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Analyzing Edgar Allan Poe The Oval Portrait English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 980 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This paper will give a detailed analysis of the Gothic sentiments in the character of the Painter in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Oval Portrait,” published in 1850. As a writer Poe catered to Gothic literature which combines romanticism and macabre in the setting, plot and characters. There is the ever present twist and journey to the dark side of emotions, such as obsessions, fatal love and incomprehensible madness in most of Poe’s short stories. These same dark sentiments were reflected in “The Oval Portrait.”

The story has four characters in play: the wounded narrator who enters an empty chateau in Apennines, Italy without permission; his valet named Pedro; the bride in the portrait/ painting; and the painter, the renowned husband of the bride who became obsessed with capturing the beauty of his young bride in his canvas.

The Painter’s character in the story was introduced in the fifth paragraph of the story, quite near the end of an unexpected climax. The whole story only consists of six paragraphs or two pages, yet the romanticism and dark imagery will leave one’s mouth wide open and the brain surging and craving for a logical explanation of the Painter’s mad obsession and fatal love.

It was the Narrator who introduced the Painter’s character in the story. The story opens with the Narrator occupying an abandoned chateau, together with his valet Pedro.

He was wounded, but there was no explanation given on what caused his wounds.

The story continued with the Narrator reading a book he had found in the room, and with the discovery of the portrait that was hidden in the shadows of the room. Poe writes:

It was the portrait of a young girl just ripening into womanhood. I glanced at the painting hurriedly, and then closed my eyes. Why I did this was not at first apparent even to my own perception. But while my lids remained thus shut, I ran over in my mind my reason for so shutting them. It was an impulsive movement to gain time for thought- to make sure that my vision had not deceived me- to calm and subdue my fancy for a more sober and more certain gaze. In a very few moments I again looked fixedly at the painting. (par 3).

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The narrator proceeded to describe the portrait as a mere head and shoulder portrait of a young girl framed in “oval, richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque” (Poe par 4). He was so moved by the life-like expression of the lady in the portrait that he eagerly turned to the book to find the story behind it. And he starts to read about the young bride:

“She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter” (par 6).

She was further portrayed as a loving wife who despite hating her husband’s art submissively posed for him so that he could immortalize her rare beauty with his brushes, pallet and canvas. She held her pose for him for many weeks in their turret-chamber where they were undisturbed for meals or rest.

Meanwhile, the Painter’s nature was “passionate, studious and austere” (par 6). Poe showed the Painter’s burning passion with the punishing and unrelenting work that went on for days and days without noticing that his young bride’s health was failing her, and that she was already slipping away from him though she held her pose and her unchanging smile for him.

The Painter was, in Poe’s words:

A passionate, and wild, and moody man, who became lost in reveries; so that he would not see that the light which fell so ghastly in that lone turret withered the health and the spirits of his bride, who pined visibly to all but him (par 6).

The painter was so enamored by his obsession that he was able to portray his young bride well. Finally feeling satisfied with the outcome, the Painter came to realize that he was exhausted and spent. Drawing all the mix emotions of accomplishment and exhaustion he cried out “This is indeed life itself” (par 6), and remembered his young bride… But as the Painter turned to the object of his opus, the beloved young bride, he finds her dead.

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Here the readers witness Gothic sentiments of obsession and fatal love or the femme fatale. The Painter’s mad obsession was focused only on mirroring his young bride’s beauty in his canvass. There was nothing else that held his attention. It consumed him to the point that he failed to see her as a human being. From being a young bride she was transformed into an inanimate object, and then her humanity was eerily forgotten as it faded into the darkness of the turret-chamber where the session was held. In Poe’s words, the Painter was “entranced” by the art, as if an evil spell enveloped his being and directed all his energy towards the canvas. Her humanity ceased for the painter when he no longer saw her as his wife and only revered on how her beauty would be captured in his art.

Her death reinforced art’s importance as her beauty, with whom the Painter craved for, was immortalized in the canvass. There would be no concern for the signs of aging, the lines that would crease the face, or the sagging cheeks or bulging bags under the eyes as the young bride’s beauty will never deteriorate in the portrait. This symbolizes a disturbing contrast of art and decay.

Meanwhile, the young bride’s adoration and love for the painter can be described in the Gothic element of “fatal love.” She loved him to her death succumbing to his painful wishes without any complaints; giving him her life for his art’s sake, and her last breath for that last brush stroke that made him feel alive.


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