"Yet what business had I with hope? It was, as I say, a half formed thought--man has many such which are never completed."
The nature of the narrator's punishment in "The Pit and the Pendulum" is that he is subjected to mental agitation and the anxiety of suspense and of the unknown. However, the narrator has too strong a presence of mind to succumb immediately to his terror, so much of the tale is a story about his inner battle against fear-induced insanity. This quote emphasizes the weak and temporary nature of his hope and highlights the tension between hope and despair in the narrator's thoughts. In the end, he keeps his mind working because of the fleeting but recurring feeling of hope that prevents him from wholly giving in to the despair of waiting for his death, and his hope is proven warranted when he is rescued at the end by General Lasalle.
"And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night."
The Red Death reveals himself in the seventh and final room of Prince Prospero's masquerade ball. Having caused the death of Prospero, the Red Death now comes to the revelers who have been hiding themselves from death by barring themselves into an abbey. The comparison of the Red Death to a thief suggests that death is able to circumvent the fortifications of the noblemen, no matter how strong the locks, and that death obeys no laws when it infiltrates life. At the same time, the association of the thief with the night parallels Poe's association of the setting of the sun in the west and the end of life.
"'Villains!' I shrieked, 'dissemble no more! I admit the deed!--tear up the planks! here, here!--It is the beating of his hideous heart!'"
The narrator can no longer support what he feels to be the mockery of the policemen, whom he believes are ignoring the sound of the beating heart, so he confesses and shows them the dismembered body. He refers to the policemen, three men who appear otherwise affable and unsuspecting, as "villains," showing that he can no longer recognize himself as the villain and does not associate his murder of the old man with wrongdoing. He refers to the old man's heart as "hideous," although he stated earlier that he loved the man and hated only his eye. Since the sound heard by the narrator may in fact be the sound of his own beating heart, the narrator may also be referring to his own heart as hideous.
"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."
Although it is unclear exactly what insult Fortunato visited upon Montresor, the latter decides to seek vengeance, and the murkiness of Montresor's motivations make the resulting murder seem particularly sinister. Fortunato's treatment of Montresor does not seem to indicate that Fortunato has a habit of insulting him, although Fortunato's disparagement of Luchesi indicates a possible source for the "thousand injuries." In addition, Montresor begins his account with these words and thus immediately lays out a clue of his intent for Fortunato. As a result, the reader joins in on the joke and is able to comprehend the black humor of the many ironies in "The Cask of Amontillado."
"Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart--one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man."
The narrator largely blames his moral decline on two things: alcohol and perversity. He believes that the latter is an impulse that exists in all humans, although it has particularly affected him in the case of his cat Pluto. However, because he shows numerous signs of mental instability and thus may not be considered a good judge of character, the story leaves open the question of whether perversity is indeed an aspect of all humans or if it is simply a personality trait specific to the narrator. In either case, he claims that this perversity is what leads him to hang Pluto from a tree after he cuts out one of the cat's eyes and it subsequently begins to avoid him.
"In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked 'what has occurred,' as 'what has occurred that has never occurred before.'"
C. Auguste Dupin disdains the approach of the police in their attempt to solve the crime because he feels that although they are clever and examine all the details, they fail to see the larger picture. In his view, they are too emotionally disturbed by the brutality of the murders and too confused by the lack of an apparent motive to use the unusual facts of the case properly and find an unusual solution. Dupin's conclusion that he must emotionally remove himself and look for something out of the ordinary is thus a product of his analytical approach to solving a crime. His talent comes from his creativity, which allows him to peer into the mind of his opponents to determine their thoughts, a character trait that distinguishes him from the police as well as from his friend the narrator, who serves as a convenient foil for his brilliance. In the end, Dupin realizes that he cannot identify with the mind of the murderer because the culprit is in fact not human, a conclusion that is the natural product of his analytic method. Intuition, a capacity not often employed by the police, allows him to find answers that would never be considered by the unimaginative mind.
