Lexico-semantical Peculiarities of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales

Edgar Allan Poe, outstanding romantic poet, romancer. Consideration of the lexical-semantic features of his stories. Artistic manner and style of the writer. Consideration of vocabulary relevant to the intellectual and emotional human activities.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
Дата добавления 01.09.2012
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edgar poe lexical semantic style

Edgar Allan Poe, outstanding romantic poet, romancer, and short-story writer, was one of the first professional writers of the United States. But in his lifetime he was more popular in Europe than at home. In America he was often accused by critics of leading a disreputable life; and many readers did not understand him, thought he had a sinister mind and could not fully grasp his rich imagination. In Europe, however, critics highly praised his rare talent, and in the France and Russia of his days he was considered to be the only American poet of significance. All his life Poe struggled against anxiety and poverty, and strove for literary perfection creating poems and stories of many varied literary forms.

This report deals with lexico-semantic peculiarities of the psychological tales by Edgar Allan Poe. The marked lexical groups which are essential for understanding the writer's artistic manner, the thematic trend and concepts of his works have been singled out. A special attention is paid to the vocabulary pertaining to intellectual and emotional activities of the human beings. A detailed consideration of lexico-semantic peculiarities of Edgar Poe's tales makes it possible to draw conclusions concerning the style of the writer's works.

Lexico-semantical Peculiarities of Edgar Allan Poe's tales

Edgar Allan Poe entered into the history of literature as a brilliant stylist, master of psychological novel. But they give to little attention to the investigation of his creative manner, totality of his speech means and methods, the choice of which was determined by the contents, way and purpose of utterance, by the ideology of the literary artist.

The aim of this work is the investigation of the lexico-semantic peculiarities of Edgar Poe's tales. The full analysis of seven Edgar Poe's novels, which belong to the subgenre of “terrible” or “psychological” tales, was carried out on the grounds of the method of system-defined analysis of vocabulary. The dedicated marked categories of the vocabulary, which are essential for understanding the idea and the subject matter of the contents, were singled out in the process of investigation.

It is known, that E.A. Poe was strongly attracted by the disastrous plots, sullen events, and he masterly depicts the unique atmosphere, which draws us into the mysterious world of heroes. Very often the writer investigates the consciousness and behaviour of his personages in the extreme situations, when their all feelings and their consciousness are aggravated to the brim, when the mind is horror-stricken in front of the face of inexorable destiny. The constant feeling of fear and deadlock in the speech context is created with the help of elaborately selected vocabulary, among which we may single out several lexico-semantic groups /LSG/:

“DEATH”: death, tomb, grave, funeral, vault, coffin, entombment, corpse, interment, burial-ground, mortality; to die, to perish, to depart; enshrouded.

“FEAR”: fear, terror, horror, monstrosity, menace, awe, tyranny; to terrify, to shudder, to tremble, to dread.

“PAIN and GRIEF”: pain, suffering, torture, misery, grief, anguish, tears, blood; to endure, to grieve, to cry, to weep, to sign; morbid, intolerable, deplorable, miserable, pitiable.

“DISEASE”: malady, distortion, starvation, illness, hysteria, ague, folly, anomaly, invalid, cripple, dwarf; cataleptic, hypochondriac.

“LONELINESS”: loneliness, solitude, separation; alone, singular, lonesome, sole.

In most Edgar Poe's tales a motive of death is significantly felt. This theme was popular in the literature of American South, as it reflected the depression of decay of the Virgin Renascence period, affirmed the idea of inevitable destruction of the whole Splendid, Beautiful in the times of worship money flourishing. To some extent the Edgar Poe's “frantic” world became the reflection of the reality, but the theme of death takes a psychological aspect the writer's creative work. It is also interesting that death in Edgar Poe's artistic system becomes an aesthetic category and isn't perceived as only biological phenomenon. The writer considers the notion “death” as a symbol and even a special state of human consciousness. Some heroes admit that they do not fell the boundaries between the life and death; they imagine the death to themselves as a special form of existance of human spirit. Hence the motives of life, death, immortality ideal of the Elation, Beauty, drifting, create a certain complex unity. The very atmosphere of horror, despair, solitude, deadlock move the reader into the unique fantastic world of thoughts and feelings. The category of death in Edgar Poe's artistic system doesn't call any disgust, fear, on the contrary, it inspires the reader for the higher feelings and reflection about the sense of life. Callridge was right without any doubt, when he said that E. Poe gives his readers “satisfaction from the delight of extraordinary magnificence of artificial horror”.

