A Psychoanalysis of "Tell-Tale Heart", "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Mask of Red Death"

May 28, 2020 by Essay Writer

No one could argue that both psychology and literature integrate to compose fine pieces of art and that is why psychoanalysis is primarily introduced in the literature. According to Md. Mahroof Hossain in his study “Psychoanalytic Theory used in English Literature: A Descriptive Study”, he states that the psychological approach aids the readers into taking a deeper look into the unseen parts of the sense of the text in the literature (41). The psychoanalytic theory was Freud’s means to understand and identify the main character traits in the characters through the 3 personality elements: id, ego, and super-ego.

Tackling this theory is one of the most infamous writers, whose works are the most applicable to psychoanalysis through their features and that is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s presentation of his characters reflects his inner soul, as his works always present complex characters with unstable natures. In his writings, he uses gothic elements like gloomy atmosphere and intense emotions, which is relatable to the characteristics of psychoanalysis, which deals mainly with the conscious and unconscious behaviors of a character.

These characteristics are highly applied in each of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories “Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Mask of Red Death” through their protagonists. The tell-Tale heart is narrated by an unnamed narrator, who is the protagonist and who tries to prove his sanity throughout the whole story; however, the actions followed fail to prove that; on the other hand “Montresor” is the protagonist in “The Cask of Amontillado”, who claims that he has been hurt “a thousand times” (Poe 1) by “Fortunato”, who “laughed out at his proud name” (Poe 1), and plans on seeking revenge by killing Fortunato. He also tries to justify his means of seeking revenge by putting the blame on Fortunato. Last but not least, “The Mask of Red Death” is narrated through a 3rd narrative point of view where a prince called “Prospero” lives in a palace, in the era of the plague where plague comes in a form of Red Death behind a mask and eradicates everyone. The purpose behind this study is to investigate how Freud’s psychoanalytical theory is applied in Edgar Allan Poe’s works through both his protagonists the murderer in Tell-Tale heart, Montresor in The Cask of Amontillado and Prospero in The Mask of Red Death. Furthermore, this study is conducted to trace Poe’s earlier life tragedies that led to his usage of gothic features of main protagonists with vengeful desires through psychoanalysis.

Too bad misfortune had to run after him, Edgar Allan Poe had been destined by bad luck in his life and death and that is reflected in his works. His life hasn’t been quite compelling; in fact, it was the opposite, full of traumas. A study conducted under the name “Edgar Allan Poe and Neurology” states that Poe was born in 1809 in America; his life hasn’t been festive as he endured many family deaths. In the 1800s the White plague or Tuberculosis has been widely spread throughout Europe, reaching America and making it the “third most common cause of death” (Murray 2). According to a research done in the University of Virginia, many of the symptoms caused by TB are bloody coughs, tiredness all the time and skin wastes. Furthermore, the cures weren’t proclaimed back then and the only solution was to breathe in some fresh air (Villemin and Koch n.pag.). Not only did Poe witness the era of tuberculosis but also the era of “Cholera Pandemic”. Poe has written to his mother in law Maria Clemm and aunt that he has been suffering and has been too ill to the extent of dying, and that is because he has been infected with Cholera epidemic but has later been cured; he didn’t suffer from the disease itself but instead from the effects of the Mercury drug he has been taking to cure him (Baldellou 218)

Both Edgar Allan Poe’s parents had departed his life when he wasn’t past 3 years old, as they both died of tuberculosis; he was then declared as an orphan and was adopted by another family. Poe’s family, specifically his father, didn’t want to give him the benefit of the son so he gave him no shares of money; therefore, Poe couldn’t afford his school or college fees, so he had to do some illegal deeds like gambling to gain money; however, he lost a great deal of money that led to his poverty. He was left with nothing but his pen and paper and that’s when he was declared as a writer (Teive, De Paola & Munhoz 466). Not only did his parents die of tuberculosis but also his foster mother along with his cousin, whom he had married at a really young age, whose name is Virginia. Following all these distressing deaths, Edgar had suffered mental illnesses like desolation, which led to being an alcoholic. Poe’s death occurred when he was just 40 and the reason behind it was left unknown. (Teive, De Paola & Munhoz 467)

