The Various Literary Devices in the Raven and the Tell-Tale Heart

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The Various Literary Devices in the Raven and the Tell-Tale Heart

This essay will delve into the rich tapestry of literary devices Edgar Allan Poe employs in his masterpieces “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It will analyze the use of symbolism, metaphor, and allegory in shaping the dark, gothic atmosphere of these works. The essay aims to highlight how these devices contribute to the themes of madness, despair, and the supernatural, offering readers a deeper understanding of Poe’s unique narrative style and psychological depth. At PapersOwl too, you can discover numerous free essay illustrations related to The Raven.

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Most readers identify Edgar Allan Poe with his famous poem, “The Raven”; others do so through his horror short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Both contain a suspenseful mood. “The Raven” is a ballad, or a poem that tells a story, about a man who lost his lover. He feels tormented by a raven, which he imagines to be a godsend to relieve him from his grief. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is a similarly suspenseful story, revolving around a man who, despite planning to kill an old man because of the latter’s displeasing eyes, insists he is not a madman.

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He eventually confesses, driven by the echoes of his own guilt. Both of these writings incorporate the same techniques of setting, symbolism, and characterization of the narrators to create the mood for these horrifying suspense stories.

Setting plays an important role in both “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” creating a mood of horror. In “The Raven,” the narrator sits alone at midnight during a “bleak December.” He feels cold and weak, grieving the loss of his lover, Lenore. The narrative tells us he dozes off next to a dying fire, its flickering shadow casting a “ghost upon the floor.” The sound of a tap at his door wakes him. Frightened, he reassures himself it must just be a visitor. When he opens the door, however, he finds nothing but darkness and the echo of his own voice calling, “Lenore.” The poem employs the door strategically to mark plot progression. The rapping at the door, the Raven’s perch on a statue above the door, and the narrator’s dialogue with the bird, all occur at the threshold. In the end, the narrator falls collapsed at the door.

The setting of “The Tell-Tale Heart” shares similarities, as the murder occurs on the eighth night. Seven long nights pass before this, during which the old man’s “Evil Eye” haunts the narrator. For eight nights, the narrator is stationed at the door, sticking his head in to gauge the opportune moment for his crime. However, compared to “The Raven,” the door in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is only mentioned before the climax. The story unfolds at midnight in the old man’s bedroom, described as “as black as pitch with thick darkness.” Darkness, like in other works by Poe, represents the macabre and pessimistic, stimulating readers’ imaginations and fostering an atmosphere of terror.

Sounds are crucial to setting in both stories. While “The Raven” is relatively quiet compared to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” it effectively depicts the narrator’s loneliness and despair after losing his love. The story’s “unbroken silence” is disrupted only when the narrator speaks. In contrast, “The Tell-Tale Heart” is initially silent, but then frightens readers with screams and the pounding heartbeat at the climax of the narrative, set in a late, deserted, silent night. Poe’s use of short sentences or word groups in the last two paragraphs of this story creates a rhythm of a heartbeat in readers’ minds. This grows “louder—louder—and louder!” until the narrator can’t stand the sound any longer and confesses to his crime. Readers can hear the heart beating within their own heads and feel as frightened as the narrator. Furthermore, Poe uses personifications such as the “dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor,” the rustling curtain in “The Raven,” and the menacing “Evil Eye” and deathlike shadow in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” to invoke feelings of unease. These elements combine to create spine-chilling scenes and amplify the intensity of horror in the stories.

Along with the setting, symbolism and the supernatural are used to help develop the horror in the writings. In the poem, the Raven is a great choice to represent darkness, sorrow, and death. The narrator wonders where the bird comes from and considers it as a prophet and a demon. The Raven’s only answer, “Nevermore,” somehow aligns with every question the narrator has, and the repetition tortures him. The bird’s shadow then traps his soul in hopelessness. The talking bird here is supernatural, with its powerful appeal that drives the narrator insane. Besides the Raven, “the Night’s Plutonian Shore” is another symbol that represents a spooky night with the scary power of nature, a night akin to an ocean full of darkness. The narrator is enduring a long, mysterious night filled with depression. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the old man’s blue eye, veiled like a vulture’s eye, is an important symbol that builds up the suspense in the story. Because the narrator believes the eye has put a curse on him, it scares him, makes his blood run cold, and he feels like a “terrified creature”. Vultures prey on the dead, so the eye might be preying on his weakness. When the eye “sees” danger, it causes the heart to beat. After killing the old man, the heartbeat he believes comes from the old man’s chest makes him confess to his crime. The heartbeat symbolizes his own conscience, which urges him to carry out his dastardly deed. This is also Poe’s use of the supernatural to explain the narrator’s paranoia. In short, symbols in both stories evoke spine-chilling and sinister feelings in readers.

Horror stories always involve action, and the characters’ personalities primarily control these actions, leading the stories to their climaxes. In “The Raven,” the character is described as “weak and weary,” in a mournful mood, feeling lonely and hopeless. Everything has left him, similar to how the bird will soon leave him. The message he gets from the raven is that if he does not forget Lenore and move on, he will never find hope or peace. The climax begins when he smells a scent from an “unseen censer,” swung by “angels” to help him get over his sorrow. Now he is paranoid. He then perceives the raven as a “thing of the devil” and asks it to leave. However, the raven consistently replies, “Nevermore,” and the narrator loses his sanity. Conversely, in “The Tell-tale Heart,” the narrator is severely damaged, defined as “very dreadfully nervous” and mentally ill. Despite his mental state, he speaks consciously and denies his insanity, but his actions throughout the story reveal his bizarre behavior and speech. The first line of the story indicates the narrator’s state of madness. He is an insane man with conscious intentions. He plans the murder carefully. He confesses to loving the old man, but to rid himself of the man’s “vulture eye,” he feels compelled to kill him. He stands at the door for seven nights, his insanity intensifying ahead of the murder. He becomes so dangerous that when three policemen search his house and find nothing, but just after they leave, the sound of a thumping heart terrifies him and the story reaches a turning point – he confesses. The narrators’ distinct personalities drive their actions, creating the creepy mood found in Poe’s writings.

Edgar Allan Poe is an unrivaled author of horror stories. He expertly employs literary devices such as genre, plot structure, narration type and structure, vivid imagery, settings, and the use of color and light to create terror and horror in his stories. Considered his significant contribution to the development of the horror genre, Edgar Allan Poe is unquestionably one of the most original, effective, and unmatched masters in American literature.

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The Various Literary Devices in The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart. (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from