s attitude is conveyed indirectly.
The Fall of the House of Usher does not use the typical, first person point of view, where the protagonist tells a personal account of a crime that he has committed. The narrator is a character that acts like an observer. So it is easy for the reader to become “the friend” in Poe’s story, as both the narrator and the reader invite into “strangeness and madness”. The narrator is connected to the Usher family since he and Roderick were once close boyhood. They have not seen each other for many years. From the Roderick’s request that convinces, the narrator makes the journey in Roderick’s live. Roderick calls the narrator “madman!” However, the narrator escapes, to watch as the House of Usher crumbles into the deep and dank tarn.
The technique of narration that Poe uses in The Tale-Tell Heart is the first person point of view. He expresses that the narrator suffers an internal conflict, a war between his own faculties, body and mind or mind and soul. No word is wasted and therefore affirms the theory of the short story as held by Poe.
At the beginning of the story the man’s appearance impressively arrests the reader’s attention. The man says that he is seriously nervous: “True! – nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (Poe, 1990: 88). The man’s statement brings to a strange effect so it creates a mystery in manself. The same effect is also found in the man’s manner of speaking:
“They heard! -They suspected! -They knew! -They were making a mockery of my horror! -this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I felt that I must scream or die! -And now-again! -hark! Louder! Louder! Louder!” (Poe, 1990: 95).
The man speaks in a “strange” manner. He betrays himself in his own terror; sight terror (the evil eye) becomes sound terror (the heartbeats).
Poe presents his story of The Black Cat in a form of first person point of view. Through the narrator the reader can perceive that the narrator wants to reveal his personal experience. It can be seen in the beginning of the story:
“For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not – and very surely do I not dream. But tomorrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified – have tortured – have destroyed me” (Poe, 1990: 197).
From the statement above, the man admits that his story is a terrible one. He wants to tell his story, which is not necessarily believable and so mysterious. Firstly the man’s behavior implies that he is fond of animals:
“I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, goldfish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat. This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little, tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise” (Poe, 1990: 198).
Among the domestic pets, there is a special pet, a cat. The narrator is very fond to the cat but at the end the cat fall in terrible dead.
2. 3. Setting and atmosphere
Setting is the environment of its events. In Poe’s stories the setting of place occurs indoors. The setting of time often happens at night. This setting of time indicates the general atmosphere of mystery. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe creates the house from beginning of the tale has the characteristic of mystery. Poe describes the house are oppressive, soundless and melancholy. The story begins on one “ … dull, dark, and soundless day in autumn of the year …” ( Poe, 1990: 9). It is aware a sense of death and decay. In the first paragraph Poe uses “vacant eye-like windows” this word has the meaning of mystery. The eye has the same meaning with Roderick’s eyes. The eyes are tortured by even-a faint light. Through the narrator Poe describes the atmosphere of the house, like the words “… – an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed tress, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn-pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden hued” (Poe, 1990: 13). What narrator feels is like breathing in an atmosphere of sorrow. It is nowhere near being beautiful, holy, or clean. As stated by Allen Tate in his essays “ very rarely he gives us a real perception because he is not interested in anything that is alive, everything in Poe is dead; the house, the room, the furniture, to say nothing of nature and human beings” (Regan, 1967: 49). From the literary point of view he combined the primitive and decadent. Primitive, because he had neither history nor historical sense; decadent, because he was the conscious artist of an intensive which lacked moral perspective.
The architecture of the house (gothic archway, building in a zigzag direction, the large and lofty room also with the furniture is profuse, comfortless, antique and tattered) grows the narrator’s mind a strange and ridiculous building. This excites the narrator (reader)’s curiosity that there is a sorrowful impression. There is a mystery insoluble. The atmosphere of mystery also can be seen through the setting of time after the buried of Lady Madeline.
“It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the seventh or eighth after the placing of the Lady Madeline within the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch-while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness, which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room-of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasy about the decoration of the bed” (Poe, 1990: 29).