While reading the Edgar Poe's tales, we can always feel, that some powerful forces operate the life and destiny of the heroes. The presence of deep mystery is seen, which attracts the reader's attention and calls peculiar elation and mental excitement in him. As a rule the reader endeavours to penetrate into the very essence of events, open the mystery, find the internal forces that rule them, but very often he leaves helpless in the face of the sacrament of existance: the author never gives unambiguous simple answer. We feel the internal fight of mysterious forces in every tale, and realize, hat the writer plunges into the essence of human existance, admiring and charming the reader. The frequent usage of the words God, Saint, Seraph, Heaven and others are the evidence of not the depth of writer's religiousness, not of the useless human efforts and not of determinacy of the man's destiny, but most probably of the complexity of that ties, with which it is connected with the world. E. Poe always tried to realize the eternal problems of being, which worried the whole generations of great thinkers.

The evidence of this may be the usage of the lexical units, which have the common theme "mystery, superhuman, forces", which helps to create the elated tone in his tales. These are the following words and word combinations:

God, Divine Father, the Mighty Ruler of the Universe, Soul in Paradise, Heaven, Seraph, saint, angel, spirit, shadow, omnipresence, omnipotence, demon, destiny, fatality, fate, doom, futility, spell, mystery, riddle, secret, marvel, enchantment; mystic, Magical, phantasmagoric, superhuman, beyond human control, unnatural, fantastic, unreal, uncommon.

E. Poe's psychological tales are marked with the solemnity and well-groundness. They are characterized by the philosophical depth and wide scale of the comprehension of problems. In the form of expression it shows itself in the frequent usage of abstract vocabulary: beauty, good, evil, being, existence, universe, Life, material world, spirit, Humanity, Time, limitless, nothingness, plentitude, abstraction.

In the world literature E. Poe is considered to be an unsurpassed master of creation the hard, sullen atmosphere. Considering that the surroundings of human being has a psychological influence on her, forms her emotions, feelings and mood, the writer very often goes into detailed description of houses, interiors, scenes. Every, even the smallest, detail in the decoration of interior, the unnoticeable at first sight subjects, serve for the creation of the general atmosphere and are a part of a whole.

The typical elements for such descriptions of architecture and interiors are the following attributive word combinations:

castellated abbey, melancholy House of Usher, misty-looking house, quaint and old building, prison-like rampart, mansion of gloom, bizarre architecture, comfortless and antique chamber, a large and lofty room, dark, high, turret-chamber, remote turret, dark and intricate passage, the Gothic archway of the hall, wilderness of narrow passages, vacant, eye-like windows, bleak wall, ebony blackness of the floors, smooth slim and cold wall, massy doors, ponderous gate; sable draperies, dark tapestries, fringed curtains of black velvet, gloomy furniture, gigantic sarcophagus of black granite, phantasmagoric armorial trophies, manifold and multiform armorial trophies.

Not only the placement of fanciful subjects, that surround the heroes, plays a great role in the creation of general atmosphere, but also the light, sounds, even the movement of the air, which creates the impression of extraordinary things and mystery of everything that takes place.

The author pays a special attention to the depiction of the light. In the tales he clearly warps the reality and the ordinary feeling of environment, though the action always stays in the boundaries of the reality. The light creates a special effect and mood, hiding some and opening the other details. As a rule, these are the darkened and somehow sullen beams, which correspond to the general atmosphere of helplessness, downcast and depressed state. The examples may be the following word combinations:

feeble gleams of ancrimsoned light; some faint ray of light; wild sulphurous lustre; ghastly luster; the rays of the numerous candles; gleam and the radiance of the full, blood-red, setting moon; a blood of intense rays rolled throughout.

In the climaxes of Edgar Poe's tales one and the same sound is repeated all the time, which cannot concentrate attention and raise the too tense atmosphere. For example:

unusually sharp, grating sound, certain low and indefinite sounds, the echo of the very cracking and ripping sound, a low and apparently distant, but sharp, protracted, and most unusual screaming, a distant, hollow, metallic, and clangorous, jet apparently muffled reverberation, an indistinct murmur.

A great attention is paid to the scene also, because, as a rule, E. Poe's personages are isolated from the external world, and lead unsociable life, being plunged into their own thoughts and emotions. That's why the situation of depressed state has peculiar psychological influence on the all heroes. The main personage of Edgar Poe's tales is a man with his own passions and thoughts. On the pages of the writer's works we meet rather different people. For the creation of human characters the literary artist widely uses the words and word combinations, united with common theme “traits of character”, and also the units of moral-estimated vocabulary, such as:

firmness, resolution, audacity, stern nature, Ardor, elevated character, spirituality, extravagance, penetration, sagacity, arrogance, vanity, virtue, faithfulness, cordiality, warmth, sincerity, gentleness, turpitude, wickedness, evil propensities, rooted habits of vice, soulless dissipation.

