The Single Emotional "Poeffect"

Henry George

When reviewing Nathaniel Hawthorne?s Tales, Edgar Allen Poe pronounced that the short story, if skillfully written, should deliver a single preconceived effect- an effect upon which incidents be fashioned to accommodate that effect. Edgar Allen Poe was indeed a skillful writer. His short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a flawless example of a story in which all elements contribute to the delivery of a single emotional effect. Poe accomplishes this by achieving a perfect tone, developing suspense and unifying stylistic elements thereby meeting his own criteria.

In his pronouncement Poe also wrote that "In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design." Thus, in "The Fall of the House of Usher" Poe creates a perfect tone critical to the delivery of his preconceived effect. The senses of "insufferable gloom," "utter depression of soul" and " sinking, sickening of the heart" which pervade the narrator?s spirit immediately establish the tone. The narrator?s description of the scene as "dull," "dark," "bleak," "desolate" and "terrible" all function in communicating the tone. These concrete and denotative words ensure a clear and solid tone is conveyed to the reader thereby contributing to the overall effect of terror. The regular use or repetition of the words "dark," "gloomy" and "oppressive" in some form serves function to further define and emphasize a perfect tone. It also perceivable that Poe?s choice in the narrator?s role being the participant supports his intent to communicate consistent feelings; hence consistent tone. In order to strengthen his already established tone, Poe selectively uses imagery in scenes of terrible nature. The imagery created by the descriptive details of "the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher" and the "blood upon her white robes? evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame." exemplify the imagery created by the descriptive details Poe exclusively uses in such scenes of terror. The reserved creation of imagery in these scenes is invaluable to the clarity and emphasis of the tone-a tone vital to the delivery of the single emotional effect of terror.

Along with devising a perfect tone, Edgar Allen Poe builds a high degree of suspense in order to bring about his desired effect. Poe is able to skillfully structure long involved sentences that contain several ideas to fit his purpose of creating confusion and mystery. The expression of the narrator?s "feeling of wild amazement" and his claim that he "did actually hear a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted and most unusual screaming or grating sound" exemplifies the mix of thought and numerous descriptions that all appear in one sentence. This technique draws the reader into a state of ponder as he tries to make sense of a somewhat overwhelming group of ideas. The intentional absence of detail, imagery and explanation of certain factors in the story, such as how, exactly, Madeline dies and the nature of her malady, serves function to arouse a great deal of curiosity in the reader as to the answer of these questions. The vagueness of such events result in a high level of suspicion felt by the reader. In preparation for the single emotional effect, Poe sets up his audience through suspense in order to ensure the effect is successfully delivered in a most powerful manner. This is accomplished through the rising level of anticipation he breeds in the reader with the anticipation the narrator feels as he reads "The Mad Twist." While reading this story, the narrator, at intervals, hears "the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Lancelot had so particularly described," the "low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound" and the sound of "a shield of brass? fallen heavily upon a floor of silver". Through the exposure to these increasingly realistic and believable sounds, Poe transposes his audience into the correct mindset for the delivery of his single emotional effect.

From the first sentence where the approach to the Usher House is met by intense feelings to the last sentence of utter terror, Edgar Allen Poe creates each paragraph as pieces of a puzzle which all link together to form a single emotional picture of terror. To create a strong unity in this story Poe refrained from