The Theme of Death in Edgar Allan Poe’s Poems

The Fall of the House of usher” is presented through the narrator’s lens as he helps out a friend whose whole life has been permeated with death. Lastly, “The Cask of Amontillado” is a story of death with a motive. The leading character commits the murder of a prideful man who is hooked to the pleasure of drinking wine. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a story that revolves around the terror and death of both Redbrick and his sister, Madeline Usher.
As Redbrick Usher becomes mentally unstable and falls into a state of depression, he sends a letter to his long lost friend, asking him to come for a stay. The mood of the story is full of unrelieved gloom as Redbrick Usher undergoes a struggle between the will to live and the will to die. Usher has no will to live and tells the narrator/his friend “l shall perish, I must perish in this deplorable folly” (Poe 5). This suggests his fixation on the horror of death, as Usher fears not death, Itself, or the end of life, but rather death while still oppressed by his “phantasmagoria” fears (Goodwin 174). Sheer “…. Dreads the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results”; he continues to say, “l feel that he period will arrive when I must abandon life and reason together in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR” (Poe 5). Usher is overwhelmed by the despair and darkness of death – he is convinced of the inevitability of his fast approaching death. He has such a morbid attitude, as things that would normally bring others happiness do not please him.
The narrator, says early on that usher’s mental condition “displayed Itself In a host of unnatural sensations”; he then goes on to add that “he suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was lone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the doors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror” (Poe 3).

