The Red Room
How we cite our quotes:
"I can assure you," said I, "that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me." And I stood up before the fire with my glass in my hand. (1)
In the story’s opening line, the narrator boasts that he’s not easily frightened. That he says this as he is standing up, adds a bit of swagger. He’s either a genuinely confident soul, or a poser. This opening line immediately sets up the plot as a contest of the narrator against his himself. This opening line is also ironic: as it turns out, it won’t take anything "tangible" (that is, touchable) to frighten him at all.
A bronze group stood upon the landing, hidden from me by the corner of the wall, but its shadow fell with marvelous distinctness upon the white paneling, and gave me the impression of someone crouching to waylay me. I stood rigid for half a minute perhaps. Then, with my hand in the pocket that held my revolver, I advanced, only to discover a Ganymede and Eagle glistening in the moonlight. That incident for a time restored my nerve, and a porcelain Chinaman on a buhl table, whose head rocked silently as I passed him, scarcely startled me. (29)
We've already seen that the narrator is unnerved by the older people and the rustling he hears at the top of the stairs, but this is the first instance in which he’s genuinely scared. How do we know? He has to "recover his nerve." It starts to look as if our narrator might be more easily spooked than he originally reveals. And what scares him in this case? It’s the appearance of an everyday object as something threatening in the dark.
Here it was, thought I, that my predecessor was found, and the memory of that story gave me a sudden twinge of apprehension. (30)
The narrator admits to experiencing another pang of fear here, again before he enters the red room. This time what inspires his fear is not something he sees, but an association he has with the red room: it’s where someone died, and there’s a legend around it.