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The Oval Portrait (Story 11) Exercises

 The Oval Portrait


Understanding the text

Answer these questions.

a. Where did the narrator and his servant make forcible entrance?

Answer: The narrator and his servant made forcible entrance into the chateau which is located in the Appennines of central Italy. It was a deserted chateau where they were going to spend the night.

b. Which special picture did the narrator notice in the room?

Answer: The special picture he noticed in the room was the oval-shaped picture of a young girl in the room which is seen when the rays of candelabrum fell on it.

c. Describe the portrait that the narrator saw in the room.

Answer: The portrait that the narrator saw in the room was in an oval-shaped frame. It was quite artistic and natural. It revealed the head and shoulders of the young woman. The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair dissolved untraceably into the unclear yet deep shadow which formed the background of the whole.

d. What is the relationship between the portrait painter and its subject?

Answer: The relationship between the portrait and its subject is husband and wife. The portrait painter is quite passionate in painting. He is so devoted to paint the portrait of the subject (his wife). He has spent many days to paint the portrait of his wife.

Reference to the context

a. What is the central theme of the story? Who is the woman depicted in the oval portrait?

Answer: The central theme of the story “The Oval Portrait” is the relationship between art and life. It is seen that too much devotion in art may take the life of a person. Art is shown as a killer and it is responsible for the young bride’s death. In this context, art is equivalent to death. In this story the association between art and life is considered as rivalry. The story suggests that art can reveal the artist's weakness and can destroy the life. The woman depicted in the oval portrait is the wife of the painter who has painted the oval portrait and she is also the victim of the painter’s passion for painting.

b. "The Oval Portrait" is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe involving the disturbing circumstances surrounding a portrait in a chateau. Elaborate.

Answer: The story "The Oval Portrait" is a frame narrative story with its dark setting and mood of the narration. It is also a short horror story. The setting of the story is a gloomy abandoned one. The chateau is deserted and old one. It contains objects of a dark and mysterious past - such as the oval portrait itself. The apartments inside the chateau are messy and dirty. The apartment where the narrator and his valet stay, contains many things as decoration including the oval portrait itself. It is in one of the corners of the apartment. The antiquity of the interior where its walls are decorated with tapestry and manifold and multiform armorial trophies, and a great number of spirited modern paintings. The dark setting and shadowy circumstances of the prior events provide the impression that the story has a bizarre twist. The portrait seems quite valueless in the apartment.

c. "The Oval Portrait" suggests that the woman's beauty condemns her to death. Discuss.

Answer: ‘The Oval Portrait’ suggests that woman’s beauty condemns her to death.  The painting described in the story states that the young lady in the portrait is very beautiful. She loses her life because her husband compels her to sit for many weeks until he finishes the portrait. His aim is to make the most beautiful portrait of her. Though the lady sits next to her husband, he is so obsessed in his painting to create the most beautiful portrait of her. But he doesn’t realize that his wife is becoming weaker and weaker day by day. Her life is withdrawing from her body slowly. It reveals the sad reality of the husband's failure to witness the beauty of his wife. By the time he finishes the portrait, he finds his wife lying dead. In this way, her beauty condemns her to own death.

d. Discuss the story as a frame narrative (a story within a story).

Answer: The Oval Portrait is a frame narrative, or a story that contains another story. In the first part of the story, we encounter the unnamed narrator, who is injured and stranded at night for unknown reasons. He along with his valet, Pedro, take shelter in an abandoned chateau. The narrator stays awake while his servant sleeps. He is captivated by the paintings of the apartment. The next story is that he finds a book which gives amazing description of the oval portrait and studies a book containing their history. In a frame narrative we find another story within a story like in this story. So, this story is a frame narrative.

e. The story is told in a descriptive style, with plenty of imagery and symbolism. Which images and symbols do you find in the story?

Answer: The story is told in a descriptive style with plenty of imagery and symbolisms. The chateau is abandoned and worn-out. The turret room is in a remote section of the mansion. There is immense use of darkness and the light of candelabrum. The room is rich in decorations with wall tapestries, trophies, paintings etc. This vivid description of the mansion provides the gothic image. Likewise, the descriptions of the portrait describe how real and beautiful it is.

In the same way the dark gloominess of the abandoned house is a classic background for a gothic story. Some symbols are also used in the story as the painter is the symbol of passion and devotion. The oval portrait symbolizes the immortality of art. The artwork symbolizes the painter’s obsession to his artwork.

f. What does the expression “She was dead!” mean?

Answer: The expression ‘She was dead!’ means the painter’s realization of the death of his beloved because of his devotion to the portrait. It is the shocking moment of the death of the painter’s wife. The painter is very obsessed in his artwork. As the work continues his wife becomes weaker and weaker. He doesn’t care about the physical condition of his wife. He continues to paint desperately, without taking his eyes off the canvas. When he turns to his wife for sharing his happiness after finishing his artwork, he gets his wife dead on the chair.

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