The Premature Burial Essay, Research Paper
Death, agony, fear, and horror are just a few words one could use to describe the majority of the works by Edgar Allan Poe. It would be unjust to say that The Premature Burial does not live up to that standard. The title, The Premature Burial leaves little to the imagination as to what the reader is about to embark on, but what the title alone can t convey is the amount of terror involved in Poe s horrific vision of literally being buried before ones time. It is a chilling short story that is presented in the early to mid 1800s, told in the first person narrative. The Premature Burial is unique because it ends oddly on an up beat, a twist not found in most Poe tales. This short story achieves the effect of taking the reader to his deep and damp grave and permitting the reader to see the darker side of reality, a trait for which Poe has become so famous. The Narrator, who assumes no name, begins by setting the mood by discussing with the reader the fascinations humans have of reading true accounts of horrible events such as the Plague of London and the Earthquake at Lisbon. The Narrator continues on to say, that even though people would like to read them, there are some themes that are too horrible, too perverse for people to actually print. One of these truths is premature burial, a phobia the Narrator suffers from intensely which is evident after the first page. The Narrator s reason for his strange phobia is due to a disease that he is afflicted with, known as catalepsy. This disease causes a person who appears to be in normal health to slowly slip into a coma. The slips in and out of conciseness are rarely forewarned and duration can be just as unpredictable in its manner. The mild case can be just one day where your heart still beats slowly and you still show signs of life. The extreme case is when the coma can last months and the body appears so close to death that not even the best doctors or the most rigorous tests can tell the difference. This fear of being mistakenly buried alive possesses the Narrator to the point of almost insanity. The Narrator goes farther to justify his unusual and life-consuming phobia by citing examples that he has taken the time to find. He tells of a story not very long ago, which the reader would have to assume sometime around the mid 1800 s. It s about a lawyer s wife who supposedly had died and even became rigid after three days to furthermore show proof of actual death. She was put in the family tomb on the fourth day because they were afraid of decomposition. The tomb was left undisturbed for three years when the lawyer had it opened to retrieve a sarcophagus from inside only to find his wife s coffin shattered on the floor and the bones of his wife laying at the door as if trying to escape. On a lighter side, in another story it is a young woman from France in 1810 who is forced to marry a rich and distinguished man instead of the poor man she loves. After the marriage she dies a mysterious death and is placed into the earth. As an act of love the poor man she wanted to marry comes to her grave that night and unearthed her coffin so he could cut off her hair. To his surprise he finds her to be alive in her coffin so he carries her away to his house where they fall in love again. They move to the United States so no one knows she is not really dead. Eventually the wealthy husband learns of this and wants his wife back but the court declares the wedding in now invalid so the couple lives together happily ever after. The Narrator uses a few more stories of premature burial, from falling off a horse to a heart attack, to further justify his terror. When the Narrator finishes his stories he starts in on his own existence with the knowledge that this could someday happen to him. He tells how he used to be able to lead a basically normal life but as of lately it is all that he can think of, finding it to occupy most of his day. At night he suffers from terrible nightmares of being buried alive and being confronted by other zombies who were also buried undead. He lives in so much terror that he has quit travelling alone in fear he may fall into one of his comas where no one can speak in his behalf of his ailment. He goes on to say that he will no longer associate with anyone who is not aware of his illness. His desperation heightens as he continues to explain that he has a constant need to be around the people that do know of his illness, to a point where he is paranoid that maybe he had become a burden. This fear led him to believe that they wouldn t actually help if he did fall into his coma and would rather want him dead. The Narrator reaches a steady panic and tells of how he would outsmart them if they tried by the modifications he made to his tomb. First he had a special coffin made that had a spring-loaded door that would pop open if there was movement inside the casket. The second precaution he made on his coffin was a small hole on top where he could have a rope strung from a large bell he mounted on top of his tomb into his coffin. Incase the bell failed to work he also put a special door on his tomb that would open from the inside. The Narrator was so fearful of being buried alive that he believed that even these precautions were not sufficient, so he even went as far as to have food and water placed in his tomb in case he could not be rescued for awhile. The reader can see at this point to which this disease has consumed his life, an ironic twist that all his precautions to save his life have ultimately made him choose to stop living.
At this point the Narrator is ready to begin with his chilling account of his own premature burial. The Narrator tells of waking up one morning in complete darkness. Instantly his fear sets in full motion and he goes to scream only to find his mouth was wired shut, as it is normal to do with corpses. As his senses come back to him he realized that his arms were folded across his chest in the customary position. He reaches up and to confirm his suspicions and felt a wood ceiling only a few inches from his face. The Narrator remembers the preparations he had made and shifts violently only to find that his casket door had not swung open. After pushing on the wooden door with all the strength he could manage he remembered the rope with the bell. Fumbling through the dark he searched for the rope only to discover that the rope must not be in the coffin. The horror of his realization finally dawned on him that he must have strayed away from his usual surroundings and must have went into his coma in the company of strangers. At the thought of being buried alive in some unmarked grave the narrator burst into a hysterical panic and started shrieking as loud as he could. He was silenced by a man s voice and he saw the side of his coffin open. When he calmed down enough to collect his thoughts he remembered that he was on a hunting trip with his friend. When a storm rolled in they were forced to look for shelter on a little boat. The boat had two berths and the Narrator luckily was able to sleep in one. Unfortunately for the Narrator, because of his all consuming phobia, he believes it is a coffin. He finds that what he had mistaken for his mouth being sewed shut that it was his scarf that he tied around his head in lieu of his normal night cap. The Narrator realizes that his preoccupation with death had made him dead already. He quit living when he let the illness get the better of him. Poe is trying to present the reader in his dark way that life is precious. He wants the reader to understand that fear of death is natural, but that s as far as one should take it. You can t beat death, but if you try, death has already beaten you. This moral lesson is odd coming from Poe, who seemed to have an unusual fascination with death. Perhaps it was some type of unconscious inward look into the madness of Poe. I believe that Poe may have added a happy ending where the Narrator found redemption and was able to live freely again was because Poe found so many parallels in his own life. It may have been a silent cry of hope that Poe felt that someday he also would be able to rid his life of his pain and fear. We know now that that wasn t possible for him, but it gives the reader an insight into how Poe may have viewed himself. The short story The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe, does a masterful job in building suspense. What Poe did so well was to start his stories in a calm manner and by the end it would be at a insanely frantic pace, drawing the reader into his madness. The key to a good story is if it can make your eyes move faster than they can read and Poe is a genius at achieving that. Even though this reader prefers Poe s stories to end in their usually grim manner, it was interesting to see a side of Poe so rarely seen. It was a message of hope mixed in with the exciting terror that only Edgar Allan Poe can create. Although the message is unusual for Poe, the story still reaches the standard the Poe has set for a good spine chilling story.