The Perverse in the Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

3364 Words14 Pages
Edgar Allan Poe is perhaps the best-known American Romantic who worked in the Gothic mode. His stories explore the darker side of the Romantic imagination, dealing with the grotesque, the supernatural, and the horrifying. He defined the form of the American short story.

As one might expect, Poe himself eschewed conventional morality, which he believed stems from man's attempts to dictate the purposes of God. Poe saw God more as process than purpose. He believed that moralists derive their beliefs, and thus, the resultant behavioral patterns, from a priori knowledge. In Eureka, we find that Poe shunned such artifices of mind, systems which, he professed, have no basis in reality. Yet Poe employed in his writing the diction of the moral tome, which causes confusion for readers immersed in this tradition. Daniel Hoffman reiterates Allan Tate's position that, aside from his atavistic employment of moral terminology, Poe writes as though "Christianity had never been invented." (Hoffman 171)

Poe did offer to posterity one tale with a moral. Written in 1841 at the dawn of Poe's most creative period, Poe delivers to his readers a satirical spoof, a literary Bronx cheer to writers of moralistic fiction, and to critics who expressed disapprobation at finding no discernible moral in his works. The tale "Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral" presents Poe's "way of staying execution" (Poe 487) for his transgressions against the didactics. The story's main character is Toby Dammit, who from infanthood, had been flogged left-handed, which since the world revolves right to left, causes evil propensities to be driven home rather than driven out. The narrator relates that by the age of seven months, Toby was chasing down and ki...

... middle of paper ...

...act, we can also perceive the Reverend's desperation. He was bright enough to see what Poe undertook, and was scared silly.

So what is being undertaken here is a psychical study of man, an examination of the seasons of intellect, body and spirit, through which we all cycle. Also attempted is a portrayal of Poe's creative spirit. Though hyper-aware of his own tendency to perversity, what creative impetus must have been requisite for Edgar Poe to have penned poems and stories which so closely mirror the psychic patterns of his own mind!

WORKS CITED

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. 1972. Reprint, Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State UP, 1998.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Tales & Poems. New York: Vintage Books, 1975.

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

More about The Perverse in the Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Open Document