November 21, 2014
Edgar Allan Poe: Exploring Common Themes of a Troubled Writer
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author and poet born in Boston, Massachusetts in
1809. Poe lived a tumultuous life, wrought with death and financial challenges. He lost both parents by the time he was three years old. Poe was then separated from his siblings to live with a foster family. Over the course of his life, tuberculosis caused the deaths of his mother, brother, foster mother, and wife (“Poe’s Life: Who is Edgar Allan Poe?”).
Poe also experienced financial struggles during his lifetime, which began with his foster parents not providing enough funds for his college education. The writer unfortunately turned to gambling in an attempt to finance his studies. Poe attempted to be a career writer, but never managed to succeed at earning enough to live comfortably. His poverty caused him much shame and embarrassment (“Poe’s Life: Who is Edgar Allan Poe?”).
It should not be surprising to readers after knowing a bit about Poe’s history, that morbidity and poverty encouraged his gothic writing style. These challenges shaped who Edgar
Allan Poe was as a human and were ultimately manifested in his writing. Behind his short stories lies a tormented author who, through a variety of writing techniques, lends some insight into his own personal struggles as a human being. Some notable examples of such techniques include his use of arrogance, paranoia, ambivalence, contempt, as well as the use of color imagery. Steigerwald 2
Poe speaks to his apparent arrogance in at least two of his short stories. In “The Cask of
Amontillado”, the narrator immediately establishes himself as superior to the other character:
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Poe, 1846). This language style clearly indicates to the reader that the narrator is establishing himself as an elitist, a person of stature and education. Poe (1846) also writes: He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few
Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity—to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack— but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could. In this passage we see how condescending Poe is as Montresor. He is insulting Fortunato in a twisted manner. Lastly, Montresor’s response to Fortunato at the end of the story, “Yes, for the love of God,” (Poe, 1846) is mocking a man’s desperate prayer while on the brink of death. This indicates the way Poe relishes in mind games and sees himself as superior to others.
Poe also exhibits his arrogance in the narrative of “The Tell Tale Heart.” Not only does he have the belief that he is above the law, but he also believes that because he knows he is paranoid, he must be sane. This sanity impresses him: “Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I
Steigerwald 3 proceeded – with what caution – with what foresight – with what dissimulation I went to work!” (Poe, 1850) Clearly, the narrator is fascinated by his own talents.
Tied in with Poe’s arrogance is an obvious paranoia that one will find in many of his writings. Both, “The Tell Tale Heart” and “Ligeia” exemplify this. The narrator in “The Tell Tale
Heart” is clearly paranoid. The reader can feel this from the very beginning of the story when the narrator claims to be terribly nervous, yet is still defensive of any implication he may be mad. His own paranoia is what leads him to