Poe's Short Stories
Connection of “The Tell-tale Heart” with Poe’s Life Experiences
Edgar Allan Poe, the son of actor and actress David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Poe, was born in 1809 on the 19th of January. Just before the age of three Poe had lost his parents, and lived most of his life with Frances and John Allan, a successful tobacco vendor. Throughout his life Poe was often betrayed by many individuals he knew. One of which included, John Allan. John Allan acted as a father figure for Poe, as a father one would expect them to help their child succeed and help them through difficult times. This however was not the case in the relationship between Poe and John Allan. Poe was able to go to many great schools, and in 1825 was able to go the University of Virginia. “While there he distinguished himself academically but was forced to leave after less than a year because of bad debts and inadequate financial support from Allan”. Even though Allan was a successful vendor, he chose not to financially support Poe. Throughout his life Allan was often a barrier and the root cause of most of his problems. Resulting in Poe being left to deal with his own problems, which strained the relationship between Poe and Allan.
Right before the birth of Poe, America also faced a similar problem. Burr Aaron, the son of a president, born in 1756 on the 6th of February. The leader of the Democratic Republican Party, which was originally the Republican Party, who in 1800 ran for the president with Thomas Jefferson, but tied for votes and became the vice president was involved in a conspiracy which led to his arrest for treason. “His plan, allegedly, was to either establish a separate republic in the Southwest or to seize land in Spanish America”. Being both an American citizen and a government official from America, Burr still decided to betray his country to best fit his wants. However he was not able to complete his plan successfully as his colleague, James Wilkinson, had already informed Jefferson of the plans.
In both the author’s life and time period, it is clearly evident that individuals often betrayed others including those they had a close relationship with. This included both personal and professional relationships. A similar case can also be seen in the story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, written by Edgar Allan Poe. “The Tell-Tale Heart”, is a story about the narrator who claims to love an older man. “Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult”. This man however had a “eye of a vulture” that the narrator was often disturbed by and feared. This fear led to the narrator murdering the man he had once claimed to have loved. As seen in the author’s life, time period and story it is evident that this piece of literature was influenced by the interactions and experiences that the narrator had, these specific interactions involved acts of betrayal. In Poe’s life, Allan had often betrayed him as father, and did not provide for him nor support him. Around Edgar Allan Poe’s time period, Burr had betrayed his country for his own selfish wants. This can also be seen in the story that Poe had written, which was an example of the betrayal of love. As the narrator murders the man that he had claimed to have loved.
All in all, the experiences and events that had taken place in Edgar Allan Poe’s life have a clear connection and influence on the story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
The Issue of the Insane Narrator in “The Tell-tale Heart”
In the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, the main character is seen to be insane. He tells us he is not a madman, but only has some type of nervous disorder, and gives examples to justify himself. Many people in the world have anxiety, which is also a type of nervous disorder but people don’t go out calling them insane. People believe that the character is unreliable, but in fact, he is quite the opposite. He was the only one to have seen the murder because he was the one who had done it. This narrator is a madman, he is perfectly sane. He just had the will to do what he thought he needed to do. He tells how every night has played through up until the murder, describing and justifying his every move. His mind is not corrupt with madness, just corrupt. He is even self-aware enough to know he needs to hide all evidence of the crime.
An article by Psychology Today called “Profiling a Murderer” explains that murderers show remorse by covering up the body, especially if they knew who the person was. In this story, the main character’s tale is his way of showing he knows what he did rather than committing an act of insanity. As the story unfolds, he is perfectly calm throughout, which only a murderer would be able to do. Poe states “observe how healthily – how calmly I can tell you the whole story”. This is a clue to his mind. An example that is similar is the murderer Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy committed many murders and calmly confessed how he did it to police after being captured. Ted Bundy is not seen as mentally ill, but he is seen as a murderer. The narrator also could have been trying to convince the court (if that is who the narrator is trying to convince) that he is insane for an insanity plea. He could have tried to take a safe path. He obviously already exposed himself to the cops, but that is a theory. In the story, day after day the main character is consistent with spying on the old man and studying him. Only in the end do we see him stressing out, but that is only because of the guilt inside him, as anyone would feel after just killing a person. If the cops had not come, he probably would not have lost his cool.
The evil eye is what really motivates the narrator to murder the beloved old man. Now this is why people find him crazy because he killed a man over an eye. Among many cultures, an evil eye is taken very seriously. In Central American cultures, the evil eye means that someone possesses the power to do harm to others. Since we do not know what culture the narrator is from this cannot be excluded information. Like when a person looks at someone and just gets an uneasy feeling just by looking into their eyes, what is to say the eye really was evil. When he spies on the old man during the night he puts the lantern light directly on his eye just so he could look at it and get almost motivated “but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye”. The old man was not really the one who he wanted to kill but he could not have just taken his eye out and not be caught.
Even though killing someone today for their eye would be extremely irrational, back when this story was written in the 1800’s this was how things were. The Salem Witch Trials also took place in the 1800’s. The people would kill these innocent women just because they felt unsafe or had heard they were “witches”. So why this narrator would be seen as insane if he felt unsafe with this man’s eye as the people who killed the “witches” felt. His actions might have been immoral but they are justifiable. To recapitulate, the narrator was not insane. Many cultures and the inferred time period of this story supports that he was simply a murderer. Even certain people in today’s society would agree that he is not a madman, especially how he justified the crime he committed. The narrator felt guilt in what he did to the old man but he was finally freed of the evil eye.
