For over one hundred years, critics have widely regarded Edgar Allan Poe as an aesthetician of literature as a whole, which has to a great extent oriented the interpretation of his prose narratives. In this essay I revisit Poe's relevant essays and reveal that Poe's aesthetic conception of the subject matter of poetry is due to poetry's peculiar generic characteristics not shared by prose fiction. Poe makes an unequivocal distinction in prose fiction between structural design and subject matter. While putting the tale's structural design completely on a par with that of poetry, Poe treats the tale's subject matter as different in nature from that of poetry—as “antagonistical” to Beauty and often based on the ethically related, though not ethically confined, “Truth.” In this essay I argue that if some of Poe's tales convey a moral, then that moral tends to be implicit and inseparable from the structural “unity of effect,” and the tale may react or respond to the cultural context in a certain way. In Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart” we can see a characteristic interaction among a structurally unified dramatic irony, an implicit moral, and the historical “insanity defense” controversy.

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