The narrator also describes, “A sense of insufferable gloom (which) pervaded (his) spirit” as he approached the house of Usher (Poe, 1990:9). The term “House of Usher” refers not only to the crumbling mansion but also the remaining family members who live within, the last of the “all time-honored Usher race”. The word “the full, setting, and blood-red moon” in the final destruction of the house of Usher, represents that the moon is the planet of madness. It is in fact that light of the “blood-red moon” that spills through the fissure of the house of Usher seems a cause for it being torn asunder.
The setting of time in The Tale-Tell Heart seems more dominant than the setting of place. The setting of time is stated by the words as “every night”, “about midnight”, “every morning”, “every night just at twelve”, “four a clock-still dark as midnight”. One example as said by the narrator “So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept (Poe, 1990:89). While “The room, “the chamber”, “the door” and “the floor” indicate the setting of place. For example as said by the narrator “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers), and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and kept pushing it on steadily, steadily (Poe, 1990: 90). The murderer’s action takes only a few hours from midnight up to four o’clock and occurs in the old man’s room that is black as pitch with the thick darkness. Before he kills the old man he feels that night is so strange and terrible. “And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror.” (Poe, 1990: 92). This terrible night forcefully creates an atmosphere of mystery. In short a way, the unity of setting is effectively achieved.
In The Black Cat the setting of time can be seen in the destruction of the narrator’s house.
“On the night of the day on which this most cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallow up, and I resigned myself thence forward to despair” (Poe, 1990: 201).
After the fire, he visits the ruins and finds a strangeness in the wall with one exception not fallen in. He sees that there is silhouette against a white wall, the figure of a cat (Poe, 1990: 202). The readers can feel a throbbing atmosphere of mystery through the imagination of a burning house.
The actions in The Black Cat take more time than actions in The Tale-Tell Heart do. The events that are presented in The Black Cat are highly selected. It comprises the setting of place indoor and outdoor. While, in The Tell-Tale Heart the setting of place is only in the room.
2. 4. Plot
Plot refers to the systematic chain of events, which make up the short story. Its links in this chain consist of cause and effect, helps to build suspense and solve the problem. It must have a true beginning, middle, and end; it must be plausible and logical, and yet it should occasionally surprise the reader; it must arouse and satisfy suspense.
In The Fall of The House of Usher, the narrator is connected to the Usher family since they were once close boyhood companions. He is requested by Roderick to come in Roderick’s house that convinces him to make the journey. He finds some strange things in the house and the owner. The ancient mansion and the family, both have on the verge of collapse. Everything contributes to the hidden mystery. Roderick and Lady Madeline are not just brother and sister but they are twins, represent the mental and physical components of a single being or soul. Roderick represents the mind, while Lady Madeline represents the senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling). Since Lady Madeline has mysterious illness, this brings Roderick to a deep pressure, makes him hopeless and frail. His mind haunts by phantasm, a disorder brain. After the entombment of his twin, his condition deteriorates. He begins to suffer and his character becomes worse and very strange. At the end of story, Lady Madeline returns from her premature tomb, and carries her brother to death. The house itself splits asunder and sinks into the tarn. This story is dominated by grim phantasm and FEAR, from the foreboding opening paragraph to the terrible conclusion. Through the chain of events everything contributes to the effect of mystery.
In The Tell-Tale Heart, there is a man (narrator) who wants to release the extreme fear from the old man’s ‘evil eye’. The old man’s eyes resembled of a vulture-a pale blue eye, makes his blood run cold. It haunts him day and night. Thus pushes him to rid the eye forever. He wants to punish the old man’s eye while it is open but he finds that the eye always closed. For it is not the old man who vexed him, but his evil eye. A few moments before the murder, he imagines that the beating of the old man’s heart grows louder and even so that he worries about it, last it can be heard by someone else.
“But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now new anxiety seized me-the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once-once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him (Poe, 1990: 92-93).