Because Usher is surrounded by a characteristically gothic environment, Isolated and depressing, this contributes to his fascination and obsession with death. Throughout the story, usher’s friend tries to keep his distance from this dread and misery, but he cannot seem to break away since he is staying in the dull and gloomy house. Gradually, Usher’s troubled mental condition worsens and he becomes so hysterical that he is not accurately perceiving his surroundings. He seems almost ghost-like because he is removed so much from life and reality; he Is unstable and his mind Is warped by his morbid attitudes and disposition.
Redbrick Usher” shows readers a portrait of a man whose morbid fascinations ultimately prompt dangerous and self-destructive actions. As Usher’s sister decays, he realizes he will be the last Usher. While many might despair in facing this reality, Usher takes pride in being the last of his family and glossaries his death. Usher says that “her decease would leave him the last of the ancient race of the Ushers”- which explains the worsening of his mental condition because he will have no family left and will feel more lonely and isolated (Poe 5).
Because Usher tends to exacerbate things that are not as bad as they are, he becomes so wrapped up in death that he responds to a death that has not happened yet. The fact that Usher entombs his own sister alive and is not immediately aware of it, confirms his obsession with the gloom of death. Usher is either preparing for, worrying about, or becoming excited with death- his orbit fascinations are so disturbing. (Walker 586). Redbrick’s friend attempts to try to preserve himself from the doom of Usher, but finds it hard to not become trapped in this terror. The Fall of the House of Usher” concerns the total disintegration of Redbrick Usher as he willingly enters into a gloomy world by remaining in such a miserable environment. Usher experiences a mental disorder that oppresses him, leaves him deranged, and causes his frequent moods of ‘mad hilarity (Walker 590). Redbrick is not killed by his sister, but is literally terrified to death by his environment and his distorted imagination. He is beyond saving, as the narrator quickly discovers.
He collapses into the melancholy which ultimately causes his destruction. “William Wilson” is a challenging read. In this work Poe confronts death, but not in the literal sense, as in some of his other works. “William Wilson” is a story where a self-willed, intelligent, and bold man comes across another man who seems to embody the exact form of himself. Through this short story, the audience questions whether the other William Wilson is only a conscience and does not tangibly exist, or whether he is a real human that knows too much.
William Willow’s “follower” has a disposition dissimilar to Wilson- he is quiet, has no flaws, and only communicates through whispers, and unlike the other boys at the school he is not charmed by William Willow’s intelligence and wealth. Although Wilson is scared of and threatened by his follower (because of his omnipresence and unlimited knowledge), he is also awed and fascinated by him. Death in “William Wilson” is not necessarily literal; rather, it takes place throughout the entire story.
Willow’s doppelgänger is constantly trying to kill the side of William Wilson that has no concern for anyone else- the boastful and elfish side. William Wilson is, in a way, killing off his own goodness by refusing to listen to the wisdom of his doppelgänger; by the end of the story, Wilson is beyond salvation and has become dead to others around him. Many readers and critics question the true existence of the doppelgänger due to the fact that his mockery and sarcastic comments are only made in private through whispers. William Wilson is disgusted by these comments because he does not want his reputation to be tarnished.
Willow’s doppelgänger seems to be satisfied with the sting he inflicts, but William Wilson is hurting on the inside while trying not to question his own actions. He despises his doppelgänger because he knows he is doing something wrong but does not want to acknowledge it- he wants to pretend that everything he does is right and true. William Willow’s doppelgänger, through his insights, gradually makes him tells Wilson, his avowed antagonist, “… And in my death, see by this image, which is thing own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself” (Poe 10).
Here, Willow’s doppelgänger tells Wilson that he has left the better part of himself and that, essentially, he is now dead also. Willow’s doppelgänger is saying that if Wilson had listened to him, he might have been a better person. All along Wilson has been both threatened and fascinated by this doppelgänger because his wisdom is far keener and better than his own. His doppelgänger kills Willow’s name, schemes, and pride- he has made Wilson feel horrible because he is the first “person” to really expose his substantial character flaws.
In one of the last scenes, where Wilson is gambling with a very rich man and swindles him, his reputation is destroyed and his deceiving tricks are revealed. This scene is where Willow’s doppelgänger finally takes action instead of merely whispering. He makes it known that William is a “cheat. ” The doppelgängers exposure of Willow’s trickery is the pinnacle of what he has been trying to do all along. Willow’s doppelgänger represents the happier and better part of William Wilson, and in the end out of fear and paranoia, Wilson kills off this “side” of himself, or his conscience.
William Wilson, like all people, has to constantly choose between right and wrong. Even with the lingering specter of his doppelgänger urging him to do right, Wilson manages to triumph over the forces of good acting on him. When Wilson kills his doppelgänger, he dooms himself to a life of “turpitude” (Sullivan 254). The theme of death in “The Cask of Amontillado”, by contrast, is literal. The story is a confession of a man, Mentors, who has committed the horrible crime of murder. Mentors lures his “friend,” Fortunate, into his family vaults, where he then fetters him to the wall and bricks him in.
In this short story, the reader is perplexed by the seeming absence of a motive for this crime. It seems obvious that Mentors is insane, and his reasons for killing Fortunate are questionable. Mentors elaborates on his sophisticated philosophy of revenge: “l must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is undressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unrepressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong” (Poe 1).
While many would suspect Mentors feels guilty about his killing after he says “my heart grew sick”, he is actually stating his satisfaction over his monstrous deed: “…. On account of the dampness of the catacombs” (Poe 7). Mentors is fully capable of going through with all this violence and neither expressing nor experiencing any remorse. Not only does Mentors feel no guilt about his murder, but he perceives his murder of Fortunate as a successful and Justified act of vengeance and punishment rather than a crime (Barbara 49).
The death in “The Cask of Amontillado” is clearly murder, as Mentors expertly plans his devious actions of capturing Fortunate and killing him in his family vaults. Mentors presents himself as a person with the right to condemn Fortunate to death- he plans his murder as an act of retribution. Although Mentors claims Fortunate death is sought from revenge, the insults Fortunate causes are never revealed to the audience. Clearly, Mentor’s actions are irrational, extreme, and therefore he is mad.
He is an extremely violent and insane person who is looking forward to the murder of his “friend. ” Mentors is not an active participant in the life of local aristocracy- he seemed to be a recluse. The fact that was more powerful than Mentors (Poe 1). Fortunate death had to come from feelings of Jealously and inferiority. But Mentors felt, being a descendant of a powerful aristocratic family, he could not possibly let Fortunate insult him with impunity (Barbara 52). The murder of Fortunate is looked forward to and is deliberate and calculated, as Mentors wants to kill him.
He is able to easily face the toll, of committing the gruesome act that comes upon him. The death in “The Cask of Amontillado” is eagerly sought as Fortunate murder is premeditated and arranged and is later felt with no pity. The fact that Mentors feels no remorse after the death proves that he is an insane man and was fully capable of pursuing his plan. From losing his parents; becoming orphaned and adopted; and going through periods of fife where he struggled to both find and deal with losing love, it is obvious that Edgar Allan Poe experienced much suffering.
Death was a common reality for him. Pope’s three works, “William Wilson,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Cask of Amontillado” all express different aspects of death. The tale of Redbrick Usher is one of “dramatic intensity, psychological subtlety, and symbolic complexity’ (Kennedy 42). The deaths in the story are due to unrelieved gloom and morbid attitudes. In “William Wilson,” death is a mystery, as readers will never know whether William Wilson kills is actual self or a grim conscience who forces Wilson to question his immoral actions.
Lastly, death in “The Cask of Amontillado” is a plotted manslaughter where the murderer is violent and vengeful. Although the treatments of death are diverse among these short stories, they all share characters, including Redbrick Usher, William Wilson, and Mentors, that are mentally unstable. These three stories deal with mental instability, self-destruction, and murder which all lead to death, inevitably. In conclusion, we can stem these forms of death from Edgar Allan Pope’s life and experiences, as he lived through much loss.

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