The Reincarnation of Officer Oldeb: Character Relationships in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”
In “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” by Edgar Allen Poe, an unknown narrator recounts the circumstances that led to Augustus Bedloe’s mysterious death. The equally strange Dr. Templeton treats Bedloe, who suffers from neuralgia, using the practice of mesmerism along with high doses of morphine. During the course of the story, Bedloe experiences a dream-like vision where he is transported to India in the midst of a battle, taking the place of a young officer and undergoing death as if it was real. Even more bizarre is that once Bedloe returns from his fugue state, Dr. Templeton has written his version of the same war, in which his dearest friend, Oldeb, dies in the exact same way. The final turn of events occurs near the end of the story, when Dr. Templeton “accidently” kills Bedloe with a poisonous leech to the temple, identical to where Oldeb was struck with an arrow fifty years earlier. The obituary reveals another similarity, as Bedloe’s name is missing an e―thereby spelling Oldeb in reverse. The reader is left with many perplexing questions, the most obvious being: did Dr. Templeton actually mean to kill Bedloe? Given the magnetic rapport connecting the two, the inexplicable resemblance between Bedloe and Oldeb, and the validity of Bedloe’s dream, it’s safe to guess that Dr. Templeton discovered that Bedloe was indeed an incarnation of Oldeb, and killed him in order to release his old friend’s trapped soul.
Throughout the tale, Poe provides contextual clues to the reader that suggests the supernatural link between Bedloe and Oldeb. The narrator describes Bedloe as a young man, yet at certain moments, imagined him “a hundred years of age” (1). Furthermore, Bedloe’s eyes often gave off “the idea of the eyes of a long-interred corpse” (1), as if implying that Bedloe is just a body entombing Oldeb’s soul. Dr. Templeton also notices these peculiarities, admitting “When I first saw you, Mr. Bedloe, at Saratoga, it was the miraculous similarity between yourself and the painting which induced me…to bring about those arrangements which resulted in my becoming your constant companion” (6). In his account of the insurrection of Cheyte Sing, Dr. Templeton reveals that he tried desperately to “prevent the rash and fatal sally of the officer who fell…my dearest friend…Oldeb” (6) Templeton’s real motive behind treating Bedloe was driven by a “regretful memory of the deceased, but also, in part, by an uneasy, and not altogether horrorless curiosity respecting yourself” (6). Templeton clearly felt guilt over not preventing the death of his friend, and utilized the interconnection between Bedloe and Oldeb to make things right and set Oldeb free. Upon hearing Bedloe’s dream, Dr. Templeton was convinced of the metempsychosis between the two men, and ultimately murders Bedloe intentionally for his own peace of mind.
The magnetic relation that Dr. Templeton establishes with Bedloe serves to substantiate the idea that Bedloe’s death wasn’t on accident at all. Dr. Templeton used the combination of magnetism, morphine, and bodily control to test his hypothesis, extricating Bedloe’s memories of his past life and combining them with his own through some sort of telecommunication. As Bedloe relays his dream, Templeton is visibly unnerved from reliving the war, illustrated when “he sat erect and rigid in his chair- his teeth chattered, and his eyes were starting from their sockets” (5) Bedloe’s dream thus confirms Dr. Templeton’s suspicions, acting as the final nail in the coffin that proves the transmigration of Oldeb’s soul into Bedloe. Dr. Templeton even acknowledges this act, proposing “let us suppose only, that the soul of the man of to-day is upon the verge of some stupendous psychal discoveries” (6). Templeton himself demonstrates the notion that Bedloe is Oldeb reborn. The idea of rebirth is most commonly found in Hinduism, which corresponds with the setting where the vision takes place; the Indian city of Benares. It’s impossible to say with absolute certainly why he felt the need to kill Bedloe. The most likely explanation is out of guilt for his inability to save Oldeb, or perhaps Templeton simply got what he wanted from Bedloe, and saw no need to keep the ailing man around. Poe does insinuate, however, that it’s unlikely Dr. Templeton unintentionally killed Bedloe. Even by choosing the name ‘Templeton,’ Poe foreshadows how both Oldeb and Bedloe will die from wounds inflicted to the head. He supplies the reader with another clue, disclosing “the poisonous sangsue of Charlotsville may always be distinguished from the medicinal leech by its blackness, and especially by its writhing or vermicular motions, which very nearly resemble those of a snake” (7). It’s highly doubtful that Templeton, as a medical practitioner, would confuse the two leeches. Therefore, Dr. Templeton committed premeditated murder on Bedloe, most likely planned once he affirmed his theory of metempsychosis.
Bedloe’s dream is a perfect chronicle of the riots that took place in 1780, thus providing evidence for Dr.Templeton’s speculation. Even Bedloe himself understands how dubious his dream sounds, which is why he “entered into a series of tests” (4) that prove he was actually awake. When Bedloe dies in the battle, he has an out-of-body experience, in which he feels “a sudden show through my soul, as if of electricity” (5) Soon after, he “again experienced a shock as of a galvanic battery” (6). These two shocks were conceivably Oldeb’s soul entering and leaving Bedloe. Since Dr. Templeton had mastered the “sleep-producing magnetic somnolency” (2), he too must have been able to feel the shocks, and validate what he had been thinking all along. Given the combination of the soul wandering, the morphine, the magnetism, and Bedloe’s weakened state, it should come as no surprise that Templeton was able to hack into Bedloe’s visionary memories, and confirm his suspicions. After he was able to relive the battle, it’s possible Dr. Templeton saw it fit to kill Bedloe just as Oldeb was killed.
In “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” the mystery behind Augustus Bedloe’s death is left for the reader to decipher. Poe equips us with hints throughout the tale, which lead us to realize that Bedloe and Oldeb are the same person, two bodies that share one soul through the process of reincarnation. Just like the reader, Templeton’s mission is to prove this metempsychosis. By becoming Bedloe’s doctor, and his one true confidant, Templeton is able to hack into his mind and live through his experience again in Bedloe’s memories. Templeton, flashing back to 1780, remembers how he failed to save Oldeb from the poisoned arrow. Out of guilt, or perhaps a wish for another chance to save his friend, Templeton kills Bedloe by attaching the poisonous leech to the very same place that Oldeb was fatally shot. This similarity, along with many othes, presents proof that Bedloe was the incarnation of Templeton’s old friend. Templeton, seeing his friend trapped within another’s body, could not stand being tormented in that way, and immediately knew what had to be done. Dr. Templeton was forced to kill Bedloe to liberate the long-since departed Oldeb.
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In “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” by Edgar Allen Poe, an unknown narrator recounts the circumstances that led to Augustus Bedloe’s mysterious death. The equally strange Dr. Templeton treats […]