Literature in Popular Culture Edgar Allen Poe's the Gold Bug Book Report

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Poe Gold Bug

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Gold-Bug" encapsulates the era of Romanticism in American literature. The short story boasts some of the thematic elements for which Poe is famous for such as mental instability, social isolation, and death. However, "The Gold-Bug" is no "Tell-Tale Heart." The tone of the story is light-hearted and filled with comic relief. Enhancing the romance, Poe evokes pirate myths, secret codes, and buried treasures in "The Gold-Bug." The story avoids being gloomy, and yet is filled with suspense. Because I have always been intrigued by the roots of gothic mystery and adventure tales in American literature, Poe's "The Gold-Bug" seemed like a perfect tale to explore.

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Moreover, "The Gold-Bug" serves as a window into nineteenth-century American culture. Race relations are a major social theme in the story. The story is set in South Carolina, and in a region isolated enough to allude to the frontier or Wild West mythos of rugged individuality. With its pirate motifs, the story also touches upon the history of European colonization of the Americas. Likewise, the protagonist Legrand descends from a line of Huguenots. Although the Hugenots have a long history in South Carolina, Legrand's ancestors established roots in New Orleans. Poe therefore synthesizes several aspects of French colonization in North America. "The Gold-Bug" is also squarely set during a time of blossoming scientific inquiry. The central premise of the story is driven by interest in the natural sciences. At the same time, Poe's "The Gold-Bug" contrasts scientific advancements with romantic superstitions in quintessential romantic fashion. As Legrand notes in the conclusion of the tale, both coincidence and scientific curiosity led him to the buried treasure.

Book Report on Literature in Popular Culture Edgar Allen Poe's the Gold Bug Assignment

Legrand is socially isolated, removed by ill fortune from the land of his birth to a remote region of South Carolina. As a descendant of Huguenots, Legrand romantically returns to the region in which the Huguenots most likely landed on North American shores. The sense of coming home has a romantic connotation, even if Legrand himself remains isolated in the land of his forebears. His isolation resembles that of the transcendentalists who sought refuge from society in the purity and peace of nature. Legrand lives in a ramshackle hut, and has lost all his family fortune. However, one element sets apart Legrand from the transcendentalist movement and that is his servant Jupiter.

Jupiter is a caricature of a free black, a docile and dog-like man who dotes on his "master." The narrator notes, Jupiter "could be induced, neither by threats nor by promises, to abandon what he considered his right of attendance upon the footsteps of his young "Massa Will." In many ways, Jupiter is the fantasy of the black servant, one who is technically free but who remains with the family willingly. However, it is suggested that Jupiter remains with Legrand not because he enjoys serving a white man but because he may have been paid off by Legrand's family. The narrator states, "It is not improbable that the relatives of Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in intellect, had contrived to instill this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a view to the supervision and guardianship of the wanderer."

Poe's caricature reflects the social and cultural climate of nineteenth century America, especially in the South. In fact, given that South Carolina was very much entrenched in the plantation lifestyle, it is unusual that Jupiter would have been able to visit the narrator in Charleston on his own. Jupiter is a complex character in spite of being a caricature. He provides ample comic relief for the story. Furthermore, Jupiter's common sense helps lead Legrand to the treasure. Jupiter is credited with inspiring Legrand to look for treasure at several points in story. For instance, Legrand claims, "Jupiter's silly words, about the bug being of solid gold, had a remarkable effect upon my fancy."

Although he is treated more like a pet than a person, some degree of respect is offered to Jupiter that might not have been offered to a plantation slave in South Carolina. For example, Jupiter comes to Charleston to fetch the narrator. The narrator calls Jupiter's visit an "honor." Legrand treats Jupiter with what would have been considered respect back in the antebellum South. When Legrand asks Jupiter to get the bug, Jupiter protests: "What! de bug, massa? I'd rudder not go fer trubble dat bug; you mus' git him for your own self." Legrand reacts as he would to a friend. "Hereupon Legrand arose, with a grave and stately air, and brought me the beetle from a glass case in which it was enclosed." Jupiter's self-determination is also emphasized when they go hunt for the treasure. "Jupiter had with him the scythe and spades -- the whole of which he insisted upon carrying -- more through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of the implements within reach of his master, than from any excess of industry or complaisance." Furthermore, Legrand and the narrator also automatically split the remainder of the treasure three-ways between them and Jupiter. Sharing a treasure equally with a black man would have been highly unlikely in antebellum South Carolina.

Comedy is also used to describe Race relations. In one instance, Jupiter prepared to flog his master in a grand reversal of social norms. "I had a big stick ready cut for to gib him deuced good beating when he did come -- but Ise sich a fool dat I hadn't de heart arter all -- he looked so berry poorly." Legrand and the narrator are both shockingly matter-of-fact about Jupiter's statement. Legrand states, "I verily believe that my ill looks alone saved me a flogging." The narrator states, "Eh?--what? -- ah yes! -- upon the whole I think you had better not be too severe with the poor fellow -- don't flog him, Jupiter -- he can't very well stand it." The role reversal between white master and black slave is ironically and comedically reversed. The slapstick routine only plays out once in the opposite direction, and even then Legrand's tone is humorous rather than serious: "If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you, to take hold of a harmless little dead beetle, why you can carry it up by this string -- but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I shall be under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."

In spite of the obvious respect shown towards Jupiter, he remains a caricature. Just the fact that Jupiter provides comic relief makes him less of a person and more of an object of entertainment like a circus monkey. Moreover, the narrator and Legrand insinuate that Jupiter is stupid. The narrator states, "I could hardly blame Jupiter for his opinion respecting it; but what to make of Legrand's concordance with that opinion, I could not, for the life of me, tell." Although Jupiter's "stupidity" illustrates the perceived inferiority of blacks in the South, European sailors are not treated with any more kindness. The narrator, for instance, refers to "the crude intellect of the sailor." Jupiter is a key figure in "The Gold-Bug," as he inspires the treasure hunt, offers comic relief, and illustrates the complexities of race-relations in nineteenth-century America.

"The Gold-Bug" also demonstrates the keen interest in science during the 19th century. Whereas Mary Shelley revealed the darker side of scientific inquiry, Poe blends science with fantasy. Knowledge of science is evident as when the narrator describes the chest: "an oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation and wonderful hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing process -- perhaps that of the bichloride of mercury. " Botany and especially entomology play a key role in "The Gold-Bug." It is only out of scientific curiosity that Legrand takes the bug and then lends it to the Lieutenant. Both Legrand and the Lieutenant would have been honored to have discovered a new species of beetle. The discovery reveals the egalitarian nature of science in the nineteenth century, as any ordinary person would have been able to contribute to the canon of knowledge without holding an advanced degree or presenting papers in a peer-reviewed journal. Science was arguably a more democratic process in the nineteenth century than it is today. This is an issue that is rarely addressed in modern history courses but which would shed light on the evolution of ideas and culture.

Science is also behind the fascination with invisible ink and cryptography in "The Gold-Bug." Legrand unfolds the mystery at the end of the story by describing how he came to discover the secret messages in the parchment. His process of analysis is rational, signaling the triumph of the rational mind over superstition. In this case, Jupiter represents the primitive human mind gripped by superstition and afraid to move beyond it. Jupiter notices something especially heavy about the beetle but he also shuns the bug repeatedly and is afraid to touch it because of its death's head appearance.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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