Edgar Allan Poe and the American Mind

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Throughout the first half of the 19th century, America gazed at itself in a mirror and saw that it was good. As a beacon for democracy, the United States appeared to shine bright as the light of the world, demonstrating through the 1828 election of President Andrew Jackson that even a commoner from the countryside had the potential to rise to the top of the political hierarchy. On another level, under the growing success and influence of the Industrial Revolution, the American people seemed to ascribe widely to the belief that nature could be conquered by man, that no danger posed by the natural world was beyond the salvation offered by human technology. And then there was the overarching vision of manifest destiny, the nation’s blessed calling to expand its territory from ocean to ocean and thereby fulfill its purpose as a paradigm of virtue amid the savagery of the New World. Beneath the surface of each favorable reflection, however, lay shadows of hypocrisy that casted silent judgment upon these shining images of prosperity: the fact that democracy empowered the people, but only if they were white males; the reality that with industrial progress came egalitarian regress; and the truth that manifest destiny served as but an imperialist justification, a sort of divine mandate, for the removal and massacre of countless Native Americans. This tension between negative undertone and positive façade, between dark realities and their euphemized reflections, created a critical dissonance in the 19th century American conscience, such that the nation appeared ostensibly promising on the surface, and yet remained ravaged by storms of contradiction underneath. Perhaps inspired by this internal struggle between delusion... ... middle of paper ... ...nly reality within the mind of the person. Works Cited Fisher, Benjamin F. The Cambridge Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print. Gargano, James W. “’The Black Cat’: Perverseness Reconsidered.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe’s Tales. Ed. William L. Howarth. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1971. 87-94. Print. Hammond, J.R. Edgar Allan Poe Companion: The Short Stories. London: MacMillan Press, 1981. Print. Jones, Paul Christian. “Slavery and Abolition.” Edgar Allan Poe in Context. Ed. Kevin A. Hayes. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013. 138-147. Print. Quinn, Arthur H. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. 1941. Print. Robinson, E. Arthur. “Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’” Critics on Poe. Ed. David B. Kesterson. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1973. 107-115. Print.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that even a commoner from the countryside had the potential to rise to the top of the political spectrum.
  • Describes the hardships that a young poe experienced in his first few years of life.
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