Always mesmerizing, Edgar Allan Poe's poems range from deep and depressing to dark and grotesque. Certainly this is true of his poem “The City in the Sea,” which is dark in tone and ambiguous meaning. What does it mean, and where did Poe come up with his concept? There are many possible answers to this question, and interpretations include the phallic and yonic symbols of Freudian theory and the idea of biblical cities as source material exist. Therefore, it seems that critics cannot agree on a definite explication for the poem. Alice Claudel posits that there are mystic symbols in the poem and states that: “One can piece bits together and form the general narrative from II Chronicles, II Kings, and Daniel, among others” (56). The idea that Poe took his ideas from the bible is well founded, but he was too complex a poet to make his poetry that easy or that obvious.
Another writer, Dwayne Thorpe, suggests Poe had Christian doctrine in mind when he wrote the poem, contending that Poe's sources were biblical in nature (395). He continues: “identification of it [biblical source] casts some infernal illumination on his use of a Christian work to create a nihilistic vision” (395). This goes back to Claudel's biblical association, but Thorpe ascribes the city a darker, more sinister meaning. While many critics look at “The City in the Sea” through a Freudian or biblical lens, a deconstructive approach reveals the image of Death's inverted Necropolis.
Deconstruction is the art of ambiguity. The theory posits infinite interpretations to literary works, with most of them just as creative as the work itself. With so many interpretations, no one ...
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...ing only becomes more deeply hidden. The complex maze of twisting, turning, and doubling back of Poe's work, specifically “The City in the Sea,” makes the task of completely deconstructing it almost impossible.
Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2003.
Claudel, Alice M. “Mystic Symbols in Poe's ‘The City in the Sea.'” Papers on Poe: Essays in Honor of John Ward Ostrom. Ed. Richard P. Veler and Richard Beale Davis. Springfield, OH: Chantry Music Press at Wittenburg U, 1972. 54-61.
Garrison, Joseph M. Jr. “Poe's ‘The City in the Sea.'” Explicator 48.3 (1990): 185-88.
Leonard, Douglas N. “Poe's ‘The City in the Sea.'” Explicator 43.1 (1984): 30-33.
Thorpe, Dwayne. “Poe's ‘The City in the Sea': Source and Interpretation.”American Literature 51 (1979): 394-99.
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