Poe’s Short Stories – Overview

MS. Found in a Bottle (1833)
A voyage in the South Seas is swept off course by a hurricane,
and the narrator responds to the life-threatening turn of events.
Ligeia (1858)
“Ligeia” describes the two marriages of the narrator,
the first to the darkly featured and brilliant Lady Ligeia; the
second to her racial opposite, the fair and blonde Lady Rowena.
Both women die quickly and mysteriously after their marriage ceremonies,
and the narrator’s persistent memories of Ligeia bring her back
to life to replace Lady Rowena’s corpse.
The Fall of the House of Usher (1939)
A woman also returns from the dead in “The Fall of the
House of Usher.” The story’s narrator is summoned by his boyhood
friend Roderick Usher to visit him during a period of emotional
distress. The narrator discovers that Roderick’s twin sister, Madeline,
is also sick. She takes a turn for the worse shortly after the narrator’s arrival,
and the men bury Madeline in a tomb within the house. They later
discover, to their horror, that they have entombed her alive. Madeline
claws her way out, collapsing eventually on Roderick, who dies in
William Wilson (1839)
Poe again takes up the theme of the twin in “William Wilson.”
The narrator discovers that a classmate shares not only the name
William Wilson but also his physical build, style of dress, and
even vocal intonation. A fear of losing of his identity drives the
narrator to murder his rival, but the crime also mysteriously brings
about his own death.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
In this detective story, Poe introduces the brilliant
sleuth C. Auguste Dupin. When the Paris police arbitrarily arrest
Dupin’s friend for the gruesome murders of a mother and daughter,
Dupin begins an independent investigation and solves the case accurately.
Uncovering evidence that goes otherwise unnoticed, Dupin concludes
that a wild animal, an Ourang–Outang, committed the murders.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1843)
Obsessed with the vulture-like eye of an old man he otherwise
loves and trusts, the narrator smothers the old man, dismembers
his body, and conceals the parts under the floorboards of the bedroom.
When the police arrive to investigate reports of the old man’s shrieks,
the narrator attempts to keep his cool, but hears what he thinks
is the beating of the old man’s heart. Panicking, afraid that the
police know his secret, he rips up the floorboards and confesses
his crime.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1843)
Captured by the Inquisition, the narrator fends off hungry
rats, avoids falling into a giant pit, and escapes the razor-sharp
blades of a descending pendulum. As the walls of his cell are about
to close in and drive him into the pit, he is saved by the French
The Black Cat (1843)
When the narrator hangs a cat he had formerly adored,
the cat returns from the dead to haunt him. The narrator tries to
strike back at the cat but kills his wife in the process. The cat
draws the police to the cellar wall where the narrator has hidden
his wife’s corpse.
The Purloined Letter (1844)
In this sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Dupin
recovers a stolen letter to foil a villain’s plan. The police attempt
thorough investigations but come up with nothing. Identifying with
the criminal mind, Dupin discovers evidence so obvious that it had
gone unnoticed.
The Masque of the Red Death (1845)
A bloody disease called the Red Death ravages a kingdom.
Prince Prospero retreats to his castle and throws a lavish masquerade
ball to celebrate his escape from death. At midnight, a mysterious
guest arrives and, as the embodiment of the Red Death, kills Prospero
and all his guests.
The Cask of Amontillado (1846)
The vengeful Montresor repays the supposed insults of
his enemy, Fortunato. Luring Fortunato into the crypts of his home
with the promise of Amontillado sherry, Montresor entombs Fortunato
in a wall while the carnival rages above them.