Point of View as Analyzed in Edgar Allan Poe’s Flash Fiction Stories
During my ongoing reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” a unique literary device is used by Poe to reveal his most significant short stories. Poe’s use of point of view brings the reader into the mind of a madman, and in other time’s lends the reader the full bird’s eye view to witness the unfolding of his tales. The purpose of my analyses of Poe’s use of point of view in two of his grim flash fiction stories is to show how he uses first-person narration to convey a certain type of perspective which reveals his characters’ feelings, motivations, and intentions; however, he is also known for participating outside the stories’ walls, which prevents the reader from seeing the characters’ feelings and thoughts. It tends to play a more neutral telling to allow its audience to define the story for themselves.
The Tell- Tale Heart
“The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in heaven and in the earth” (Poe 3). “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, begins with a fictional narration who conveys his own intense monologue as part of an attempt to prove his sanity. Evidently, the narrator’s murderous actions and erratic speech suggest a mental disorder, which results in an inaccurate portrayal of the narrator’s rationale for killing the old man and burying his body under the floorboards of the house. The narrator describes his “sharpened senses” to depict his heightened abilities to convince his readers that his advanced senses are superior allowing him to “calmly tell you the whole story” (Poe 3).
In the “Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe uses point of view as a method of perception by using the views, emotions, and thoughts of the central character to demonstrate how despite his apparent madness, he affirms to be sane: “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever” (Poe 3). When we become acquainted with a story from a first-person point of view, the story becomes particularly important in terms of how we follow the unreliability of the story-teller. For example, the following reveals the narrators irrationality within the context of a rational argument, as he describes how he creeps slowly into the old man’s bedroom: “It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!—would a madman have been so wise as this?” (Poe 3-4). It is here that we have our first queue of unreliability, since he takes so many precautions to not disturb the old man that ‘normal’ people wouldn’t consider the narrator mad due to his safeguards. But, he tries to convey even this essential aspect of the story as an attempt to conflict the audience.
Furthermore, the unreliable first person point of view serves to help reveal a mental affliction triggered by the old man’s Evil eye that elucidates the narrator’s insanity. The scene in which the narrator specifies his entrance into the old man’s bedroom ready to kill is hindered by the Evil eye that is closed, “And this I did for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil eye” (Poe 4). It is obvious that individuals who are psychopaths will take advantage of their victims without caring whether the ‘Evil’ eye is open or shut, but not this character, the first-person narration emphasizes his viewpoint by repeating his obsession with the eye of the old man as further proof that the whole situation is absurd by means of any sane person. From this point on, we are no longer able to trust the narrator but only witness his disturbing thought process: “To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret thoughts”(Poe 4). As we fast-forward to the short story’s climatic murder scene, the narrator’s takes us through the process by expanding on the “anxieties which seize him” (Poe 6): “the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come!” (Poe 6). It is then the narrator seals his mad fate—“In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done” (Poe 6). There is a sudden revelation that shows the narrator is no longer redeemable to the audience in his attempts to justify his actions. The short story is a testament to Edgar Allan Poe’s literary skills which take point to provide insights into a madman’s murderous plot.
The Masque of the Red Death
“The Mask of the Red Death,” is another Edgar Allan Poe work of irony that switches perspectives between first-person and third-person point of view. The narrator starts, “but before I begin, let me tell you something about the rooms in which it was held,” the narrator addresses the audience directly, implying that he is placing himself inside the story, yet at times the narration shifts to an all-seeing point of view, giving readers a front seat into the entrances of the “magnificent masked ball,” the “irregular apartments,” and the “tall and narrow Gothic windows” (Poe 4). It is particularly noteworthy that while describing each of the rooms where the guests are expected to pass through, the narrator specifically calls attention to the colors and specific details of each room, each with its own theme, conveying their “fantastic appearance,” except for one that stands out—the scarlet room (Poe 5). “The Masque of the Red Death” places the reader in the middle of the gluttony inside the walls of the Duke’s “castellan abbeys’ swaying away from the first-person point of view and into an omniscient point of view (Poe 3).
As a ruthless plague wipes out half of the inhabitants outside the castle walls, the Duke commands a thousand people to hold a masquerade in honor of his “eccentric tastes,” giving the reader a bird’s eye view of what is happening both inside and outside the walls of the castle (Poe 3). With an all-knowing narration, there is, in turn, a certain level of neutrality when accounting for a story, so that we as the reader are able to gain knowledge about certain characters or events that we wouldn’t otherwise have if we were reading in first or second person point of view or from another character’s point of view. We would not experience the same effect if say, we viewed the story from the Duke’s point of view; the accountability would then be altered.
Furthermore, narrator points our attention to the seven rooms which stand illuminated by their corresponding colors of purples, greens, oranges, whites and violets, but not the black velvet room. The narrator omits from taking the reader inside this particular room only permitting the description of the “black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls”; many of the guests dare not “set a foot within its precincts” (Poe 5). Because this is the room the Red Death appears out of towards the end of the story, once could speculate that the third-person point of view is in fact from the first-point of view of the Red Death himself – “it was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade” (Poe 4). This particular line suggests the perspective of someone from within the walls of the masquerade, since the story ends with everyone inside dying, the audience is then left to speculate that it is the Red Death telling the tale of the horrors and disgust within those walls. Although the next few lines depict a “he,” it could be believed that the first-person narrator could be referring to himself in third-person: “He had come like a thief in the night; the ‘he’ is to be the cause of the demise of the other guests– “one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall” (Poe 10). But because we can’t be for certain, we must stick to the altering points of view to be able visualize what takes place inside the sinful masquerade. Edgar Allan Poe’s use of point of view assumes the role of another character within the story, or yet exposes the Red Death to be responsible for the narration, either way, our implied interpretations only increase to our heightened imaginations about the story.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death.” Elegant Books, 1842.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Elegant Books, 1843.