Summary:The plot is simple. A man seeks lodging, finds it and visits his mad-scientist upstairs neighbor, who does not mind mixing science with the occult. The scientist or "benevolent fanatic" keeps his room cool. Nonetheless, the narrator feels repulsion.
Commentary & SpoilersThe cooler breaks down and the man dies. In fact, the man had died long ago, and only keeping himself cool extended his "life."
This scientist does seem mad--strange inventions, quirky personality, and general creepiness. But he isn't without human scruples--as far as we see, anyway. We do not see experiments with little to no ethical structure.
Lovecraft, like Poe, depends almost solely on effect--a deranged creepy, horror with its potent final image--as opposed to plot or character.
Notes: (from S.T. Joshi and Peter Canon)
- Apparently, Lovecraft couldn't write below 73 degrees, fainted at 20 degrees. He loathed the cold.
- Air conditioners only occurred in factories, not homes until WWII.
- The above editors point out that the ending letter written by a dying man is a common technique for Lovecraft.