Overview of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart”
The “Tell Tale Heart” is a well-known short story that was written by Edgar Allan Poe. This story is one of the many examples that display his writings of death and misery as most of his stories are about. The main characters of the story include the narrator, and the old man, both who are never presented a name. In this story, the narrator murders this old man in his sleep over the presence that the old man’s ‘Evil Eye’ brings. This essay discusses whether the narrator had motives for carrying out the murder or not and takes a look at the background state of the author to have a comprehension of his style of writing. Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809. Poe did not know his parents well, and his mother passed away from tuberculosis when he was only three years old. His father left his family and eventually passed away shortly after, forcing Poe to stay with his foster parents that adopted him. Edgar married his cousin, Virginia, at the age of thirteen. She was the love of his life, and who he wrote about the most; however, she unfortunately died at twenty-four years old.
Poe did not only have to experience losing his loved ones, but he was also forced to be away from them while they were still alive, which led to him to heartbreak. These experiences led to him attempting to find comfort in alcohol, as if it were his only way to find relief other than writing. Edgar was in severe depression in his early years, which almost literally “spilled off on to the page”, hence the dark vibes of his writings. The majority of Poe’s writings center around characters whose reliability is highly questionable, and that are mentally troubled in some type of way. Many of Poe’s characters struggled in the same way that he struggled in his own life. Unlike many authors who write about non-existing monsters, Poe’s stories provoked terror in the human mind because their subject is the horror of the mind. Many authors of this genre write stories that the audience can step away from the monsters without being psychologically terrorized later. However, many readers of Poe’s writings cannot as easily put down the images established in their mind because the horror in their mind is ever present.
A relationship exists between Poe’s writings and the world that surrounded him. Although not all of Poe’s characters and their world were not meant to represent his, his work was still under a limit to what he knew, which was mostly sadness. In Poe’s short story, “Tell Tale Heart” the narrator who is unnamed insists his sanity before and after the murder that he completed. “Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Is it not clear that I am not mad?”. Many insane people try to express to others or themselves that they are not insane to help calm themselves down letting anyone know that they are in fact, insane. Right off the bat, this story is already telling you that the narrator is out of his or her mind, giving you an understanding of why they say the things they do, or commit the actions that they do. These thoughts could be argued as unconscious behaviors through his own insanity. In the beginning of the story, the narrator explains to the audience why he killed the man. He/she states that the reason he killed the man was because of his ‘evil eye’ that brought him fear. Justifying murder is almost impossible, but it is a bit more understanding when a person has been driven crazy to the extremes.
However, their stated motive for murdering an innocent man does not even match up to something as little as a financial gain. They even have to convince themself that this was their motive: “I think it was his eye!”. You could only imagine the face of a detective today after hearing that he thinks he killed an innocent man because of his eye. This alone clearly shows that the narrator has an unhinged mind and killed for no legitimate reason. While waiting to kill the man, the narrator starts to hear the man’s heartbeat until it gets too strong for him. The narrator cannot take it any longer, so he decides to strangle the man right then and there. When he kills him, the narrator states that he was ‘dead as stone’; however, the heartbeat is still there, growing louder and louder. After the narrator decimbers the man’s limbs and hides him under the floor, still the loud heartbeat was constantly there.
The police arrived at the house from a complaint from the neighbors. The narrator states that he/she was as calm as they could be and made the police believe that he had done nothing wrong. They even make small talk with the police for a while, but it raises the question as to why would the police stay so long to make small talk? Don’t they have something more important to do? The heartbeat that the narrator hears gets louder and stronger than ever before that during their small talk, he/she bursts out and admits that he/she had killed the man and that the body was under the floor. This action makes you think if the heartbeat that the narrator was hearing even existed, or was it all from their paranoia? Was the narrator as calm as they thought they were while talking to the police, or was it all in their mind? The police would probably not stick around to make small talk unless they were gaining suspicion from the narrator’s actions.
As you can see, the “Tell Tale Heart” has a deeper meaning when it comes to the psychological side. The narrator in this story deals with extreme anxiety that led them to have intense paranoia resulting in them blowing his cover and turning themself in to the police over a motiveless murder.
My Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Like many of Poe’s other works, the Tell-tale Heart is a gloomy and mysterious story. This one focuses on the events causing the murder of an old man and what happened afterwards. That’s the basics of it, but there are many deep meanings hidden in this short story. Poe uses techniques like first-person narrative, irony and style to pull off a sense of paranoia. This particular story is told in first person narrative, this technique is used to view inside the main character’s head and see the often exciting thoughts.
The narrator in the Tell-tale Heart is telling the story of how he murdered the old man, while he pleads for his sanity. I believe the overall thesis of the story is overconfidence can be destructive as well as lies will constantly be exposed. “No doubt I now grew very pale – but I talked more fluently with a frightened face” – The Tell Tale Heart. I feel this quote helps guide the reader’s attention to the fact of over confidence very well because you can infer that he was nervous, sweating and scared to get caught. It also shows detail, fear and very real emotions he was feeling at that exact time. Another quote that shows overconfidence can be destructive is “And with a frightened voice, I felt that I must scream or die! And now again! Hark! Louder! Louder! Louder!”. This quote shows how overconfidence can be destructive in many ways including how scared he was while the police were there with him, he was so scared and nervous that he just wanted to scream and confess.
“I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye not even his could have detected anything wrong.” I think that this quote is amazing for trying to show the real thesis of this short story because it really shows how confident the narrator was while killing/burying the old man, then it also shows how much perspective and description there is throughout the story. My other quote i found is “I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!” these quotes show overconfidence in a way that you wouldn’t expect, like when it says “it is the beating of his hideous heart”. Therefore he’s talking about the “heart” little does he know it’s all in his mind. “And now-have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?”, I chose this quote because it shows how he didn’t think he was mad or crazy. He just thought he was smarter than he really was. Another quote is “And now at the dead hour of night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excites me to uncontrollable terror”. I chose this quote because it’s telling how truly frightened he was about getting caught. Instead he gave the police the entire explanation, which got himself caught.
