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Edgar Allen Poe and Humor

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Edgar Allen Poe and Humor

Edgar Allen Poe is most often recognized, and certainly most famous, for his poem “The Raven” as well as other decidedly dark and often gothic poems and stories, stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Telltale Heart” “The Cask of Amontillado.” He also wrote many others mostly involving rather macabre, dark topics and characters as well as heavy themes such as insanity, madness, incest, murder and revenge. While this reputation is certainly well earned there is another side of Poe that is not quite so obvious. Poe was also a master of humor, especially in the use of parody and satire. One might ask how is it that a writer with such an inclination towards the darker side of humanity can possibly write humorously, and do it with such skill. Poe’s brand of humor is decidedly different than that which the mainstream contemporary audience is used to and can readily understand, but it is there if one cares to look closely. The style of Poe’s humor is not like that of the mainstream humorous writers in that he does not use the common comic strategies, but he instead “was able to turn his wit on the masses of society or their rulers with trenchantly satiric effect” by creating situations so ridiculous and outrageous that it becomes hysterical (Budd 133). Or as John Bryant says “he was a satirist specializing in burlesque, parody, and hoax. Humor was not his style, nor benevolence his manner; … Poe’s barbed humorous stories are driven by caricature rather than character” (88). Some of Poe’s more humorous stories are “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” and “A Predicament,” and maybe not so obviously “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

In a close look at “How to Write a Blackwoo...

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...er because “his well known theory of the short story consistently emphasizes the importance of each and every detail in constructing the effect that … an author of a short story has to have clearly in mind before beginning the task of composition” (Haugen 102). It may not be what the casual reader of Poe is expecting, or even wanting, but it is exactly what Poe intended and in truth that is what makes it humorous.

Works Cited

Bryant, John. Melville and Repose: The Rhetoric of Humor in the American Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Budd, Louis J, and Edwin H. Cady, eds. On Poe. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.

Haugen, Hayley Mitchell, eds. Readings on: The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.2001.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Vintage Books, 1975.
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