Poe’s life is mainly exemplified in his works, and readers would understand that if they read between the lines. As Poe witnessed many deaths in his life, his childhood has been mainly affected with graveyards because he has visited them a lot and the gloomy atmosphere, so these tragedies made him think more profoundly about death than about life. People viewed Poe as an alcoholic but he had another opinion towards that; Poe has been in love with Sarah Whittman and who was also his fianc?; even though they didn’t get married she has written a book called “Edgar Allan Poe and his critics”. In her book she has mentioned a letter that he has written to her saying:

I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have perilled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories – “memories of wrong and injustice and imputed dishonor” from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom (74-75)

This letter shows how Edgar Allan Poe drank alcohol distract himself of life’s tragedies and miseries and it also signifies his loss of happiness.

As claimed by Ellie Quick in her study “How Poe’s life has leaked into his works”, Edgar was not mad just like people claimed him to be nor was he emotionless; however, he has just suffered a hard life that was then reflected in his personality of becoming “a dark person” and later one was reflected in his works as being gloomy, shady and mysterious (Quick 6). Poe’s main themes are the reflection of his own life like death, vengeance, mystery, and tragedy. Not only was Allan’s life a mystery but his death as well too; many argue of Edgar’s main cause of death as they differ; however, what’s known for certain is that Poe has gone to Philadelphia and no one has seen him there. Furthermore, he was found unconscious with someone else’s clothes in a street and was then sent to a hospital; in his last days he called out a name “Reynolds” but no one knows who that person is ( Mollegaard 136-37). So Edgar Allan Poe’s life created unsolved mysteries to the readers, and his death created intriguing unsolved questions as well.

According to Freud’s theory, the person’s personality is divided into 3 parts the Id, Ego, and Super Ego. “Id” or the unconscious is driven by the desires and pleasures that are within a person and would do anything just to fulfill one’s needs, without thinking where these needs are going. On the other hand, the “Ego” is the reality principle, which satisfies the needs of the “id” and lets go of the negative directions that the id pushes it to go to, so it is the controller of the id. Furthermore, the ego is the flow between conscious, and unconscious. While the “Superego” is classified into 2 parts: the moralistic part, which is ruled by the society and its perfections and the other part which is the person’s immoralist part that is ruled by habits that are forbidden in a society that leads to bad consequences later on. Freud states that the ego and superego are “paradoxical and because one is unconscious of aggressive desires, one is far immoral than they already know”. (Lapsley and Stey 5-7). Those 3 parts are divided into Good and Evil; where the narcissistic part of a human being is revealed (Ki 25)

The Tell-Tale Heart:

“TRUE! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (Poe 3). These words were used by the unnamed narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. What the servant has been doing is trying to prove to his audience that he’s completely sane, – and observe how healthily, how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” Poe 3), yet the first quotation proves something else, as the character himself believes that he’s rather sick than completely still. Even when he tries to prove his sanity some words make the readers believe the opposite like the repetition of words like “steadily steadily” and “very very nervous”. He’s a self-centered man who even denies the opinion of the others as he first refers to himself that he “could hear sounds, sounds from heaven, and sounds from hell” (Poe 3); he glorifies himself to let his readers believe in the reason behind killing the old man and sends direct accusations that everyone else is wrong by saying the first sentence in the story. The servant only kills the old man based on the one flaw that he has “an evil eye”. Also, the repetition of the word “I in the story highlights and emphasizes the narrator’s egocentric nature

