The Oval Portrait: Summary & Question Answer [Exercise]

The Oval Portrait: Summary & Question Answer [Exercise]

The Oval Portrait

Summary oF the Oval Portrait

The Oval Portrait is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe that deals with the theme of the relationship between art and life. The writer has presented this story with its dark setting and the mood of the narrator. This story begins with an injured narrator who takes shelter along with his servant in an abandoned mansion in the Apennines. They choose one of the rooms in the mansion. The narrator shows a keen interest in those strange paintings decorating the walls of a room.

At around midnight, he adjusts the candle in the room, closer to the books. The narrator immediately discovers a before unnoticed painting in an oval-shaped frame. It reveals the head and shoulders of a young girl. The narrator is quite attached to this painting because it seems very lively. Soon the narrator eagerly consults the book for an explanation of a picture. Then he discovered that the woman whose painting was made was the young bride of the artist who cared more about his work rather than anything else in the world including his wife too. 

On the other hand, the woman was the perfect wife in every respect except she was quite jealous of her husband’s art. One day on demand of her artist husband, he starts painting his wife. He was so obsessed with capturing her beautifulness, that he rarely took his eyes off the canvas even to watch his wife. The wife remained humble and obedient and kept on giving the same pose for many weeks without a single word of complaint but her health became increasingly poor as the work continued. When the portrait was about to finish, the artist was excited and delighted with his perfect work. He then looks at his wife and finds her dead.

Central Theme the Oval Portrait

The central theme in The Oval Portrait presents the confusing relationship between art and life. This story has shown the destructive power or the addition of art and love. Both art and love can lead anyone towards perfection whereas they can bring destructive results in anyone’s life too. Although the artist of this story has become successful through his artistic work, his wife became a victim. On the other hand, she lost her husband so extremely that she doesn’t reveal her pains and sufferings and lose her life. This story also suggests that a women’s beauty condensed her to death. The story has tried to reveal that excessive passion for something always gives bad results.

Understanding the Text

Answer the following questions.

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

Answer: The narrator and his servant made a forcible entrance in a desolate Chateau which was located in the Apennines of central Italy.

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

Answer: The narrator noticed an oval-shaped picture of a young girl in the room.

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

Answer: The portrait that the narrator saw in the room was very artistic and looks alive when rays of candelabrum fall on it. This painting is in an oval shape with a very decorative frame and the painting of a young girl who is quite beautiful looking alive.

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

Answer: The relationship between the portrait painter and its subject is of Husband and 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 short story The Oval Portrait is the relationship between life and art. This Story has shown the destructive power of art and love. Art and love can lead anyone towards perfection whereas they can bring destructive results in our life too. The painter of this story has become successful through his artistic works but his wife has become the victim of his artistic tasks. She loves her husband extremely that’s why she doesn’t reveal her pains. The story has shown bad results of excessive passion for something. The woman depicted in the oval portrait is the wife of a passionate painter who has painted this oval portrait.

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: This short story has presented a terrible and gloomy setting of a barren Chateau in one of the mountains range (Apennines) of central Italy. The Chateau in this story is completely deserted and very old fashioned. The Chateau itself drowned in darkness in a desolated place. The apartments inside Chateau were so unmanaged and dirty though it was richly decorated previously. The walls were full of tapestries and panting creating a gloomy atmosphere. The life-like portrait has been placed in one of the dark corners. The surrounding of the lifelike portrait is so disturbing due to the unmanaged condition everywhere. Thus it looked quite like a horror story.

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

Answer: In the oval portrait, the writer has symbolized the danger of trying to capture and exert ownership over physical beauty. The framed portrait of the artist’s wife represents a kind of metaphorical imprisonment and focuses only on the young woman’s outer beauty rather than her inner self. In this sense, a lady is present as an object since the story implies that the man (including her husband) viewed her as nothing but a beautiful sight to look at. Her actual real-life beauty and her personality were consequently lost forever in the process and only immortalized on the canvas.

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

Answer: The frame narrative is a literary technique that reveals a story within a story told by the main or the supporting character. A character starts telling a story to other characters or he sits down to write a story, telling the details to the audience.

Here the story starts with an unnamed narrator and his entering a Chateau with a different plot and setting. But once this place is lit with candles, a painting is revealed and the next story starts with the description of the oval portrait. In this way, the author switches to a new story within a story.

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: Here in this story, we find various images and symbols. The writer has used images to present his horror elements beautifully here in this story where there is immense use of darkness and light. The image of desolate Chateau in the Appennines has created a beginning thriller for the audience. Similarly, the image of two visitors in the dark desolate setting has increased the reader’s curiosity. Inside the Chateau, the writer has used many images to present the setting of apartments, torrents etc. Here, we find various images such as dark rooms, wall tapestries, trophies, the oval painting among other paintings, candelabrums, books, rays of light etc. The historical background of the oval portrait also has presented the image of the painter and his wife in a high torrent of the Chateau.

The perfect use of images has this story with gothic elements beautifully. Like images, the symbols also have played a vital role to understand this story on a deeper level. The oval portrait symbolizes mortality of love and immortality of art. This portrait has snatched the life of its main subject (painter’s wife). Her love for her husband leads her to death whereas her husband passion for artwork has snatched her life and made him immortal in his artwork. The next symbol that we find here is the time during artwork. This time during the artwork symbolizes the painter’s obsession where he has forgotten everything around him and led his wife to death.


1.   Woman in the oval portrait = victim

2.   Oval Portrait = immortality of art

3.   Frame = general objectification

4.   Painter = fanaticism

5.   The dark gloominess of an abandoned house = classic background of the gothic novel.

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

Answer: The expression “She was dead” means the shocking moment of the death of the painter’s wife on the chair. The painter was so obsessed with his painting that he forgot about the surroundings and even his beautiful wife. Hence the artist’s obsession with painting took his wife’s life.

Reference Beyond the Text

a. Do you think there is life in art?

Answer: “The Oval Portrait” is a frame story that centres on life and art. The outer story follows an unnamed narrator who spends a night in a chateau in the Apennines. While he was there, he admired the impressive paintings but was more obsessed with a portrait of a beautiful young woman who is enclosed in an oval frame. Then he explores the inner story where he found the tragic life of a beautiful girl whose husband was much obsessed with his art. 

He has disengaged himself from reality. For him, his canvas became more real than the reality itself which proves beneficial for his art but disastrous for his real life. So, in a literary sense, the artist creates life in the art and tries to find life within it but with a general view, art is just a creation that is created to display and has meaning related to different things.

b. As a thing of art nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself. Explain.

Answer: This statement is absolutely right about painting. Painting is really a very admirable form of art. The painters really work hard to create quality paintings with meanings. The painting itself speaks in its literal manner. Painting provides us with facts related to life. Here in this story, the oval portrait is one of the finest examples which has startled the narrator. He feels completely puzzled to see that painting. He wants to know about it and the painter.

c. A more intense look at the painting reveals the illusion. Have you noticed any such painting?

Answer: Yes, I have noticed such paintings. The painting becomes more meaningful when it is watched by the viewer who is passionate about paintings. But, for those viewers who don’t have an idea about paintings, they find illusion all the time. In my case, I watched a typical painting for a long time but I didn’t get the meaning of it. I tried a lot to grasp its meaning but in vain. Later on, I got its meaning from my friend.

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