ASSIGNMENT: Poe's Single Effect

Poe & "The Single Effect"

Poe could easily be considered the father of the short story as a popular and respected literary genre. Poe was one of the first authors (like Brander Matthews) to classify and define the short story a distinct literary genre that had specific characteristics. He felt that the short story deserved the same status as novels and poetry. Poe defined this emerging genre in his review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales. Poe asserted that a short story should constructed to achieve a "certain unique or single effect." Poe felt that every character, incident and detail should contribute to this effect, "...in the whole of the composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design." Poe went further, stating that if a writer's "very initial sentence did not tend to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step."

Poe restated his
views about the single effect often. In the Philosophy of Composition, he wrote:

I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view--for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest--I say to myself, in the first place, "Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the hear, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?" Having chosen a novel, fist, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone--afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combination of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.

The "Fall of the House of Usher" is an excellent example of Poe's theory of "the single effect." This story has been carefully constructed to create a growing sense of terror.

STEP 1: Click "add submission" to open a text box. Answer the following question in a paragraph form.

What events or details contribute to the growing sense of terror in "The Fall of the House of Usher"? Name at least four events or details. Be sure to comment on how each of your examples aids the single effect of terror.

STEP 2: Re-read your paragraph. Check that you have at least four events or details and commentary.

STEP 3: Submit your paragraph.