Edgar Allan Poe Argumentative Essay on the Author’s Works

Poe’s tragedies in life have a major influence on his writing as well as his life. These traumatic real-life experiences are reflected in his short stories such as “The Black Cat”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Cask of Amontillado." In each of these stories, the narrator kills a family member, or someone related to them. The buriers’ guilt eventually haunts them, which eventually results in the retribution in two of these characters. The actions taken upon these characters will transform them and bring out the characters’ defining personality as shown in The Black Cat. “The Raven”, a poem made by Poe, explains one of the tragic life experiences faced in his life. Poe created characters that showed the most deformed expressions of the human mind, placing plot complications in where the characters’ guilt exposed the nature of their true selves and made them question their own sanity. 

During the fifteen years of his literary career, Poe was related to various newspapers and magazines in Philadelphia, Massachusetts and New York. Poe was credited with being the inventor of the detective style fiction, which elevated him into the literary spotlight. As a critic, he was one of the first to propose setting standards by which to judge literary works and created his own vision in what constituted good literature by studying writers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Coleridge. Poe paved the way for the writing profession and in the process left a lasting mark in the world. In his works, Poe vented his frustrations and own negativity to illuminate the darker side of existence and often used people and experiences in his characters. The instances of guilt in the three short stories have to be considered in the context of how the impending doom seeps into a person’s consciousness as he or she realizes what is about to befall him or her.  

The Raven Analysis

The apparent tone in Poe’s, “The Raven’, represents a very painful condition of mind, an intellect sensitive to madness and the abyss of sadness brought upon the death of a lady.  The narrator hears a knock on the door and goes to open the door. He apologizes to the non-existent visitor outside and sits back down when he realizes nobody's back. When he opens the window, a raven flies out. The raven settles on the statue of the door and the narrator is compelled to talk to it. While talking to the raven the narrator realizes that it has a limited vocabulary, only repeating “Nevermore”. 

Throughout the end of the stanza, Poe uses words such as “nevermore and nothing more” (pg 758, Poe) which creates a sad tone to the poem. In Poe’s own words the raven, obviously, is a figment of the imagination of the narrator who is clearly distraught over the death of Leonore. The similarity of Poe’s personal life with “The Raven” and the repetitiveness of the poem draws us into the feeling of morbid despair. When Poe wrote “The Raven”, his beloved wife, Virginia suffered through a two-year period of tuberculosis. Due to his financial difficulties, he was unable to purchase medicine. He expresses the emotional pain he feels during his wife’s last days in this poem. Just as shown in his poem, he feels as if his soul from the shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore!"  (pg 761,Poe)

The Cask of Amontillado Analysis

Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Cask of the Amontillado” proves to be a cautionary tale of the repression of guilt. The story is told through the perspective of Montresor, who is deeply offended by his friend Fortunato. Montresor vows to take out his revenge and he does so through murder.  Throughout the story, it becomes clear that Montresor will not face any consequences for the actions he’s done and instead will spend the rest of his life feeling guilty by the details of the deed. Montresor's reasoning for wanting to murder Fortunato does not justify the crime he commits which contributes to why he feels guilty for his actions. At the beginning of the story, “ The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best as I could, but when he ventured upon insult.” (pg 230, Poe). 

The reason why Montresor is seeking revenge is not because of the injury caused but because Fortunato insulted his family name. It is shown in the book, The works of Edgar Allan Poe, Montresor's family motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit” (pg 239, Poe)which translates to No one insults with impunity. Montresor feels as though he cannot let Fortunato get away with insults due to the family motto he stands by. But at the same time, the reason behind this murder is not rationally thought of. That is why he cannot move on from the crime that he has committed. 

Throughout most of the story, Poe points out the fact that the narrator does not demonstrate any guilt or regret. In fact, as the story progresses, Montresor rather enjoys his twisted plan against Fortunato. He intoxicates Fortunato with wine along with each catacomb. At one point, when Fortunato is screaming and struggling with the chains, he states “The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones.” (pg 573, Poe). 

Not only does he enjoy the screaming, but he sits down to relish it more. The best indication of guilt is shown at the end. As Montresor places the last final piece of stone in the wall into the recess in the crypts, he “struggled with its weight” and “placed it partially in its destined place” (Poe 576). Montresor struggling with the last piece of the stone is symbolic of his guilt. His hesitancy to place the final piece of the stone shows that Montresor has no desire to kill Fortunato, but his family motto and societal status forces him to. 

The thought of Fortunato makes his “heartsick” (pg 580, Poe), however, he blames it on the dampness of the catacombs and moves away. The fact that he is confessing his story fifty years later indicates he feels guilty for it because he unburdens himself of this tale. Poe reveals to readers that Montresso’s repression of guilt defines what kind of person Montresso is: someone who values societal status over human life. 

One of the underlying themes for the Tell-Tale Heart is insanity. As shown in the opening sentence of The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator has already reaffirmed his own sanity in a matter of haste that speaks volume to his instability. Despite having no idea what readers might think of him, the narrator reassures them that he is not mad. Poe suggests that the narrator is insane by his assertions of insanity. “True! Nervous, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say I am mad?” (pg 32, Poe). 

