National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

by Edgar Allan Poe

I would give the world to embody one half the ideas afloat in my imagination.


  1. Do the narrators from “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado” deserve what they get? Do the characters around them? What might this say about Poe’s view of the world?
  2. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” why does Poe spend nearly two full pages on the lyrics to “The Haunted Palace,” one of Roderick’s “performances?” Do Poe’s language and content change from one form to the other, or just the medium?
  3. In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” how does the narrator’s clever idea of smearing food on the straps holding him down, so as to induce the hungry rats to chew him loose, anticipate the climactic maneuvers of heroes in suspense and action-adventure stories today?
  4. “The Masque of the Red Death” was originally published as “The Mask of the Red Death.” What is a “masque,” and do you think the pun was intentional?
  5. Are the narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “William Wilson” sane? Do you like the stories better if they’re hallucinating, or if they aren’t? Why?
  6. Read Poe’s essay “Philosophy of Composition,” in which he details how he came to write “The Raven.” Do you believe him? Why or why not?
  7. Listen closely to the sounds of Poe’s poems “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” How does his use of sound influence your reading of the poems?
  8. Poe’s works are haunted by death. Sometimes even his speakers are dead. How does this affect the tone of his work? Does it add suspense or take away from it?
  9. Poe often writes about the death of a beautiful woman. His own wife was ill for most of their marriage and died at a young age. How might this affect the emotional intensity of his writing?
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