SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

This article confines itself to E. A. Poe's use of setting as spatial symbol and as a medium for conveying atmosphere in his tales. Close analyses of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death” reveal that setting, with Poe, is an expressive atmospheric unity that rigorously excludes any isolation of an object as a symbol unrelated to the whole. This atmospheric unity is achieved through a unique correlation between observer and setting and/or participant in the story and the environment with which he interacts. ‘Objectively’ seen, the technical means for establishing this correlation are these: the stylization and circumscription of space, and the arrangement of individual details within patterns of orientation such as east-west, above-below, outside-inside, and so forth. ‘Subjectively’ seen, the fusion of vivid illustrative details, the emotional response of the spectator-narrator, and the mental process of reflection are of chief importance. Considered as a part of the symbolic pattern of the tale, the spatial symbol is based upon the atmospheric unity of a room, house, and/or landscape with the spectator or participant. Different kinds of space symbols may be distinguished on the spectrum between associative symbol at the one extreme and rational allegory at the other; these are designated as the ‘open’ and the ‘closed’ symbol, the latter approaching allegory but maintaining its symbolic structure by means of its manifold relationships with an epic [i.e., narrative] context. In addition, a ‘milieu symbol’ may be differentiated from an ‘analogical symbol,’ the former purveying the influence on the epic [narrative] character of the ideas and powers present in his environment, the latter embodying analogies between spirit and matter, character and setting. The use that Poe makes of the expressive ambiguity of the spatial pattern is indicative of an artistic design that aims at a mixture of different spheres of reality and approximates modern technique, even if the blending of the subjective and the objective is not as yet achieved by employing a montage of particles of reality but through the atmosphere of the expressive setting as such. (GH)