To conclude, the three main points of my essay were overconfidence can be destructive, don’t rely on sense you can’t control and there’s more to the story than what meets the eye. Why is overconfidence important? Because with overconfidence you’re never going to figure out what’s going on. When your overconfident you think you’re on the top of the world without knowing what’s going on below you, like the killer in “The Tale tell heart” thinks he could get away with murder without getting caught. Yet alone he got caught because he couldn’t see what was below him.
Repetitiveness Of Death In The Black Cat Short Story
Throughout Edgar Allan Poe’s life he suffered through the deaths of many of his loved ones. It is very clear to see that it affected his short stories and poems greatly. Early on in his life, Poe’s mother died of tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter his foster mother as well as his brother also died of tuberculosis. At this point Poe had lost most of the people he loved, and he fell into a dark time in his life. He started being recognized for his dark writings, and he began to make a name for himself. He again found love with his younger cousin, which he soon married. They lived a happy and joyous life, but once again, death caught up to Poe, and his wife died too of tuberculosis. His wife had been sick for five years, and that was a time where Poe’s writings started to become darker. In that time, he wrote “The Black Cat”, a story about a man killing his cat, and soon after his wife because of his crazy emotions. The story represented his feelings at the time, and almost symbolized his life from the beginning to the death of his wife.
“The Black Cat” began as a first person narrative, the man described himself as a happily married man who only found companionship in animals, particularly a large black cat that he owned named Pluto. One unfortunate day, he came home intoxicated and mutilated Pluto by gouging one of his eyes out. At this point of the story, the narrator had an almost recovery period where he became extremely resentful of his actions. Due to his resentment, he decided to hang Pluto because he knew that Pluto loved him dearly, but he was unable to return that devotion. Later on in his life, he found a cat that strongly resembled Pluto, down to the fact that it had a splotch of white fur on its chest that resembled the Gallows which scared him greatly. He then tried again to kill the cat with an ax, which his wife attempted to stop, he then decided to kill his wife by embedding the ax in her skull. He hid the corpse in the wall, and when he was done, he was unable to find the cat.
Later, when the police were looking for the body and unable to find anything, the narrator become cocky and essentially taunted the police as they were leaving the house. He talked about how well constructed his house was and rapped his cane on the section of the wall where he had hid his wife. This made the cat that was hiding on his wife’s corpse meow, which immediately made the police suspicious once again. The police tore down the wall and found his wife’s corpse. The story ended with the hanging of the narrator. Throughout the story, it is very clear that it resembles his life. During his life, he had times of happiness, but also times of sadness, something that happens in the story as well. The theme of death, especially its repetitiveness, was evident in his story “The Black Cat” as well as his life.
Analysis of Homicide as a Result of Vengeance in Edgar Allan Poe’s Book The Cask of Amontillado
The short story, “The Cask of Amontillado”, written by Edgar Allan Poe is a truly fascinating story that when read, it comes across as heavy and fearful as well as mysterious. The theme of the story points to getting revenge by a cruel murder. Personally, after analyzing “The Cask of Amontillado” I got the sense that Poe was setting the mood of dark and suspenseful especially after providing the information at the beginning of the short story that the main character, Montresor, is seeking revenge upon another character, Fortunato. In the article “The Motive For Murder in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ by Edgar Allan Poe” written by Elena V. Baraban denotes a few possible motives of Montresor’s actions and talks about the various commentators on the story. Between my personal thoughts and Baraban’s article, they both share the idea that the main motive of killing Fortunato was in fact the death of Fortunato itself.
Personally, after reading “The Cask of Amontillado” I felt as thought Poe was trying to communicate, especially for the plot, that there is more to the story than what is being said. I honestly believe that Montresor was exaggerating whatever Fortunato did to him to make him want to get revenge, which I would say makes him an unreliable narrator. From this, a question came to mind that I could not find a direct answer to in the story: did Fortunato have the slightest knowledge that Montresor was angered by something that he had done a while back? In addition, if Fortunato did know, would he have lived? Based on the knowledge of Poe’s writing, I doubt it because he does not write such stories, and this one in particular was bound to have a dead person at the end. The dark and suspenseful mood of the story is what makes me believe my observation. The dark mood is set by Poe telling the readers that Montresor is going to get revenge on Fortunato and it builds the readers suspense of when something might happened to Fortunato. We know as soon as the story begins that Fortunato is going to die, but we have no way of telling if he has any knowledge of Montresor’s dislike for him.
Elena V. Baraban’s article, “The Motive For Murder in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ by Edgar Allan Poe”, sums up the essence of what all the commentators on the story concluded, that Montresor was insane. Baraban supports her claim of Montresor being insane by saying “Far from being a mediocre murderer, Montresor elaborates a sophisticated philosophy of revenge: ‘I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.” (Baraban, 48) All this planning and timing to murder someone because of an insult is more than just boarder-line crazy, that’s just insanity. Edward Hutchins Davidson commentates, “We never know what has made him hate Fortunato nor are we aware that he has ever laid out any plan to effect his revenge…. There is nothing intellectual here; everything is mad and improvisatory — and Montresor succeeds just so far as he is able to adapt himself to a mad, improvisatory world.” To Baraban and Davidson has somewhat contrasting ideas of Montresor’s plan, but both came to the same conclusion of him being insanely mad. Another commentator, Stuart Levine, considers Montresor to be mad man since he “murders because of an unnamed insult”. “In Levine’s opinion, ‘The Cask has no passage to tell the reader that the narrator is mad; the entire story does that’. Levine is certainly right in observing that there is no textual evidence of Montresor’s insanity. Therefore, one may add, there is no reason to assume it.” Both commentators and Baraban agree on Montresor’s actions as his mentality being mad. As to say, I would agree too.