Throughout the rest of the story, the narrator makes weak attempts at proving he is sane to the readers and given that the text is written in past tense, perhaps himself as well. The narrator suggests that he could not be insane if he planned the murder with caution. In addition, the narrator stepped into the old man’s room cautiously. He claims that this-this is done wisely so that means he could not be insane. Also, he believes that he had suffered from an acuteness of the senses. Despite this not being true, he goes on to state that he can hear the old man’s heartbeats from across the room, believing it to be true.  

He goes with the story stating that any time he looks into the light blue colored eyes, he gets even more enraged. Although the narrator has nothing against the old man, he believes his eye comes from dark and evil origins that must be rid of. The narrator’s insanity heightens his fear of the old man's eye, even though he does not admit that to himself. After he has disposed of the old man’s body under the floorboards, policemen show up and readers can then see that his fear has unwound his sense of confidence. 

At first, he is speaking with the police officers with ease, offering them drinks and food to eat, but eventually this mood shifts to paranoia and hysteria. He is able to hear the heartbeats of the dead old man and is driven by his guilt which leads to his confession of murder to the police. “They heard! They heard! They knew!” ,(pg 100, Poe) The narrator is deluded in thinking that the police officers knew of his crime because of his insanity. Poe shows the insanity of the narrator through his claims of not being insane and how the character fits the definition of insanity as it applies to the story.

The Black Cat Analysis

The narrator undergoes a severe transformation throughout the story “The Black Cat”. Poe’s unreliable narrator goes through physical and metaphysical changes throughout the narrative. Like the main character of The Tell-Tale Heart, he is in denial of his madness and refers to his murders as a “series of household events” (pg 141 Poe). Shortly after referring to these murders as events in the commonplace, the narrator hopes that a “less excitable mind” (pg 140, Poe) than he will explain what has happened. From the prison cell, an unnamed narrator is writing and is faced with a death sentence the following day. 

Since he is bound to be dead the next day, he wants to set the record straight about the story of his life. From the day he was born, he was an amicable child who loved to play with others as well as animals. As he got older, these qualities amplified, so he started to take care of animals in his lifetime. Before long, he got married and his wife had also adored animals, so she kept a variety of them to take care of. One of the animals was an all black enormous cat known as Pluto. Further, in the story the narrator that when he drinks his personality turns him into an entirely different person. The narrator admits that his mind has undergone “a radical alteration for the worse.” (pg 251, Poe). 

He starts to physically and mentally abuse his wife and animals. One night the narrator comes home from a party completely buzzed. Thinking that Pluto doesn’t enjoy his company, he grabs the cat and cuts his eyes out. The narrator becomes more moody, irritable, more regardless of people’s feelings because of the “fiend temperance”. (pg 255, Poe)

One morning, after the eye-gouging of the cat the narrator decides to hang him up on the tree murdering it. Writing from the jail cell, he stated that he had done this because he knew it was wrong. The narrator knows that he has committed an illegal act“ I knew that in doing so I was committing a sin.” (Pg 311, Poe)The narrator’s progression from his former self has turned him into a heartless, cruel man capable of torturing his animals, starting off with cutting Pluto’s eyes and subsequently killing his animal. The night of the murder, a fire catches his home on, leaving only the narrator, his wife, and the servant alive. 

The fire symbolizes his past self and how that personality is stripped away. When the narrator returns the next day, he finds another black cat on the scene. This cat looks similar to Pluto except it has small white spots in his chest. Surprisingly, he takes the cat home and his wife is quite pleased. When he finds out that the cat has missing eyes as the last one did, he becomes scared to even touch it. The cat never leaves him alone as it sleeps and breathes on him. Due to this, the narrator doesn’t get any sleep. As his hatred of the cat increases, so does the physical and verbal abuse of his wife. 

One day, while going down the cellar with his wife, the cat follows them down there. As the story progresses, the man tries to kill the cat with the ax. But because the wife arrests the blow, he intends he pulls his arms from her grip and “buries the grip from his brain.”(pg 168, Poe). Then he sets out to hastily hide the corpses, but fails in doing so because he had accidentally shut the cat up in the wall of the house. The narrator fails to understand that he has transformed into a “monster” (Pg 140, Poe) himself. 


Edgar’s works were shaped by the experiences of his life and themes of insanity, transformation, and guilt. As seen with the poem”The Raven”, Poe wrote this poem around his wife’s death who died too soon in his life. Short Stories by Poe such as “The Black Cat” focuses on how the transformation of the narrator can affect the character himself and cause significant changes to his own surroundings. Other stories like the “The Tell-Tale'' explore how guilt can drive someone into insanity. Whereas readers see in “The Cask Of Amontillado”, another character who demonstrates a lack of guilt for his actions. Although disregarded in his lifetime, Poe uses literary devices and themes that help bring his stories to life. 

Works Cited 

Complete Work of Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Allan Poe, accessed by April 1, 2019 ://www.freeclassicebooks.com/Edgar%20Poe/Edgar%20Allan%20Poe%27s%20Complete%20Poetical%20Works.pdf

 The Tale Heart by Annette Young, Trickparetin, August 21, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDLLHTdVSgU



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