On the one hand, the vocabulary, which determines the thinking activity of the man, takes an important place, but on the other hand - the one, which expresses human feelings and emotions. It should be pointed out, that rational and emotional things compose somehow two opposite poles of human existance. But here there is no contradiction, on the contrary, the complicated combination of rational and emotional in one character is peculiar to E. Poe's novelistics, and turns out to be the author's merit. In the very writer's individuality we find harmonial combination of ability to the logical consistent thinking and inclination to the untamed passions and unlimited imagination. Heart and mind - we always feel mutual influence of these two phenomena in the complicated displays of human mentality. E. Poe's heroes, as their creator, are inclined to quick shift of feelings and mood, they are very emotional and at the same time - people of high intellect, prone to analytical thinking. Moreover some double meaning is shown here: on the one side - the heroes completely depend on the circumstances, they are the slaves of their own passions, on the other side they are capable to appreciate the situation soberly in the even seeming hopeless conditions. E. Poe widely uses the vocabulary of rational and emotional aspects, creating the effect of fantasy and at the same time explaining everything that happens rationally, taking into account mutual condition of all phenomena in the world. Among the lexical units, that mean the process of thinking, the most frequent are:

science, reflection, reason, research, curiosity, thought, mind, brain, fancy, superstition, analysis, consideration, intellect, intelligence, mental existence, attention; to forget, to mean, to suspect, to conclude, to come to a decision.

The emotions and feelings of the human being are conveyed with the help of the following lexical units:

sentiment, feeling, mood, bitterness, hopelessness, melancholy, grief, sympathy, pity, sorrow, temptation, animosity, depression, tumult, commotion, rage, vexation, ecstasy, glee, excitement.

In his tales, E. Poe deeply investigates the psychological and physical state of the human being in the extreme situations, when all her feelings are aggravated to the brim. The writer is the master of conveying human feelings perception of the environment, sometimes it even seems, that not the hero, but the reader perceives the world depicted in the tales. We feel the abruptness, inconsistence of impressions, lapses of human's memory and consciousness, exhausted from long sufferings. The question about the verge of being and not being, about the sense of being emerges here. Person, who wasn't on the verge of death, will never appreciate the Beauty and Charm of Life. The author often observed his heroes, who are in "the state of seeming nothingness"; mental and physical state of heroes in different situations is conveyed through such lexical units, as:

alarm, nervousness, tremour, iceness, dreariness, madness, stupor, mental disorder, intoxication, the elate of seeming nothingness, agony, swoon, delirium, confusion of mind, haziness, insensibility, imbecility, sickness, fit, unconsciousness; to unnerve, to dream, to faint.

E. Poe's personages are, as a rule, very talented people. Their spiritual world is complicated and many-sided. They admire theatre, music, and painting. They are creative personalities with their own peculiar seeing of events and rich inner life, and often they try to find their self-expression in the creative work. Wide usage of words and word combinations, which belong to the lexico-semantic group “Arts” in the E. Poe's tales determined it, such as:

style, art, thing of art, image, improvisation, canvas, painting, vignette, background, frame, design, pallet, brush, reading, verses, ballad, rhyme, volume, guitar, rhapsodies.

The system of the vocabulary of the work of art is determined not only linguistic, but also extralinguistic factors: thematic directivity of the tales, peculiarities of the depicted material, ideology, author's aesthetic views, his creative manner. Such approach allowed to understand deeply Edgar Allan Poe's creative idea, ideal contents and aesthetic intentions.


In his works Poe put man with all his characteristic passions and faults in quite fantastic situations. The minute realistic details, woven into the fantastic pattern of the story, make us see the fanciful as if it were reality.

Edgar Allan Poe is remembered as the poet who established a new symbolic poetry and the new short story based on psychological analysis. He invented the story of detection, and in science fiction made man ok beyond the conventional world and appreciate the power of his intellect.

To sum it up, I must say it was very interesting for me to work on this question, as many readers do not appreciate the name of this talented writer and poet. So, working on this problem I tried to persuade the readers what a master the world has given to us.


1. Ахмедова У.Э. Эдгар По - мастер новеллы. Махачкала, 1980.

2. Ковалев Ю.В. По - новеллист и поет. Л., 1984.

3. Осипова Э.Ф. Стилистические особенности арабесок Э. По; творческая манера американского писателя //Анализ стилей зарубежной художественной и научной литературы. 1978. Вып. 5. с. 65-71.

4. Поспелов Г.Н. Целостно-системное понимание литературных произведений // Вопр. литературы. 1982. Вып. 3. с. 139-155.

5. Тхор Н.М. Системность организации лексического состава художественного произведения: Автореф. дис. …канд. филол. наук. Одесса, 1981.

6. Patte F.L. The development of the American short story. N.Y.; London, 1923.

7. Pоe E.A. Prose and Poetry. M.; 1983.

8. Pollin B.R. Discoveries in Рое. Indiana University, 1970.

9. Thompson G. Poe's fiction: Romantic irony in the Gothic tales. Madison, 1973.

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