Both my personal analysis and the article’s analysis, we have the similar idea that Montresor’s motive to kill Fortunato was the knowledge of Fortunato actually being dead, not what he had done to Montresor years before. The short story may conclude that Montresor’s motive was because he intended to seek vengeance in support of his family motto: “Nemo me impune lacessit.”(“No one assails me with impunity”) (52). That seems like a dead give away, but Poe was a greater writer than to just give away answers in his stories. Think about it, Montresor wouldn’t be happy until Fortunato was dead. The fact that Fortunato insulted him have him an excuse to why he had murdered Fortunato, but looking deeper into the story, it can be concluded that Montresor just really wanted him to suffer and die because he simply did not like him. “Montresor does not murder Fortunato secretly, but stages a spectacle of execution so that the victim knows who kills him. If Fortunato does not understand why Montresor has decided to kill him, he may believe Montresor is a madman. Typically, some scholars who argue that Montresor is insane turn to the last scene in the story,” (56). Baraban comes to the conclusion that if this was all about revenge then Montresor would have directly told Fortunato about the insult, but in the last scene he fails to mention why is committing the crime against Fortunato. I agree with Baraban’s evidence and see why she believes in a different motive that what the story says Montresor believes to be his motive because he is technically an unreliable character.
The article shaped and influenced my understanding of the story quite dramatically. At first, the motive seemed quite clear as though Fortunato was going to be murdered by Montresor for insulting him. However, his plan just seemed too sophisticated and he never mentioned to Fortunato that he was murdering him because he insulted him a while back. After reading the article I have a deeper understanding of the story and a different perspective of Montresor’s motive for Fortunato’s death.
The Themes of Human Weakness and Imperfections in the Masque of the Red Death
All human beings are made up of certain strengths and weaknesses, and in the short stories The Masque of The Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe, The Rocking-Horse Winner by D.H. Lawerence and The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross, each author treats the subject of human weaknesses and flaws as contributing to the downfall of each main character respectively. The act of obstinacy, arrogance and obsession have been the major causes of their downfalls in the stories.
Arrogance is a very common attribute that we all have. It is a tempting act of feeling over-confident in oneself. This revolting character trait is evidently exemplified in the short stories The Masque of The Red Death and The Rocking-Horse Winner. But the prince prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious (Poe 197), he regards himself as above in both power and importance. Similarly, Paul is being unrealistic and arrogant to some extent by asserting God told me (Lawerence 3) when in fact, god never tells him anything with regard to his destiny and fortune. In addition, Prince Prospero from The Masque of The Red Death and John from The Painted Door also have a very similar character trait.
[The] Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. (Poe 203)
Prince Prospero is controlled by a frenzy of anger and rage, and he is eventually ravaged by death as a result of his impetuosity. In the same way just like Prince Prospero, John is controlled by his own obstinacy and determination. I knew we were going to have a storm I told him so but it doesnt matter what I say. Big stubborn fool he goes his own way anyway (Ross 373). This is an evidence of his stubbornness, he has an unwavering mind and has no flexibility in his thinking, which, similarly, leads him to death.
Furthermore, Paul and John both have identical distinctiveness, their self-centeredness and obsessions are also some of their greatest weaknesses, which act as a contribution to their downfalls in the stories. [Taking] no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it (Lawerence 4). Paul is totally controlled by his self-centeredness, and he pays absolutely no attention to other people. He is very determined, yet being uncompromising simultaneously. Similarly, self-centeredness has also played a major role in Johns character. He was a slow, unambitious man, content with his farm and cattle, naively proud of Ann (Ross 367). John is never exposed to the outside world, and he is always confined in his farming environment. All he has in mind is the devotion of work, and it is the very devotion that he has which forbids him from relaxing and enjoying his life.
Moreover, John and Paul have misunderstood the need of other people around them. All they do is providing materialistic goods to them, without truly understanding their concerns.
It was something of life she wanted, not just a house and furniture; something of John, not pretty clothes when she would be too old to wear them. But john of course couldnt understand. To him it seemed only right that she should have the clothes only right that he, fit for nothing else, should slave away fifteen hours a day to give them to her. (Ross 370)
Pretty clothes are not what Ann has worshipped for for seven years, she wants to have a better, more meaningful life, and she only treats the pretty clothes as trivial things. She doesnt want to stay in the barn for the rest of her life. All she wants is to spend more time with John. In the same way just like John, Paul has the same problem. He gives his mother a birthday present of a thousand pounds for five years. He thinks the money will satisfy her needs and wants, when in fact, it doesnt. Pauls mother is in debt, and she will need a lot more than five thousand pounds to pay off her debt. As a result, misunderstandings exist among the characters due to the lack of communication and consideration.
Human flaws have become a part of our everyday life, and there is no denying that this problem exists throughout the world. Obstinacy, arrogance, greed and misunderstandings have become the major problems in our everyday life. The biggest problem we have in todays society is the lack of communication with our families and friends, which might ultimately be the major cause of misunderstandings among human beings. Nevertheless, these short stories act as cautionary tales in which we are warned about the consequences of humans weaknesses and flaws. Those who obstinately do things in a repetitive way are shown to bring boredom and unhappiness to the people around them, while those who act arrogantly are proved to be given penalty in the course of their lives. However, since human beings are created imperfectly, thus, there is no resolution to our flaws and imperfection as they will continue to have a crippling effect on our lives.
