Edgar Allan Poe`S
“Hop-Frog” Essay, Research Paper
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Slavery was definitely one of the major causes that led to the Civil War, the most dramatic event in the American history. Numerous masterpieces were written to criticize slavery. Among them, we count Poe’s Hop-Frog, also known as Eight Chained Ourang-Outans. Written in 1849, Hop-Frog delivers the message to the Southern States about inevitable tragedy that awaits the Americans as a result of slavery & the slave trade. Each element of the Poe’s story, including character, settings & the plot is somehow related to the historical background of the United States before 1865.
In the first place, Poe connects his story to the notion of serfdom by careful selection of characters & the description of relation between them. In fact, from the first reading there is not much of abnormal to remark in the characters’ relation: a simple relation between a king & his “multi-functional” jester. But after an attentive analysis of the story, it becomes obvious that the characters are allegorical. They, in fact, represent the relation between a master & a slave, a possession. This kind of relation characterizes slavery, where one human being “possesses” another one & does with him whatever is desired. Poe gives us some hints to come to this given conclusion:” Our king, as a matter of cause, retained his own fool”. The author uses the word “retained” to describe king’s possession of the jester, which is the key element in bondage, rather than any form of employment. As we find out later, this kind of custody leaves Hop-Frog with practically no freedom, whether it is freedom to chose or freedom to act:” Come here Hop-Frog, … swallow this bumper…It happened to be poor dwarf’s birthday, and the command to drink… forced tears to his eyes. Many large, bitter drops fell into the goblet as he took it humbly from the hands of tyrant” Slaves in Southern States, as a matter of fact, had same lack of freedom & no other choice but to obey the orders of the master, a planter. Once again, the credits should be given to Poe as we observe his accurate use of words.
In the second place, settings in Hop-Frog are also an important element in Poe’s attempt to associate his story to the serfdom. The story takes place in a kingdom where Hop-Frog along with Trippetta were brought from an unknown region:” I am not able to say with precision, from what country Hop-Frog originally came. It was from barbarous region, however no person ever heard of- a vast distance from the court of our king…”. First, we may suppose that the image attributed to the kingdom where the story takes place is one of a small isolated political & geographical entity, since there there’s hardly any relation with outside world. This image is similar to the one of plantations in Southern States where their owner differently managed each of them & had each different rules regarding their slaves. Although all these plantations were within the borders of United States, governments (federal or state), had little control over each of these “ autonomous” entities. Therefore, according to this hypothesis, the quote( cited below in italic) matches the scenario of slaves being brought to U.S in the 19th century. In fact, they were brought from Africa, the continent located far away from United States. Also, in the middle of 19th century, the Americans had very little knowledge about the various primitive tribes residing in Africa, which causes the inability of the narrator to precisely affirm from which country Hop-Frog was originally coming. Finally, a big majority of African population was often called by the Americans to be “barbarous” due to their uncivilized way of living.
As we proceed to the plot of Poe’s tale, we witness the conflict that arises between Hop-Frog & the king. This antagonism reaches its highest level as we , along with Hop-Frog, see the king’s outrageous behaviors toward the innocent Trippetta: “He pushed her violently from him, & threw the contents of the brimming goblet in her face … There was a dead silence for about a half of a minute … it was interrupted by a low, but a harsh & protracted grating sound…” . Although, it is only in the end that Poe reveals the origin of the noise( some may have noticed it right away), he uses this sound to describe Hop-Frog’s frustration, caused entirely by his incapability to defend his best friend, Trippetta, & act upon his freewill. The author points that this frustration is being accumulated over the time & one day will reach its top. Finally, it does reach its highest level when Hop-Frog undertakes his revenge on king & his seven ministers & burn them. As a matter of fact, the slaves in the South were subject to the same kind of treatment as Trippetta is. They were exposed to beating, humiliation, insult, etc. There is not much they could do to defend themselves, since they were only slaves. Finally, this mistreatment of slaves reached its top & led to numerous revolts that are represented in the story by Hop-Frog’s revenge. It all led to confrontations between the North & the South, which finally brought United States to the Civil War.
Finally, as we reach the end of the story, we witness Hop-Frog’s fierce revenge. In fact, there is something particular in the way how Hop-Frog takes revenge on king & his seven ministers: he burnt them. It is closely related to the image that the Southern States had after the loss in the Civil War. Everything from plantations to natural resources were put to fire by the Northern armies, as they were making their way to the Confederate’s capital, Richmond. Hop-frog’s escape symbolizes the massive migration of slaves from the South after the end of the war. Although the serfdom was officially abolished in 1863 in the North & by the end of the war in the South, it took many more years before an Afro-American could be treated the same way as every citizen in the United States of America.