Poe's Short Stories

Poe's Short Stories Summary

The Pit and the Pendulum:

An unnamed narrator is sentenced to death by the Inquisition and awakens to find himself in a dungeon being watched closely by his captors, who intend to punish him by causing him mental torture and physical peril. Battling unreasoned fear, the narrator faces a number of death traps, including the eponymous pit and the swinging pendulum.

The Masque of the Red Death:

After the virulent plague of the Red Death strikes Prince Prospero's country, he and a thousand of his courtiers choose to lock themselves away from the disease and hold parties to pass the time until the contagion leaves. After several months, Prospero holds a particularly grand masked ball that features an ominous room with an unnerving clock. At midnight, the revelers are interrupted by the masked figure of the Red Death, which finally brings to the plague to the door of the hiding courtiers.

The Tell-Tale Heart:

The narrator claims that he is not insane and offers the tale of why he killed the old man as proof. In the tale, he cannot stand the sight of the old man's eye, so he decides to carefully and methodically kill him, explaining that no madman would be as careful as he is. As he stifles the man, he hears what he perceives as the beating of the old man's heart. He dismembers the body and hides it beneath the floorboards, but when the policemen come, he is agitated by the sound of the loudly beating heart and is finally driven to reveal the truth to the policemen.

The Cask of Amontillado:

Montresor holds a grudge against Fortunato and decides to enact his revenge. He invites Fortunato into the Montresor catacombs to taste a sample of some recently acquired Amontillado, and through a combination of false goodwill and pricks to Fortunato's pride, he brings the drunk Fortunato to a niche hidden deep within the catacombs. He tricks Fortunato into the niche and chains him there as he walls his enemy into the makeshift tomb.

The Black Cat:

The narrator was once a good person and an animal lover, and he married a wife of a similar disposition, but he has turned to drink and begun to abuse his wife, his pets, and particularly his cat named Pluto. He finally hangs the cat, which coincides with the burning down of his house and the resulting loss of his property, but after some months he adopts a similar cat, which differs from Pluto only in the patch of fur on its chest. He comes to hate the cat, and when he finally attacks it, his wife gets in the way, and he kills her instead, hiding the body behind a wall. However, he accidentally walls up the cat as well, when the police come to investigate, the cat cries out and reveals the corpse's hiding place.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue:

After a particularly grisly double murder occurs in the Rue Morgue, leading to the arrest of Adolphe Le Bon on insufficient evidence, C. Auguste Dupin and his friend the narrator decide to investigate. Dupin is particularly skilled in analytical matters and feels that he can do a better job than the Paris Police, who are cunning but not insightful. The murder apparently takes place in a house where no one could have escaped and was committed by a perpetrator or perpetrators that were overheard but not seen and appear to have had no motive. Dupin, however, is able to retrace the steps of the murder by thinking creatively and questioning the assumption that the murderer is human.

The Purloined Letter:

Monsieur G., the Prefect of the Parisian police, visits C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator to present them with an unusual case. Minister D., a clever and daring government official, has stolen a letter from a lady and thus gained power over her, which he has been using for political blackmail. The police have searched his apartment thoroughly but found nothing. Dupin advises that they search again, but when this attempt fails, G. offers a reward, which Dupin promptly takes before presenting the letter. Dupin later explains to the narrator that he retrieved it by reasoning that D. was clever enough to hide the letter in the most obvious place and by thus locating it in plain sight in D.'s apartment.


The narrator falls in love with Ligeia, although he cannot remember the exact circumstances of their meeting, and they marry. He is in love with her beauty, spirit, and intelligence, but she falls ill and dies while claiming her belief that man only dies because his will is too weak. The despondent narrator moves to a desolate English abbey and marries Rowena Trevanion, although they do not love each other. Rowena soon falls ill and dies, but when he watches over her body, it repeatedly attempts to revive. Eventually, the corpse manages to walk, but the narrator, in a haze of opium, realizes that the corpse now has Ligeia's image rather than Rowena's.

MS. Found in a Bottle:

The narrator sets sail from Java on a ship headed to the Sunda Islands, but the trip is interrupted by a huge storm that kills everyone but the narrator and the old Swede. The ship is swept south by the whirlpool for five days before a black ship appears and lands on the narrator's ship. The narrator is thrown onto the new ship, where he discovers an ancient crew and overcomes his worrying to eagerly await the discovery of the southern regions of the earth. However, the ice parts to reveal a giant whirlpool that begins to sink the ship.

William Wilson:

As a child, the narrator, William Wilson, is disturbed by a boy who shares his name, birth date, and approximate appearance, and who seems to keep up with him effortlessly, although William tries hard to be the superior of his classmates. As William grows older, he descends into vice, but his most profligate deeds are continually interrupted by the shadowy visits of his former schoolmate. Finally, harassed to desperation, William stabs his rival only to find that he has, in a way, killed himself.

The Oval Portrait:

The valet, Pedro, brings his injured master to an abandoned chateau to rest. The master (the narrator) spends the night contemplating the paintings in their room and finds a particularly life-like one, whose story he reads in the guidebook. The book tells the story of a beautiful, loving wife who sacrificed her life for the sake of her husband's art.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar:

The narrator, P., is interested in experimenting with mesmerism on a patient who is near death, so he convinces his dying friend M. Ernest Valdemar to be his subject. P. is able to arrest Valdemar at the point of death, but when he tries to awaken the patient seven months later, the body completely disintegrates into liquid.

The Premature Burial:

The narrator has heard myriad stories of premature burials and becomes increasingly afraid of the possibility. He develops catalepsy and in his paranoia arranges for various backup plans in case something should go wrong and he should be declared dead. However, after a frightening awakening in what he believes to be a grave but then finally remembers is the berth of a ship, he realizes that he cannot live his life in fear, and his catalepsy retreats with the reestablishment of his nerves.

A Descent into the Maelström:

The narrator comes with the old man to the top of a mountain, where he views the power of the Norwegian Maelström. The old man then tells the narrator a tale of his experience with the giant whirlpool. The old man and his brothers had been accustomed to braving the Maelström in order to fish, but one day, a hurricane drives their boat into the whirlpool. The old man survives through luck, bravery, and intelligence, but his brothers are not so lucky, and the experience makes the survivor visibly older.

The Gold Bug:

On the narrator's visit to Legrand's hut, he startles his friend by noting that Legrand's depiction of a new species of bug looks like a skull. A month later, Legrand's servant Jupiter asks him to accompany them on a trip to the hills on Legrand's island, although Jupiter and the narrator both believe that he is losing his sanity. Jupiter blames it on the bug's having bitten Legrand, but Legrand successfully leads them to a buried treasure and reveals how he had used the parchment of his sketch of the bug to find the treasure.