The Consequences of Ambition in The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe and The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Extremes of Ambition
Throughout the ages, men have proven to be submissive under the infamous power of their desires. Men like the main characters in the gothic short stories, “The Oval Portrait” by Edgar Allen Poe and “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, sacrifice irreplaceable factors of life to satisfy their compulsion. Because their monomania drives them, the most prominent characters in the stories let their avarice engulf their morality. Aylmer and the artist lose their rationale as they get closer to achieving success hence why both women had to suffer in the end. Both Hawthorne and Poe use the elements of figurative language, symbolism, and character motivation to prove that relentless pursuit of one’s passion can lead to the destruction of others.
Both stories use figurative language to convey how the persistent pursuit of one’s desire can result in the obliteration of others. The use of irony is immense in Poe’s piece because he plays with the idea of giving the painting life while the woman who is dying. The artist neglects his wife and only pays attention to his art to the point that he does create a masterpiece, but at what cost? The woman pretends to be a good soldier and sacrifices herself for that one masterpiece. His obsession slowly drains her life until she is but a cold corpse next to the lively painting. The artist describes the art as “‘This is life itself!’ Turned suddenly to regard his beloved:—she was dead!” Not only is it ironic that the girl is dead at the highest point of wonder that the painting is at, but it is also ironic the use of the word ‘beloved.’ Throughout the story, it is evident that the painter had chosen art over his love for his wife, so it is ironic to see him show affection once she is dead. In Hawthorne’s story, irony is also essential to the pessimistic development of the story. Aylmer portrays himself as this powerful and incredible man of science that can do anything if he wanted to. After realizing his odd fixation with his spouse’s birthmark, Aylmer’s logic and reasoning entirely leave him. It is ironic that Aminadab, the brute assistant, is the one that is capable of seeing the effect of the removal of the birthmark. He can see past the avarice while the great Aylmer can not predict such immense conclusion. Aminadab states “I’d never part with that birthmark”. Aminabad is the only one who realizes the significance of the birthmark. Aylmer’s compulsion consumes him to the point that he becomes a mad scientist and neglects the feelings and safety of Georgina. In the end, Aylmer is successful at removing the birthmark, but in doing so, he also removed his wife from his side. Both authors used irony to exemplify the drastic effects that extreme obsession has on people and how their actions can remarkably affect those around them.
In the stories by Poe and Hawthorne, the use of symbolism is vital when it comes to conveying the theme of how obsessing with one’s passion can lead to the downfall of others. In “The Oval Portrait”, Poe has the painting itself as the symbol of the artist’s selfishness. The artist is very proud of this piece and even to the measures of ignoring his wife to able to paint it. The finished painting is the exemplary illustration of how selfish he has to be to not care about his wife during the process. Poe states that “The painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought.” During the time of his fascination, the artist could have been paying attention to his loved one, but instead, he showed, even more, affection to his art. He let his wife sacrifice herself for his passion and never was grateful about it. In “The Birthmark”, Hawthorne uses Aminadab as the symbol of nature and Aylmer as the symbol of science, who are both at war with each other. Aminadab possesses characteristics of nature like how he acts like he knows something that Aylmer does not know. Aylmer is obsessed with science and its credibility that to some extent he becomes the epitome of a man of science. Aminadab is very earthy and somewhat peculiar, but it would be ignorant to deny that Aminadab is the only one who respects the birthmark and is logical about the situation. Aminadab portrays himself “With his vast strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect… [Aminadab] seemed to represent man’s physical nature; while Aylmer’s slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual element”. Aminadab prefers for everything to take its course while Aylmer is too impatient and chaotic to the same. In the end, Georgina had to pay the price because of Aylmer’s scholar-like ambition. Nature is unbeatable, and that’s why Aminadab laughs when Georgina dies, and Aylmer is surprised despite the obvious signs. Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne are very apt at using symbolism to continue the development of the stories and also express the adverse effects fixation can have.
Both authors use character motivation to convey the theme that unrelenting compulsion with one’s passion can lead to the end of others. The only thing that motivates the character in Poe’s story is his art. The artist wants to be able to paint a masterpiece without taking in mind that the inspiration behind the art is a human being who has needs. His motivation becomes his priority, which is why he only discovers his wife’s death body when he finally finishes his masterpiece. Poe writes that the artist often “speak of his desires to portray even his young bride.” The painter’s wife is notable for her youth and beauty, but he did not care about that. Instead, he cared about illustrating that freshness and appeal in his art. Because of his carelessness and the fact that the woman dies due to his actions, the illustrator proves to be selfish. In Hawthorne’s story, Aylmer’s motivation is not only to remove the birthmark off of Georgina since he believes it is disgusting, but his motivation is to salvage his career as well. Aylmer makes himself look as though he is the greatest scientist alive when in reality all of his successful ventures have been the result of failures. It is odd to think that Aylmer goes through all this trouble just to remove a birthmark. His actions and anxious behavior give off the idea that being successful in this experiment is a matter of his ego. As Georgina read Aylmer’s journal she noticed that “Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt to be so by himself.” If Aylmer succeeded in this experiment, he would no longer have to feel as though he can not do something right from the start. His motivation is to get his pride back even if it means breaking a few plates on the way. Eventually, Aylmer loses his wife to science and is left alone to reflect on his actions. Poe and Hawthorne portray their main characters as selfish men who are not grateful for what they have and instead go somewhere else to find their motivation in life. Their wives are left to fend for themselves, which they ultimately can not and die at the hands of their husbands’ ignorance.
