jacksonian man of parts

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The recent International Poe conference saw a number of panels and individual presentations dedicated to examining the author’s works in their social and historical contexts, suggesting that contemporary Poe criticism is moving in a cultural direction long overlooked by scholars and critics. With no less than two full panels devoted specifically to issues of race in Poe’s writing, and other papers addressing issues of cultural identity, gender politics, Poe’s relationship to American literary nationalism, and the author’s ties to both antebellum society and Jacksonian democracy, this conference provided overwhelming evidence of a current desire to emplace Poe more specifically within his cultural and historical milieu. In a broader sense, such attention to the historical and cultural dynamics of Poe’s writing suggests increased attention of late to Poe’s own Americanness. This critical trend toward assessing Poe as a distinctly American writer has, of course, also informed such excellent recent works as Terence Whalen’s Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses (1999) and the essays collected by Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman in The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (1995). This paper represents an attempt to further such inquiry into the American “face” of Poe by examining the ways in which Poe’s unfortunately neglected tale “The Man that Was Used Up” complicates the author’s position in relation to American racial and national politics. One of Poe’s most biting satirical pieces, this tale raises vexing questions regarding the connections between matters of race, masculinity, and national identity as these concepts were imagined and constructed in Jacksonian America.
A minor tale in the canon of Poe’s short fiction, “The Man That Was Used Up” was first published in the August, 1839 issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and subsequently revised and published twice more in Poe’s lifetime, first in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), and, finally, in the 9 August 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal. In this odd story, which chronicles the compromised stature of a military hero of the Indian Wars, Poe makes what would seem to be one of his most scathing, if indirect, commentaries on contemporary American politics. Specifically, the tale evokes the troubled relationship between the oppressive racial policies of the United States in the Age of Jackson and the burgeoning sense of national purpose and unity embodied in the figure of the robust, heroic, Jacksonian “self-made man.” Composed at a time when the United States was embroiled in the Second Seminole War (1835-42), among the longest and costliest of the Indian Wars, the story positions its central figure, Brevet Brigadier General John A.

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