Based on the Psychoanalytical theory, the “Id” is the irrational part of the person’s personality; it’s the part where the human doesn’t think consciously and where the human being does whatever that would satisfy his pleasures and desires. That’s why people might be inclined to think that the Id is what pushed the servant to kill his owner, but his plans are logically organized to make him commit this murder., which takes us to the main part that has been driving the servant throughout the story is the Ego. The Ego or what appears in the story is the “Evil Ego” or as characterized as “the motivation by selfish calculation and greed” (Zizek 70) is what helps in regulating the Id and it’s mainly what corrects the wrongs or thinks to be doing so; therefore, the servant thinks that by killing the old man; he’s doing the right thing. It’s the logical part in the human’s mind that creates a flow of conscious and unconscious and sees the wrongs or rights around it while planning to take action accordingly, (Lapsley and Stey 5-7); therefore the Ego was the one factor controlling the servant’s character, as the narrator tried listing logically why he has done this murder “It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!” would a madman have been so wise as this?”(Poe 3); this shows both the man’s deep planning to do the crime and his further emphasis on proving his sanity. In this story, the Id is the narrator’s first motive of killing the old man, increased by the Ego. The servant here bases his judgments and ideas of the old man based on his own point of view and continues justifying his deeds through them. He finds that the man has an evil eye and that he has been serving him throughout all these years and finds that he hasn’t had a “good eye”, so that’s why “his evil ego” pushes him to take action and correct the wrong by killing him, not realizing that he himself is doing a wrong action. (Ki 25). Also, no insane person would take the chance to recount the clear events of a murder in a logical prospect as the servant made sure to use words like “steadily, steadily” to show how much he’s been in control of killing his master. (Jesus 4). Also, it’s pretty clear the similarity between the “Evil Eye” and the “Evil I”; the narrator disregards the idea that the evil may not only lie in the eye of his master, but it’s heightened in his evil nature; due to the egocentric nature of the servant, he doesn’t view his deeds as vengeful or horrific ones (Ki 26). Moving to the superego, it’s based on the actions to seek flawlessness and perfectness; it sends a sense of guilt to the person when something wrong is done (Lapsley & Stey 7). The neighbors called out the police when the old man screamed, so police visited the servant to talk with him about the scream; however, the servant claimed that the old man has “gone to visit the countryside”. Throughout this period, the servant hears some heartbeats, but he thinks that it’s the old man’s dead heart still beating, not realizing that it’s his own heartbeats. His super egoistic part only admits of the crime because he doesn’t want to be “hypocritical”; he favors himself above anyone else’s and finds that by admitting that crime he’s not a hypocrite like everyone that’s surrounding him, which also adds to the idea of being self-centered ( Ki 35)

This story highlights the theme of hatred and agony, which is one of the main themes used by Edgar Allan Poe. The vengeful desires are quite apparent when the servant killed his master only “turning cold” because of his “vulture eye”, thinking he’s freeing the world from the old man’s evil eye, so the main issue here isn’t whether the servant is insane or sane but rather it’s the egocentric nature and vengeful desires to kill that man.

The Cask of Amontillado:

Not only did Edgar Allan Poe’s works derive from his personal life experience, but also from events that occur around him. Poe was intrigued with dull and scary stories; therefore, according to newenglandhistoricalsociety.com, Poe used to serve in the army; he was serving in Boston near an island called “Castle Island”. While being there, Poe has heard some myths about an argument between two soldiers that led to making on of the soldiers drunk, and to be buried down the “castle”; however, people than declared that it has been a faulty rumor. To its surprise, when the castle was being refurbished some bones covered in army clothes were found down in the castle (n.pag), and from here the idea of “The Cask of Amontillado” came. Despite Poe’s capability of keeping the myth on-going; in n research done in Hatboro Horsham High School says he also wrote this book to answer back to two other poets who had critiqued his works in a bad way(48). The way Fortunato was killed by Montresor in this story was because Montresor knew that Fortunato’s weakness was that “he prided himself on his connoisseurship in win” (Poe 3); this brings the readers back to Poe’s earlier life in being an alcoholic. It could be seen that both characters are mirroring each other as they are both rich, both are of known families, but what they wear differs, as Montresor is wearing a dark costume, and Fortunato is dressed as a joke. This could be an interpretation that Edgar Allan Poe characterized both characters as himself, the drunk alcoholic is Poe in his past life and how much alcoholism would have aided in his downfall, and Montresor, burying Fortunato shows how Poe wanted to bury that part of his identity (Mcdonald n.pag.).

This short story mainly tackles the first point of view of “Montresor”, who is seeking revenge of his supposed to befriend “Fortunato” because Fortunato, as Montresor claims that he has done “thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” (Poe 3). Montresor seeks revenge because he thinks that he is righting a wrong that his friend Fortunato has done, so he knew what his downfall, which is drinking, is and had triggered it. Moving to Freud’s psychoanalytical approach,

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