Both Hawthorne and Poe use figurative language, symbolism, and character motivation to express that the unrelenting pursuit of a person’s passion can cause the downfall of others. Ambition is known to be a positive trait, but it can be taken to another level and can be harmful for people. People often neglect their needs and other people’s needs because they are so fixated in achieving their certain goal. Ambition often becomes avarice and also can become poisonous for people’s morality. People become tainted with greed and only think about their future instead of thinking of the future of other people. A little bit of ambition is not wrong; it is what keeps life interesting, but ambition is no longer ambition when it starts to harm one’s loved ones.
The Dangers of Unchecked Imagination in “Ligeia”
“Ligeia”, published in 1838 by Edgar Allan Poe, describes the tale of a narrator who is deeply enthralled by his own imagination and thoughts and is submersed in the act of escaping reality. This cautionary tale warns readers about the dangers of unchecked imagination and the problems that arise from the intertwining between fantasy and the real world. Through an internal struggle turned outward, the narrator’s actions prove to be fatal for others. Due to an excessive use of opium propelled by the need to escape reality, the narrator dangerously allows his ideas and thoughts to manifest into a female mirage whom he cannot bare to live without.
Ligeia, through her mysterious description, is proved to be a creation of the narrator’s mind. Although appearing at the surface to be a real woman, small details lead to the belief that Ligeia is nothing but a mirage. The narrator is deeply in love with Ligeia, but cannot recall significant aspects of her life. For example, the narrator cannot remember in the slightest the moment in which he met Ligeia: “The character of my beloved, her rare learning, her singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low, musical language, made their way into my heart by paces, so steadily and stealthily progressive, that they have been unnoticed and unknown” (644). Ligeia is described to have slowly made her way into the narrator’s heart in such a way that it was undetected and unknown as to how she came to be his love. As a fiction of the narrator’s imagination, Ligeia was constructed overtime and therefore had no exact moment or point of entry into the narrator’s life. She slowly invaded his heart and then appeared suddenly. She slowly manifested into, what appears to the narrator as, a real woman. In addition to her unknown arrival, Ligeia is describe in such a way that makes her seem as though she is hardly there: “I would in vain attempt to pourtray the majesty, the quiet ease of her demeanour, or the incomprehensible lightness and elasticity of her footfall. She came and departed like a shadow” (645). Her barely-heard footsteps and shadow-like movements relate the notion that she is not there at all. More like a ghost or a shadow figure, Ligeia’s description adds to the suspicion that she is not real. Completely made up in the narrator’s mind, she does not come across as a normal human being, concluding her to be a vision of fantasy.
The narrator’s use of opium and dislike of the real world also adds to the suspicion that Ligeia is nothing more than an illusion. Opium, representing a destructive mindset, plays to the narrator’s advantage in the sense that he is able to be propelled away from reality and into a dreamy state. When describing Ligeia, the narrator shares that her face and beauty “was the radiance of an opium dream”, and declares her to be “an airy and spirit-lifting vision” (645). Ligeia is detailed in this way not as to be the subject of a metaphor, but instead because she is literally the product of an opium induced dream. Her very nature of existing is that of a drug-like scene. She is not real. The narrator also concludes Ligeia to have been “adapted to deaden the impressions of the outward world” (644). In other words, she was specifically created to relieve the narrator from reality, and to allow him to retreat into his own imagination. To the narrator, Ligeia appears as a real woman, and this is what keeps him from slipping back into reality. Her presence leads him to accept his fantasy as real. Carrie Zlotnick-Woldenberg, a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Ferkauf Graduate School, reveals that “the narrator does not know the difference between events occurring in the external world (reality) and those occurring in his own imagination (fantasy)”. Ligeia is the factor that blurs the line between the real and the fake, which is why, in her description, Ligeia can almost be seen as a real woman. The details of her existence are what proves her to be something entirely different. The narrator’s use of opium pushes him into a dream-like state in which reality is abandoned and Ligeia is created.
Ligeia, a manifestation of the narrator’s mind, represents aspects that the narrator is enthralled with. He is obsessed with extreme, exotic study, and so Ligeia reflects that with her “raven-black” hair and eyes that are “the most brilliant of black” (645-646). Her facial features are strange to the narrator, influenced by his fancy for mystery and unusual study. The narrator, being a very intellectual character, is obsessed with his mind and thoughts. From this, Ligeia is created to be intelligent: “I have spoken of the learning of Ligeia: it was immense – such as I have never known in woman” (647). The narrator admires that she is intellectual because he can relate to it. He, as one who lives within his own mind, finds extreme pleasure in having a physical manifestation of his intellect. Due to the narrator’s extreme distaste for reality, he seeks any way to live in fantasy. Ligeia, a projection of imagination, is a spectacular way for the narrator to achieve his goal: “Ligeia has brought me far more, very far more, than falls ordinarily to the lot of mortals” (648) Ligeia gives the narrator more than humans of reality receive. Being so other-worldly, she drags the narrator out of reality, and that is one of her main purposes. The reason the narrator is so in love with Ligeia is not merely because he created her, but because essentially, she is him. A representation of his own beliefs and intellect, she allows the narrator to be fully connected with only himself and no one else, adding to his need to be separated from what is real.