After the murder, the police officers came and tried to investigate his crime. He can prove to the police officers that there is nothing wrong. Suddenly his unconscious mind confesses his crime in strange manner: “Villain!’ I shrieked,’ dissemble no more! I admit the deed!-tear up the planks!-here, here!-it is the beating of his hideous heart!” (Poe, 1990: 95) Viewed from this plot, supported by the manner of speaking and actions of the character, this story leads us into the mystery.
The story of The Black Cat describes that the narrator’s marriage is a happy one because he and his wife show congeniality; they love domestic pets. One of their favorite pets is a beautiful cat called Pluto. Unexpectedly, the man character lacks of self-control. The change grows steadily: “I grew day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others” (Poe, 1990: 199). He becomes high-tempered. It can be notice in the way he treats his wife: “I suffered my self to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence (Poe, 1990: 199). It is clear that because of his being more regardless of the feelings of others, he treats his wife improperly.
The man’s high temper increases as he punishes the cat by cutting out of its eyes. He feels sorry for having treated the cat, which has once been so dear to him. But, what he feels leads him to annoyance, then he is driven by spirit of perverseness as his reasons: “who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a stupid action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? (Poe, 1990: 201). This drives him to continue the torture upon the cat; he hangs the cat to the large branch of a tree. Madly, he blows his wife’s head with the axe and she falls dead instantly.
Having treated his wife improperly, cut out his cat’s eye and hung his cat, then he continues commits crime by killing his wife. It is caused by his spirit of perverseness willfully urges him to do so. The man finds himself doing continuous crime just for the wrong’s sake: “my heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence (Poe, 1990: 210). Through the stories composed above; supported by the actions and voices of the character, it has created a mystery story.
2. 5. Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is the technique of hinting at the nature of coming action. So the reader is not shocked by what happens for the expected to come about. Foreshadowing usually comes in at the very beginning of the story.
The story of The Fall of the House of Usher, takes place in autumn (first paragraph) a season associated with death. It brings the reader to a direct reflection that encounters with death. Usher’s mansion is another example. There is a barely perceptible fissure in the mansion and a small crack in the house of Usher, which the narrator defines as both the family and the family mansion. Also what the narrator says that the Usher’s mansion has an atmosphere, which has no affinity with the air of heaven. This foreshadows an event that will ruin the house and the family.
From the statement in the first paragraph of The Tell-Tale Heart, the reader does not exactly know what kind of person the narrator is. The narrator does not know what he is talking about. He acts as a crazy character. The narrator told the reader that he loved the old man but hates the eye and believe the eye is evil. The narrator’s fear is represented by the old man’s eye. Whenever the eye fell upon him, he felt that his blood run cold. This foreshadows to an event of a brutal murder to the old man.
While in the last story, The Black Cat there is an interesting passage. The narrator tells the reader “we had bird, goldfish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat” (Poe, 1990: 198). This is emphasized to foreshadow the intense hatred that the narrator will have for the animal. Also when the narrator’s feeling of regardless, he lacked of self-control then he treated his wife improperly and even offered her personal violence. It foreshadows to an event to the narrator’s wife. At least the narrator’s wife felt in terrible dead by an axe.
2. 6. Diction
Diction refers to the selection and use of words. It is the author’s characteristic manner of expressing himself. Poe had a rather unique writing style. He had chosen every word in every sentence carefully to create a reader’s suspense. His meticulous choice of words creates a very effective atmosphere of mystery in the story.
