29 pages 58 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1838

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Symbols & Motifs

The Abbey

The abbey the narrator moves to with his new wife Rowena serves as a physical manifestation of the theme of mortality and decay that permeates the narrative. The abbey, with its decaying and ominous appearance, reflects the idea of death’s inescapable presence, and the narrator decides to literally live within its walls. The abbey is geographically isolated and has “lofty walls, gigantic in height—even unproportionably so” (149). The abbey is excessive and dramatic, reflecting the way death has come to be excessive and dramatic in the life of the narrator.

The abbey is also symbolic of the past and how the past haunts the present. The abbey is so isolated that it has not seen visitors or life in a long time. Its decaying structure symbolizes something long forgotten and neglected. Yet, this past weighs heavily. As the narrator describes the large tapestries that adorn the walls, he explains that as he “moved his station in the chamber, he saw himself surrounded by an endless succession of the ghastly forms which belong to the superstition of the Norman” (149). The narrator refers to the Normans of the medieval period and their beliefs, considered “superstitions” by the time of the story.