Morella by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores the story Edgar Allan Poe tells in ''Morella.'' First we will learn the story, and then we examine several approaches to its analysis.

A Dark and Fascinating Tale

American author and poet Edgar Allan Poe composed the short story Morella in 1835. He considered it one of his best stories. In it, he tells the tale of the odd relations between a husband and wife. While offering few details, Poe paints a morbid portrait of identity, death, and marriage.

The Story

An unnamed narrator begins the story by explaining his strange relationship with a woman named Morella. He admits to feeling no love or passion from this woman but is attracted to her because of her erudition; she is well-read, intelligent, and thoughtful. He writes: ''Her powers of mind were gigantic.'' Morella is both his wife and his tutor. She studied German literature and philosophy at Presburg (now Bratslavia, the capital of Slovakia).

Morella falls ill from a mysterious disease. She tells her husband that she knows he doesn't love her, and he will regret it after she is dead. At her moment of death, the narrator reveals that Morella had secretly been pregnant, and she gives birth on the spot.

The narrator, now a father and widower, watches his baby daughter develop at a remarkable rate. ''She grew strangely in stature and intellect, and was the perfect resemblance of her who had departed, and I loved her with a love more fervent than I had believed it possible to feel for any denizen of earth.'' He wonders whether he was placing too much stock in the philosophy she had taught him. Still, he watches his daughter mature with an uncanny resemblance of Morella.

He finally decides that the girl must be baptized and named. Still, he can only think of Morella. When he utters his dead wife's name, the child responds, ''I am here!''

The narrator reminisces years later: ''years may pass away, but the memory of that epoch never.'' He recalls the death of his daughter and bringing her body to the family tomb only to discover that his wife's body was missing.

Analysis

There are many ways to perform a literary analysis on Edgar Allan Poe's Morella. In just four pages, Poe presents a layered narrative about death and mysticism. Literary critics have interpreted this story in many ways.

Gothic Horror and Theological Morality

Gothic horror and psychoanalysis are both present in the story. As a genre, many of Poe's stories fall into Gothic horror, which is characterized by dark overtones and themes of death and despair. Several critics have attempted Freudian and Jungian readings of the marriage and sexual relationship between man, woman, and child.

An iconic picture of Gothic horror from Mary Shelley
gothic

Given Poe's direct references to Locke, Schelling, and Fichte, the most relevant reading of Morella appears in the form of theological morality. Also called moral theology, it is a branch of religious and philosophical thought that probes questions about what it means to be a sane and good person. In Morella, Poe references ''theological morality'' to indicate a preference toward belief in the everlasting, immortal human soul. He draws on philosophy and religion throughout this passage in order to dramatize how Morella transcends her corporeal body and assumes a new life in a new one.

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