Poe

This essay is about how Poe uses the description of environments in his narratives. I shall explain this usage with close reference to several short stories by Poe. A full listing of the stories used appears in the List of Works Consulted at the end of this essay. It is important to note that in all of the stories, the narration is in the first-person. This has deep-reaching effects on how particular environments are described. This will also be commented upon.

The first excerpt comes from a story entitled ?MS Found In a Bottle?:

Our vessel was a beautiful ship of about four hundred tons, copper-fastened, and built at Bombay of Malabar teak. She was freighted with cotton-wool and oil, from the Lachadive islands. We had also on board coir, jaggeree, ghee, cocoa-nuts, and a few cases of opium. The stowage was clumsily done, and the vessel consequently crank.

Poe describes his environments in great detail ? thus giving the reader a clear representation of where the scene is taking place. The above description is short and concise compared to a usual Poe description. Here he has described the ship as beautiful ? this is an opinion and not a description, and Poe often gives opinions in his descriptions. His description consists of the weight of the ship, what it is made of, where it was built, of what it was built, and the cargo it was carrying. A further minute detail is that the ship was lopsided because the cargo wasn?t stowed properly. This is the sort of meticulous detail that Poe generally uses. It is unusual in his works to find a detailed description this short however.

This next excerpt is from the same story, and is more typical of Poe?s descriptive style ? particularly the length of the description:

I have made many observations lately upon the structure of the vessel. Although well armed, she is not, I think, a ship of war. Her rigging, build, and general equipment, all negative a supposition of this kind. What she is not, I can easily perceive --what she is I fear it is impossible to say. I know not how it is, but in scrutinizing her strange model and singular cast of spars, her huge size and overgrown suits of canvas, her severely simple bow and antiquated stern, there will occasionally flash across my mind a sensation of familiar things, and there is always mixed up with such indistinct shadows of recollection, an unaccountable memory of old foreign chronicles and ages long ago. I have been looking at the timbers of the ship. She is built of a material to which I am a stranger. There is a peculiar character about the wood which strikes me as rendering it unfit for the purpose to which it has been applied. I mean its extreme porousness, considered independently by the !
worm-eaten condition which is a consequence of navigation in these seas, and apart from the rottenness attendant upon age. It will appear perhaps an observation somewhat over-curious, but this wood would have every, characteristic of Spanish oak, if Spanish oak were distended by any unnatural means.

The introductory sentence to this paragraph forewarns the reader that Poe is about to make a lengthy description, as he proceeds to do. He offers more speculation than actual description here, but he does to eliminate what is unlikely about the true features of the ship and his rambling resembles the thought processes of the ?average? person.

Poe meanders a lot. By this I mean that there is no clear logical progression to his description. In his meandering, there is a sense that the reader is not actually meant to follow the meaning, and that it is only for the narrator?s benefit that it has been written at all. This is consistent with the story, as the narrator commented earlier in the story that he was going to record his observations in case he did not survive. He mentioned specifically that it would be a journal, but this paragraph does not read as a journal. I reads more as notes taken down with the intent to organise and elaborate later. This could quite possibly be the effect Poe was looking for when he wrote the story.

If one looks closely at this description, the narrator is not actually saying much at all. He says that he really can?t say