The opening sentences in the story The Fall of the House of Usher draw the reader into this gloomy word. Some of the description of the house includes “dull, dark, soundless, cloud hung oppressively low, melancholy, insufferable gloom, desolate, and terrible.” This description is beautiful. The imagery of the house is spectacular. It has very good opening. It is like viewing the mysterious countryside through the narrator’s keen eye. The other words like “white trunks of decayed trees, the black and lurid tarn, the vacant eye like windows” all contribute to the collective atmosphere of despair and anguish. This is done with the words black, lurid, and vacant. The narrator also finds the expressed feeling of Roderick, feeling of phantasm by using word FEAR. This indicates an emotion of alarm and agitation caused by the expectation or realization of danger. The grim phantasm, FEAR dominates this story from the foreboding paragraph to the terrible conclusion. The disease and illness of his beloved sister make him fall in deep pressure. He is like a bounden slave to fear. He is a mind haunted by phantasm.
In The Tell-Tale Heart, fear is represented by the old man’s eye. The words that the narrator uses are “evil eye and the vulture eye”. It means that the eye is not a natural eye. Someone who has this eye represents that he is a person of rapacious predator nature. The belief centers on the idea that those who posses the evil eye have the power to harm people of their possessions by merely looking at them. Vulture indicates to a large bird having dark plumage, naked head and neck, and feeding on carrion. This condition is felt by the narrator whenever the eye fells upon him.
The Black Cat is an interesting title. Poe used the word “black” to the cat and named the cat “Pluto”. “Black” refers to something evil and wicked. While “Pluto” in Greek and Roman mythology was the God of the dead. The use of this name leads the reader to believe that the cat is somehow responsible for the death that is caused by the narrator himself. This is where the reader is first introduced to the fact that events of this story are full of strange actions and superstition that brings to the atmosphere of mystery.

3. Conclusion
The researcher finds the appearance of mystery in the three short stories that had been discussed in this analysis. Setting is used to extensively to do many things. Poe used it to convey ideas, effect, and image. It establishes a mood and foreshadows future events. Through the setting, which is able to foreshadow events and reveal character traits, establish an atmosphere of mystery. It is supported by the point of view, plot and diction.
Through the character in the Fall of the House of Usher, the gloomy atmosphere of the Usher’s mansion affects the narrator. He is sucked in to Usher’s dream world, the world Usher created after living alone in his dismal house. The reality does not reach all of his brain. Usher is only half in the real world, half in his own world. In The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator paints a vivid and remarkable picture of the fear of his victim. While in The Black Cat, what the narrator had done to his cat and his wife did not make him fell guilty. All the characters in the three short stories above are confusing, strange, and unbelievable. The characters in the three short stories destroyed and betrayed themselves in their own terror. It creates an appearance of mystery in each of the character, supported by the way of the characters’ voice and their behavior.
His use of point of view enables the stories to create general atmosphere of mystery in reader’s mind. The narrator is a character of whom the reader know very little, who acts like an observer. In Poe’s stories both the narrator and the reader are invite into strangeness and madness.
Through the plot Poe composes his simplified story, but this simplicity of the plot hides something that is not easy to dig up by reader. Reader needs comprehension in understanding the story’s composition. This invites the reader to think. He or she is treated as a mature reader. It does not teach, instruct, or lecture the reader. Poe’s plot plays on real human fears as opposed to scares of death. This excites the reader to read until the end of story, to find the hidden mystery.
Poe uses of foreshadowing is just enough to clue the reader into what will happen, but not enough to give it away. By foreshadowing his story to the reader, it let them guess even more and finally let them guess the ending. Then slowly plays around with the reader by taking out some details from the story to let them guess even more and finally let them wonder all over again about everything.
In diction, Poe chooses every word in every sentence carefully to create a gloomy mood. It makes the reader wants to know more and more what Poe wants to tell the reader. By means of these elements it has been proved that his works is unique, full of terror and mystery.
Based on these facts, it can be said that Poe’s short stories are identical to his greatness as a master of mystery. He becomes the saddest and the strangest figure in American literary history.


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Poe, Edgar Allan. 1994. Tales of Mystery and Terror. London: Puffin.
Peden, William. 1971. Short Fiction: Shape and Substance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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Categories: literatures

6 Reply to “Mystery as Seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories The Fall of The House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat”

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