Edgar Allan Poe
Length: 1487 words (4.2 double-spaced pages)
When picking a topic for my research paper. I thought of many different ideas. I started to think about my interests is reading literature, and I decided to write about my favorite author Edgar Allan Poe. This paper is going to look at Poe from a psychological perspective. There seems to be few attempts to look at the psychological causes of humor in Poe’s work, and how his personal life may have had an impact on his writings. Many of Poe’s tales are distinguished by the author’s unique grotesque ideas in addition to his superb plots. In an article titled “Poe’s humor: A Psychological Analysis,” by Paul Lewis, he states: “Appropriately it seems to me, that to see Poe only as an elitist whose jokes could not be grasped by a general audience is to sell him short. He does not deny this elitist side of Poe; but he holds for a broader, more universal less intellectual humor that screams out from the center of Poe’s work. (532) This article provides important insight to understanding the nature of the humor and its relationship to the overwhelming horror in some of Poe’s work. Lewis’ believes that humor and fear have a special relationship in Poe’s tales. Humor, taken to its limits, leads the reader to fear. He says, “Over and over, when humor fails, we are left with images of fear: the raven’s shadow, the howling cat, the putrescence corpse, or the fallen house. (535)
According to Lewis, in The Black Cat and Ligeia, he argues that are first impressions of the narrators are half comic. “We are led gradually away from this humor into an expanding horror of men driven to acts of obscene cruelty. The combination with humor and horror occurs differently in Hop Frog where cruelty and joking co-mingle. (537) To agree with Lewis, I feel what happens in this tale is not just that cruel jokers are destroyed by a cruel joke but that joking itself gives good way to horror, as the cruelty of joke destroys its ability to function as a joke. The appeal of Lewis’ article about psychological insight of Poe rings true. I agree that fear and humor are linked together in Poe’s tales. I have seen it in hospitals, and at funerals, or even when humor helps pass the time during a threat of a destructive storm or when a flood threatens us.
The evening news almost every day will verify this conclusion. What Lewis says about Poe, then, “Is not that we need to examine Poe’s psyche, but that we need to take more seriously Poe’s understanding of how the psyches of his readers would operate.” (602) Best known for his poems and short fiction. Edgar Allan Poe deserves more credit than any other writer for his transformation of the short story to art. He virtually created the detective story and perfected the psychological thriller. He also produced some of the most influential literary criticism of his time-important theoretical statements on poetry, short story, and Poe has had a worldwide influence on literature. Poe’s parents were touring actors; both died before he was three years old, and then taken into the home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant in Richmond, VA, and was baptized. (Wells 39) His childhood seemed uneventful, although he studied for five years in England. In 1826, he entered the University of Virginia but stayed for only a year. Although a good student, he ran up large gambling debts that he refused to pay.
Allan prevented his return to the university and broke off Poe’s engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster, his Richmond sweetheart. Lacking any means of support, Poe enlisted in the army. According to Robert Wells, an author, “Poe had, however, already written and printed his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems(1827)”. (150) Temporarily, reconciled, Allan secured Poe’s release from the army and his appointment to West Point but refused to provide financial support. After six months Poe apparently assembled to be dismissed from West Point for disobedience of orders. His fellow cadets, however, contributed to the funds for the publication of Poems: by Edgar A. Poe...Second Edition(1831). “This volume contained the famous To Helen and Israfel, poems that show the restraint and the calculated musical effects of language that were to characterize his poetry”, says Wells. (212) Poe next took up residence in Baltimore with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia, and turned to fiction as a way to support himself. According to a famous researcher of Poe, Allan Peterson, “In 1832, the Philadelphia Saturday Courier published five of his stories-all comic and satire-and in 1833, MS. Found in a Bottle won a $50 prize given by the Baltimore Saturday Visitor”. (61) Poe, his aunt, and Virginia moved to Richmond in 1835, and he became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and married Virginia, who was not yet fourteen years old. Poe published fiction, notably his most horrifying tale Berenice, in the Messenger, but most his contributions were serious, analytical, and critical reviews that earned him respect as a critic. He praised the young Dickens and a few other contemporaries but devoted most of his attention to devastating reviews of popular contemporary authors. His contributions undoubtedly increased the magazines circulation, but they offended its owner, who also took exception to Poe’s drinking. The January 1837 issue of the Messenger announced Poe’s withdrawal as editor but also included the first installment of his long prose tale, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, five of his reviews, and two of his poems. (Peterson 101) Peterson says, “This was a paradoxical pattern for Poe’s career; success as an artist and editor but failure to satisfy his employers and to secure a livelihood”. (101-102) First in New York City (1837), then in Philadelphia (1838-44), and again in New York (1844-49), Poe sought to establish himself as a force in literary journalism, but with only moderate success. According to author William Bittner: “He did succeed, however, in formulating influential literary theories and demonstrating mastery of the forms he favored-highly musical poems and short prose narratives. Both forms, he argued, should aim at a certain unique or single effect. His theory of short fiction is exemplified in Ligeia, the tale considered his finest, The Fall of the House of Usher, which was to become one of his most famous stories” (212 & 227-8) Whether or not Poe invented the short story, it is certain that he originated the novel of detection. Bittner states: “Perhaps his best known tale in this genre is The Gold Bug, about a search for buried treasure. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter, are regarded as predecessors of the modern mystery or detective story”. (227) Among Poe’s poetic output, about a dozen poems are remarkable for their flawless literary construction and for their haunted themes and meters. In The Raven, the narrator is overwhelmed by melancholy and omens of death.
Poe’s extraordinary manipulation of rhythm and sound is particularly evident in The Bells, a poem that seems to echo with the chiming of metallic instruments, and The Sleeper, which reproduces the state of drowsiness. (Wagenknecht 38) Wagenknecht also refers to Lenore and Annabel Lee “as verse lamentations on death of a beautiful young woman”. (38) Virginia’s death in January 1847 was a heavy blow, but Poe continued to write and lecture. In the summer of 1849 he revisited Richmond, lectured, and was accepted anew by the fiancee he had lost in 1826. After his return north he was found unconscious on a Baltimore street. In a brief obituary the Baltimore Clipper reported that Poe had died of congestion of the brain. Edgar Allan Poe was a writer who is known for giving literature and eerie and bizarre twist. Many of Poe’s stories take place in exotic and dreary locations. Poe’s use of setting and place evoke atmosphere and brings out qualities of human character. In his short story, The Cask of Amontillado, he uses details of horror and repulsion to create the setting. The setting is important to the atmosphere and organization of the story. In the Cask of Amontillado, Poe’s descriptions of underground rooms, space, and sound help establish the atmosphere and the surroundings. The setting and atmosphere gave the story a gloomy morbid feeling. The atmosphere of the story took place indoor a dark underground cellar which seems to create a cold and harsh mood. An example of a disturbing underground room is the catacomb where the character Montressor decides to make the room Fortunato’s grave sight. Poe indicates it was buit “for no especial use within itself”, but the eerie twist he portrays is that the dimensions of the room were measured out to fit a coffin. Fortunato’s attempt to get free of the chains results in clanking is an example of sound in the atmosphere and setting.