March 27th, 2015
How Suspense Induces Horror
According to Allegra Ringo, “humans have been scaring themselves and each other since the birth of the species, through all kinds of methods like storytelling, jumping off cliffs, and popping out to startle each other from the recesses of some dark cave” (3). Similarly, horror authors Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King scare their readers with their suspenseful narrative styles. Both of King’s short stories “The Boogeyman” and “Quitters, Inc.,” follow a similarly terrified protagonist who progressively senses an antagonistic presence. In Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado”, Poe’s menacing villains lure victims with casks of wine and startle them in the middle of the night before murdering them. While King’s simple narration creates suspense, Poe’s narrative style most enhances the suspense through his use of first person and haunting settings.
Poe’s first person narration enhances the suspense more than King’s third person narration because the reader can sense the narrator’s instability. In the “Cask of Amontillado” Montresor alludes to his vengeful state in the opening lines stating that “at length I would be avenged” (Poe 1) and goes on to say that he will not only “punish, but punish with impunity” (1). This enhances Montresor’s instability since he seeks retribution by plotting revenge, and later, a murder. By doing so, Poe creates suspense by foreshadowing Fortunato’s imminent death from Montresor’s desire to kill. In comparison, in King’s story “Quitters Inc”, Dick Morrison tries to quit smoking. Yet, when he feels he has been caught smoking, he reacts fearfully: “Had there been the slightest noise from the closet? A faint shifting?” (King 10). Similarly, in King’s Boogeyman, Lester Billings recalls his tale of the Boogeyman at a psychiatrist’s office in a terrified manner: “One night every door in the house blew wide open” with “a trail of mud and filth across the hall between the coat closet and the front door. Was it going out? Coming in?” (12). While King’s third person captures the fear of the protagonist by using questions to illustrate their horror, the third person narration takes the reader out of the story so they are observing like an omnipotent force. Conversely, Poe’s narration allows readers to feel immersed in the story by following the narrator’s actions in the present. In the “Tell Tale Heart”, as the main character creeps into the victim’s room, he describes, “I opened it [little crevice in the lantern]—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of a spider, shot from the crevice” (2). The narrator not only explains his actions, he builds suspense by hanging on little actions like opening a lantern to over exaggerate his desire to kill, developing a layer of insanity. Therefore, not only does Poe’s first person narration establish a feeling of insanity, it enhances the suspense more than King’s third person narration. Additionally, Poe’s haunting settings create more suspense than King’s settings because they reflect the…