After Ligeia has passed, the narrator marries a new woman named Lady Rowena, who proves to be the exact opposite of everything Ligeia stands for. Ligeia is described as an exotic and strange woman, whereas Rowena is natural and represents reality by being a “fair-haired and blue-eyed” woman (649). The narrator comes to hate Rowena due to her differences from Ligeia: “Whereas Ligeia is the embodiment of the romantic spirit, her successor is associated with the mundane and the material” (Zlotnick-Woldenberg). Rowena is reality, and the narrator desperately wants to dip back into fantasy. Ligeia is the representation of what he really wants. Zlotnick-Woldenberg claims that the imagined woman and Rowena cannot both be in the narrator’s life: “The two women cannot co-exist. They exist sequentially: first Ligeia, then Rowena, and then Ligeia once again”. Their co-existence would be a conflict, because the narrator cannot be in reality and in fantasy at the same time. Since the narrator favors fancy, his hatred for Rowena grows immensely until it peaks at a high point in his delusion: “As Rowena was in the act of raising the wine to her lips, I saw, or may have dreamed that I saw, fall within the goblet, as if from some invisible spring in the atmosphere of the room, three or four large drops of a brilliant and ruby colored fluid” (651). The narrator claims he sees Ligeia poison Rowena’s drink, but in reality, he is the one who kills his wife. Zlotnick-Woldenberg says the narrator’s hatred is “best demonstrated by his hallucination that someone – obviously Ligeia, whose spirit seems to make its appearance prior to what he perceives as her actual revivification – has murdered her, a clear projection of his own wishes”. Ligeia, however, is not real and therefore cannot have committed the crime. The narrator poisons Rowena, but portrays, and may believe, it to be Ligeia who murders her. The narrator’s disliking of Rowena symbolizes his hatred for nature and reality. When he kills her, he is allowing his fantasy to live on in the embodiment of Ligeia, and he is finally able to once again live fully submersed in his own imagination.
“Ligeia”, by Edgar Allan Poe, cautions readers about the horrors that can come from trying to escape reality by indulging too heavily in fantasy. The narrator’s constant need to be relieved from the dullness of reality leads him to an excessive use of opium and the creation of the fictitious Ligeia. The narrator, too caught up in the dream state he has dived into, kills his own wife Rowena in order to return back to the fantasy he craves. Trapped within himself without a connection to others, the narrator becomes obsessed with a world derived from fancy and is so desperate to escape what is real that his delusions become his truth, and he murders in order to keep it that way.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Ligeia.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume B, 8th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 644 – 653. Print. Zlotnick-
Woldenberg, Carrie. “Edgar Allan Poe’s `Ligeia’: An Object-Relational Interpretation.” American Journal Of Psychotherapy 53.3 (1999): 403. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
Poe and Hardy: The Soulmates
Any literary critic or scholar who sets out to verify the relationship between the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and the English novelist/poet Thomas Hardy cannot realistically begin without considering the questions posed by Cyril Clemens in the autumn of 1925 during an interview with Hardy at his home at Max Gate–“Do you like Poe, Mr. Hardy?” “Yes,” he replied, “I have always been fond of the American. I like especially “The House of Usher,” that cryptogram “The Gold Bug” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (26). Clemens, the nephew of American novelist/humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), continued his questioning with “Did Poe influence your work?,” whereby Hardy answered “Yes, without hesitation I say that Poe has influenced my work” (27). Thus, with these assertions by Hardy firmly established, we can proceed to explore Poe’s influence in the poetry of Thomas Hardy, for both poets shared a common desire for “the rhythmical creation of Beauty” as defined by Poe in his “Poetic Principle” of 1848. D.H. Fussell, in his article “Do You Like Poe, Mr. Hardy?” concurs with this by admitting that Poe and Hardy share ” (an) underlying similarity of vision and of certain preoccupations which both writers hold in common” (214).
In order to simplify our search for the relationship between the poetry of Poe and Hardy, several key elements must first be discussed. In his 1938 work The Pleasures of Literature, John Cowper Powys verifies the Poe/Hardy connection with a personal reminiscence from a visit to Max Gate in the early 1890’s:
“But it was in my own youth. . . that none other than Thomas Hardy pointed out to me, with more passionate appreciation than I ever heard him display for any other author, the power and beauty of Poe’s Ulalume, that weird poem that represents the inmost essence of his genius” (528).
With this revelation in mind, consider Fussell’s statement regarding Poe’s poetic complexity: “Hardy saw in Poe a technician of some importance; in several cases he remarked upon Poe’s excellence in this respect” (213). According to Florence Hardy, the poet’s wife, Hardy had nothing but praise for Edgar Poe as shown in a letter to her in which he affirms “Poe. . . was the first to realize. . . the full possibilities of the English language in rhyme and alliteration” (343). As a poet, Hardy clearly exemplifies all of these traits usually assigned to Poe–power and beauty, technical mastery and an uncanny sense of rhyme and alliteration as will be demonstrated in the poems which follow.
In a second letter, Thomas Hardy considers whether or not Poe would have achieved even greater poetic mastery and power if he had stayed in England in 1815 as part of John Allan’s extended family:
“It is a matter for curious conjecture whether his achievements in verse would have been the same if the five years of childhood spent in England hasbeen extended to adult life. That `unmerciful disaster’ hindered those achievements from being carried further must be an endless regret to lovers of poetry” (Florence Hardy 343).
Since Hardy was obviously a “lover of poetry,” this declaration shows his concern for Poe’s plight in the literary cultural arena of America in the early 1830’s and 1840’s when Poe was forced into a life of literary servitude which barely sustained him financially and was cast aside by his editors and publishers who lacked the sagacity to see his potential as a great American poet and prose writer. For Hardy, Poe’s `unmerciful disaster’ (a line segment from “The Raven”) was the underlying cause for his inability to achieve poetic fame in America during his lifetime which fostered `endless regret’ for those in England who would have gladly accepted him as a fellow Englishman with the status of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley or Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
In January of 1909, the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Edgar Poe’s alma mater in 1826, invited Thomas Hardy to attend the 100th anniversary of Poe’s birth (January 19, 1809), but Hardy declined the offer and wrote,
“The university. . . does well to commemorate the birthday of this poet. Now that lapse of time has reduced the petty details of his life to their true proportions beside the measure of his poetry, and softened the horror of the correct classes at his lack of respectability, that fantastic and romantic genius shows himself in all his rarity” (Florence Hardy 356).
