28 pages 56 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1835

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Beauty Versus Horror

The first paragraph of the story asks whether evil can have its origin in something good. The text suggests that sorrow often originates in joy because “the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are, have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been” (333). If a person is unhappy in the present time, it might be because they either remember a happier past or are imagining a better future that they cannot achieve. While this opening initially seems to be abstract speculation, the plot of the story demonstrates the process through which something beautiful can lead to something unlovely.

The moment of Egæus’s birth foreshadows that good and evil will be intertwined for the rest of his life. Describing the library, he asserts, “Here died my mother. Herein was I born” (333). He implies that she died in childbirth, transforming a moment of joy into one of sorrow. Similarly, Berenice’s teeth appear to be the most perfect part of her body, untouched by the illness that affects the rest of her appearance. However, their perfection is, ironically, what causes them to be removed from her mouth because their beauty inspires the narrator’s obsession in a way that her less perfect attributes do not.