Tension in Edgar Allen Poe´s The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado

Good Essays
Tension is a commonly used tool to hook and grasp the readers’ attention, by using conflict to raise the emotional intensity to a maximum. Edgar Allen Poe’s display of tension can be identified in two of his gothic fiction works, The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. Both stories are confessions of a murder told in first person. The Tell Tale Heart is regarding a man killing an old man simply because of a vulgar eye, without any intimate passion. However, The Cask of Amontillado describes the protagonist’s grudge that leads to carrying out revenge without impunity. These short stories create an atmosphere of horror and build suspense by the use of setting, style, characters and actions.

The first narrative, The Tell Tale Heart is set in a dark, confined room, creating an eerie atmosphere that conveys horror. “His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers.)” The dictionary meaning of ‘pitch’ is stated as ‘a sticky resinous black or dark brown substance that is semiliquid when hot, hard when cold.’ This definition of ‘pitch’ gives visual and tactile imagery of the room, which increases the tension since readers have in their minds the visual conception of the dark and sticky room. The story, set during the night, creates a metonymy. Nighttime, usually the symbol for unfortunate events, such as death, increases the suspense. Also, the metonymy is used to foreshadow the event to come, making readers strain and think about the horror involved in the story. Similarly, The Cask of Amontillado, is set in a confined, discreet location inside the abandoned house of Montressor, the main antagonist. As the two characters descend down the stairs of the vaults,...

... middle of paper ...

...s such as shriek, leaped and drag escalates the tone of the story and the fact that the he kills ‘in an instant’ shows horror. Unlike the Tell Tale Heart, the main character of the Cask of Amontillado prolongs Fortunato’s death, making him suffer. “I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hair upon my head.” Poe compares the torture with a rock. This metaphor is made to convey that Montressor wants to continue taunting Fortunato. This contributes to the horror of the story, and readers eminently recoil from Montressor’s cruel murder.

In conclusion, both novels communicate themes of gothic tension and horror by the author’s use of language, diction and literary devices. These techniques help authors express and communicate tension and horror throughout the story.
Get Access