Hardy’s grand approval of Poe, however, lacks in biography, for it is interesting to note that the American poet James Russell Lowell whom Hardy dined and corresponded with on a number of occasions had met Poe in New York City in 1845, prompting him to write a laudatory sketch of him in his Pioneer magazine. But due to Poe’s scathing attacks on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a plagiarist, Lowell’s enthusiasm cooled rapidly and later described Poe as “three-fifths genius. . . two-fifths sheer fudge,” a reference to Dicken’s Barnaby Rudge.
In regards to the poetical affiliation between Edgar Poe and Thomas Hardy, Robert Gittings provides this significant observation:
“In Hardy’s works, there are only two suggestions of Poe’s presence in the writer’s mind. The first is in the poem `The Dawn After the Dance’ which is in a meter so close to that of Poe’s `The Raven’ as to be more than coincidental. The second is in Jude the Obscure, where `The Raven’ is quoted” (145).
Poe’s “The Raven,” first published in the Evening Mirror of New York City in 1845, has come under various interpretations through the years, but one aspect of this poem is undeniable, for beneath its Gothic undercurrent lies the distinct sense of horror generated by the most recognizable refrain in American poetry, the recurrent “Nevermore.” In simple terms, “The Raven” depicts the loss of a loved one in the form of Lenore, the “rare and radiant maiden” whom the narrator, as an elocuting hero, imagines to be wandering aimlessly “on the Night’s Plutonian shore” as the bird sits placidly “on the bust of Pallas” above his chamber door, a contrast in black and white which reinforces a repetitive theme in the poetry of Thomas Hardy.
Hardy’s “The Dawn of the Dance,” which imitates the meter of “The Raven,” also contains similarities in rhyme and the use of alliteration as shown by these lines:
I would be candid willingly, but dawn draws on
As to render further cheerlessness intolerable
So I will not stand endeavoring to declare a day
But will clasp you just as always–just the olden
Love avow. (Gibson 230–lines 5-8).
Now listen to “The Raven”:
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon
Eagerly I wished the morrow–vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow–sorrow for the lost
Lenore. (Mabbott 365–lines 9-12).
In 1896, John Cowper Powys paid another visit to Max Gate and spoke to Hardy about Poe’s influence in his poetry:
“He called my attention to Edgar Allan Poe’s `Ulalume’ as a powerful and extraordinary poem. In those days, I had never read this sinister masterpiece, but following up Hardy’s hint I soon drew from it a formidable influence in the direction of the romantically bizarre” (Fussell 216).
From the observations of Powys, one might assume that “The Raven” and “Ulalume” were significant influences on Hardy’s poetry with their Gothic trappings of bleakness and melancholia. In Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush,” written in 1900, these trappings become even more obvious, for like his predecessor, Hardy often relied upon the contrasts between dawn and dusk and the changing of the seasons as backdrops for their poetry, colored and flattened towards a common shade of gray or what Samuel Hynes describes as “neutral-tinted” (113). Consider the first octet from “The Darkling Thrush”:
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.(Gibson 150–lines 1-8).
As a comparative piece, here are the first eight lines from “Ulalume,” first printed in the American Review for December, 1847:
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere–
The leaves they were withering and sere:
It was night, in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber
In the misty mid-region of Weir–
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir. (Mabbott 415-16)
The images contained in these poems are presented as silhouettes of black against gray; even the frost is “spectre-gray” amid winter’s desolation. Blackness, symbolized by the “weakening eye of day” in “The Darkling Thrush,” serves as a canvas upon which light and dark pigments are applied to designate lighted interiors and the solitude outside the “coppice gate” and down by the “dim lake of Auber.”
“Neutral Tones,” written two years before “The Dawn of the Dance,” also displays this scenario of contrasts which “creates a mood which is appropriate to a dismal winter day” (Hynes 136):
We stood by the pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
They had fallen from an ash, and were gray. (Gibson 12–lines 1-4).
This poem serves as an excellent example of Hardy’s semi-dark poetic style drawn from his earliest productive period, yet when contrasted against `Ulalume,’ it expresses an even gloomier tone:
Poe: Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom–
And conquered her scruples and gloom.
Hardy: Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
On which lost the more by our love.
The central question posed by Cyril Clemens in 1925 at Max Gate regarding Hardy’s appreciation of Edgar Poe seems to be in the affirmative, due to the shadow of Poe revealed in “The Dawn of the Dance,” “The Darkling Thrush” and “Neutral Tones.” However, when we take into consideration our enamored Englishman’s poetic principle, Poe’s influence becomes quite unmistakable–“to make sense of reality. . . by embodying images, ideas and feelings, intimate gestures by which the creative mind reveals itself” (Hynes 109).
Clemens, Cyril. My Chat with Thomas Hardy. Webster Groves, MO: The International Mark Twain Society, 1944.
Fussell, D.H. “Do You Like Poe, Mr. Hardy?” Modern Fiction Studies. Vol. 27 no. 2 (Summer 1981): 211-24.
Gibson, James, Ed. The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy. NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1976.
Gittings, Robert. Young Thomas Hardy. London: Heinemann Press, 1975.
Hardy, Florence Emily. The Life of Thomas Hardy: 1840-1928. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1962.
Hynes, Samuel. The Pattern of Hardy’s Poetry. Chapel Hill: U of South Carolina P, 1961.
Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, Ed. Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Vol. 1 (Poems). Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1969.
Powys, John Cowper. The Pleasures of Literature. London: Cassell, 1938.