"He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words--
'-- Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste.'"
The English translation of the quote from Crebillon's Atreé et Thyeste is "If such a grievous plan is not worthy of Atreus, then it is worthy of Thyestes." This quote refers to the old Greek myth about Thyestes, who commits adultery with the wife of his brother Atreus. In revenge, Atreus kills the sons of Thyestes and serves them as food to their unsuspecting father. However, the quote implies that although Atreus committed a horrible crime, Thyestes still holds the blame for having sinned first. Similarly, with this quote Dupin is telling Minister G. that although he stole the letter, the Minister is responsible because Dupin was simply taking revenge against the Minister for his previous crime. Dupin writes the quote, knowing that the Minister will then know who returned the letter to its owner, because he wishes the Minister to know who outwitted him. In this sense, Dupin is marking the Minister as his equal in intelligence while simultaneously reprimanding his criminal counterpart for having wasted his genius on unscrupulous deeds.
"O God! O Divine Father! - shall these things be undeviatingly so? - shall this Conqueror be not once conquered? Are we not part and parcel in Thee? Who - who knoweth the mysteries of the will with its vigor? Man doth not yield him to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will."
Ligeia's last words before her death protest the idea that she conveyed in her poem. The poem describes death as the writhing, feeding Conqueror Worm who triumphs over Man, who has no control over his destiny, and Ligeia refers to an apparently fabricated quote by John Glanvill that explains death as the result of man's will being weak compared to that of God. Her words are simultaneously a cry of despair and a challenge to death that foreshadows her return in Rowena's body at the end of the story. The quote is offered three times over the course of the story: once on Ligeia's deathbed, once in the story's epigraph, and once by the narrator. If Ligeia indeed returns from death, then the key to "Ligeia" is Poe's portrayal of her will, which conquers everything, including death, the narrator, and finally Rowena. The narrator and Rowena are pulled by external strings that make them susceptible to the Conqueror Worm, but because Ligeia is not thus controlled, she alone triumphs. If, however, we accept the possibility that the narrator merely imagines her return in a haze of opium, then her cry is merely an empty, ironic challenge. Poe thus leaves the final meaning of this passage open to question.
"To conceive the horror of my sensations is, I presume, utterly impossible; yet a curiosity to penetrate the mysteries of these awful regions, predominates even over my despair, and will reconcile me to the most hideous aspect of death."
The narrator is inspired by the eagerness of the crew of the Discovery to encounter what lies at the southern ends of the earth in the face of their imminent destruction. He begins the story as a realist who is prone to worrying about danger rather than looking for the silver lining when in hopeless situations, but after his experiences on the Discovery, he learns to anticipate the unknown, and he finds the courage to reconcile himself to his fate. The irony of the story is that because of the whirlpool that appears from behind the ice, he is forced to finish his manuscript and toss it overboard so that any readers of his message will not succeed in the act of discovery. Furthermore, the narrator, having decided that knowledge is a fair exchange for death, will fail to receive his side of the bargain because he will die before he reaches his destination. On the other hand, he will still be able to "penetrate the mysteries of these awful regions," but instead of being the areas of the South Pole, they are the regions of death.
"You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead--dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist--and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself."
These are the last words both of the story and of the other William Wilson, whom the narrator has finally killed. At the same time, the narrator finally realizes the meaning of the similarities between him and the man who shares his name, seeing that the latter is not his enemy but merely a detached part of himself. With this story, Poe explores the idea of self by taking a person and dividing him into two personalities and two bodies. The other William Wilson is in his actions simultaneously the narrator's better half and his moral judge, who consistently interrupts the narrator in his descent into vice. Although the narrator's murder of his double resolves the problem of a split soul, the narrator does so by elimination rather than reconciliation, and this, according to his victim, damns the narrator.
Poe’s Short Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Poe’s Short Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.