Thesis: Mind of Edgar Allan Poe While Fiction

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¶ … Mind of Edgar Allan Poe

While fiction is more believable when the more realistic it is, reality is more frightening the when it seems fantastical. One of the most painful stories of the tortured artist if that of Edgar Allan Poe, a man that could not escape death and the pain of it no matter how he tried. As a result of his tragic life story, we have some of the most powerful literature that deals with the horror of death, the pain of suffering, and the madness that stems from personal tragedies that eclipse what any rational man might be expected to handle. Poe writes about death because he knows it personally. He can write about the suffering caused by death because he lived through it more than once. He can also capture the fragile mental state associated with loneliness and isolation because this is what life seemed to have handed him almost from birth. Edgar Allan Poe is the result of a lifetime of pain and his writing was perhaps the greatest gift because it allowed him a way of release from the inner demons he fought daily. His art remains a gift to us because it captures the fragility of the human mind. Some of his best stories reflect this fragility and they are "The masque of the Red Death," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "Ligeia." With them, we see Poe was the victim of death and life.

Poe was the victim of dreadful circumstances, which resulted in his depressive, withdrawn state. Poe's first personal tragedy occurred when he was a child E.F. Bleilel writes that Poe was orphaned by his parents when he was three years old and raised in the home of John Allan. Bleilel also states that Poe's "early life was conditioned by his quarrels with Allan, and instead of being heir to one of the wealthiest men in America, he eventually found himself a penniless, half-trained intellectual with no means of livelihood" (Bleilel 697). Before he began writing seriously, Poe served in the U.S. Military for two years before he was court-martialed in 1831. From this time on, Bleilel writes that Poe made a "scanty living as a free-lance writer, journalist, and editor" (697). While Poe's talent was eventually recognized, it cannot be seen without also looking at what Bleilel refers to as "sever personality problems" (697). Poe suffered from "fits of depression, from which alcohol relieved him, and gradually became an alcoholic" (697). As to be expected, Poe was affected by his drinking becoming an "impossible person" (697), which caused him to lose "job after job and opportunity after opportunity" (697). While it is easy to look at Poe's alcoholism as his own mistake, it is important to look into the reasons why Poe became an alcoholic to understand his mind and, as a result, his life.

There are concrete, understandable reasons to Poe's unhappiness and depression. As mentioned earlier, the reason emerge quite early in the author's life, long before he could ever take control of his own life. The relationship with his foster father was tumultuous at best and he was never very supportive on young Edgar. Tony Magstreale writes that his foster father's "psychological presence in Poe's troubled life is perhaps as significant as the psychological void caused by David Poe's early abandonment" (Magstreale 263). As a result of their troubling relationship, Poe was sent to the boarding school Manor House in Newington. Wolf Mankowitz writes that being away from his family was bothersome and Poe wrote about the "refreshing chilliness" (Mankowitz 27) he experienced while away. Mankowitz suggests that at this age, Poe was beginning to express "Romantic, medieval and gothic qualities" (27) before he was 10 years old. Poe's early separation leads him to live a rather inward life.

Death only compounded these issues. His foster mother died when Poe was 20 years old. Poe married his cousin and just two years later, she died of tuberculosis. At this point in his life, it seems that Poe was a magnet for suffering and loss. When we look at the events that occurred at such an early age, we can make sense of the anguish and suffering that many of Poe's characters experience. Death is rarely death in his tales -- it is a painful, excruciating experience. It is never glamorous nor is it quick. Victims know they are dying and there is nothing but terror for them. Poe's writing no doubt served an outlet for his emotional loss. Losing women that he most cared about had to left an impression on Poe. Mankowitz suggests that Poe experience a "preoccupation with the dying mother-sister, the red phantom of tuberculosis, the tomb, suffocation, premature burial, womb-like tunnels of darkness and light" (Mankowitz 208). Their deaths were "prolonged and particularly gruesome; their graphic images of death and dying probably would have been enough to animate a lifetime of night mares for anyone. For Poe, they would translate into obsessive components of his work" (Magstreale 263). Suffering and isolation were simply a part of Poe's life from his earliest days. This was all that he knew. He did not have to look for terror; it found him. We should not be surprised that many of his characters are "troubled and highly motivated by subjective demons" (263). If anyone knows the experience of living with demons, it is Poe and perhaps the healthiest way for him to deal with them is through the process of writing. His writing focuses in on terror and demons and Poe was popular because he "not only created art from the essence of his own personal suffering but also came to define himself through this suffering" (263). Poe knew what it meant to suffer and so did his characters.

Poe made a living out of what caused him the most pain - death. While it cannot be argued that Poe made much of his problems in life worse with his drinking, it should never be forgotten that Poe had terrible circumstances to deal with. From this perspective, we can see how writing might have actually saved Poe from an even worse life. While his stories are dark and ghastly, they are reflections and releases for Poe. When we look at Poe's life and mind, we see just how much that art imitates life. Poe's life was a living hell from a very early age. He was exposed to desertion and death and these inescapable aspects of life never allowed Poe any rest. The horror in his stories is simply an outlet for what Poe lived with mentally every day of his life. Poe takes a look at the power of death in "The Masque of the Red Death." In this story, no one escapes death, which is just how things happened in Poe's life. No one he loved was able to escape the grip of death regardless of his or her efforts. Nothing can stop is as demonstrated with Prospero's "strong and lofty wall" (Poe The Masque of the Red Death 614). No level of security could stave off what was destined to occur. Poe knew this futility first hand and when he writes, about "Time that flies" (615), we can know that he knew exactly what he was saying. Another tale that delves into the mystery of death is "The Fall of the House of Usher." In this tale, the narrator must deal with a host that is quite unstable as well as a mysterious death that is never solved. Madeline's illness "long baffled the skill of her physicians" (Poe The Fall of the House of Usher 42). "Ligeia," is a tale that focuses on the source of the narrator's madness, which is the grief that comes from losing a loved… [END OF PREVIEW]

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