Edgar Allan Poe Essay Research Paper Crystal

Edgar Allan Poe Essay, Research Paper Crystal Barrey For some class on some date with some professor The Influence of Family and Friends on Poe Over the course of Poe?s forty year stay on Earth, he was exposed early to several

Edgar Allan Poe Essay, Research Paper

Crystal Barrey

For some class

on some date

with some professor

The Influence of Family and Friends on Poe

Over the course of Poe?s forty year stay on Earth, he was exposed early to several

key people who would have a profound impact on his writings. Though this idea in and of

itself is not uncommon in literature, for Poe it went far beyond being merely influenced.

Beginning at age 3 when he lost his parents, Poe was subjected to a difficult life that

would later play heavily in his works. Between his foster father (John Allan), his first love

(Sarah Elmis Royster) and his young first wife (Virginia Cleem), Poe?s contacts largely

dictated his works. How was it that such an obviously brilliant individual like Poe allowed

himself to be mentally manipulated by these people? To answer this question, it is

necessary to take a step back and first get a little background.

Edgar Allen Poe was born on January 19, 1809 to two struggling actors, David

and Elizabeth Poe. When his father died at the age of 36, Edgar was left alone with his

pregnant mother. He traveled with his mother and sister from theater to theater, often

sleeping backstage. When his mother died of tuberculosis on December 11, 1811 at the

young age of 24, Edgar and his sister, Rosalie, were orphaned. Edgar was only two years

old. His sister was sent to live with a Mrs. Mackenzie when she was one, Edgar went to

live with John and Frances Allen. Edgar’s older brother William, was already living with

their grandfather, David Poe, Sr., because at the time of his birth, David and Elizabeth

could not afford to care for him. Edgar moved to Richmond, Virginia with the Allan?s,

where he had many luxuries that he had never had before. He had his own bedroom in the

apartment above John Allen’s store, Ellis & Allen, and even servants to help him wash

before bed and put away his clothes.

Growing up, Edgar never got along with his foster father, often arguing with him,

and rarely showing any affection. John Allen once even described his son as “miserable,

sulky, and ill-tempered”. There was also the matter of Edgar’s alcoholism, which brought

shame upon his foster family and friends. Even his beloved first fiancee Sarah Elmira

Royster, eventually refused to see him, because of his drinking habits. One night after a

particularly bitter argument with Mr. Allen, he decided to leave his home and go to


Boston was only the short term answer and soon Poe was disillusioned with the

city. After an unpleasant month in Boston, Edgar was once again on the road. After

having a few poems published and withdrawing from a military academy he eventually

wound up in Baltimore, Maryland, penniless. He soon found that his relatives there were

as poor as he was. Even so, they welcomed him into their homes and hearts. He stayed for

a while in the home of his aunt, Maria Clemm. Also living with Mrs. Clemm were her two

children, Henry, 13, and Virginia; Poe’s cousin and future wife. In addition, his paralyzed

grandmother and his dying brother William, 24 also resided there. He tried unsuccessfully

to get a job at several newspapers, before seeing a contest for the best short story in the

local paper. Being rather poor, Poe proceeded writing short stories in attempt to win the

$100 winners? prize. Even though he did not win the $100 for his efforts, Poe did have

some of the stories published in the years to come, but he never had anything to show for

it , because the newspaper did not give him credit for writing the stories.

Poe was offered a job back in Richmond, and he had to leave Baltimore(and worse,

Virginia, with whom he had fallen in love) to take the job. He rapidly fell into depression

while in Richmond over the absence of his beloved Virginia and was driven once again to


. Poe’s drinking had gotten out of hand and he was fired. He went back to

Baltimore on the spot and asked for Virginia’s hand in marriage. They got married a year

later. Soon after he was wed, he was re-offered the job in Richmond, but only if he

promised to never drink again. He promised to never let another sip of liquor pass his lips,

and went to Richmond, this time taking Virginia and his aunt Maria. This would prove to

be the high point of Poe?s life. Not due to any success or recognition, but more

importantly he was happy if only for a brief time.

In the years to come there would be both better and worse times in Edgar’s life.

After moving from the city his life totally fell apart, he had to shut down his newspaper

because of bad reviews, his wife was growing increasingly ill, and he was sick as well. He

eventually broke his vow and went back to drinking, which only caused problems. Several

times he was found wandering drunk in the streets of New York where he had recently

relocated with his wife and mother-in-law after taking an editing job at the Broadway

Journal. Virginia did not take to life in the city, however, and asked Edgar to move to the

country. Eager to please his beloved wife, who was stricken with tuberculosis, he agreed.

Virginia’s long struggle finally ended on January 29, 1847 at the age of 24, the very

age as Edgar’s mother when she died. After her death Poe was inconsolable, once again

thrown into the depths of depression and despair.

If there were any positives about Virginia?s death, it would be that Poe was once

again inspired to write. His post-Virginia material made up in pure genius what it lost in

good mood. These works can be distinguished as dark and morbid, traits not unlike his

earlier work. They did however change subject matter even as they retained mood.

In the ?Oval Portrait? for example, Poe writes of a man obsessed with creating the

ideal portrait of his new wife. The piece is finally created at the cost of the young models

life. The parallels to Poe?s own life are fairly obvious. He, like the painter, sacrificed

everything for his art only to realize later that the price was too high.

The first poem that he wrote after her death was Ulalume, a poem recalling a

lover’s visit to his loved one’s grave. Poe writes:

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober

As the leaves that were crisped and sere-

As the leaves that were withering and sere-

And I cried- “It was surely October

On this very night of last year

That I journeyed- I journeyed down here-

That I brought a dread burden down here-

On this night of all nights in the year,

Ah, what demon has tempted me here?

Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber-

This misty mid region of Weir- :

Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,

This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

The tone of this poem perfectly reflects how forlorn Poe was at this point in his

life. His mastery of setting the mood is unequaled in all literature. Another aspect that puts

Poe above the rest is his technique that compliments his style. A writing style that was

entirely unique. His uniqueness can again be attributed to the people who passed through

his life. All of Poe’s other writings reflect his life, be it sad or happy. As aforementioned,

Poe had problems with his foster dad. As a result, Poe often portrayed men as bad people

in his short stories. In the ?Cask of Amontillado?, the protagonist is an apparently insane

man who walls up his foe is his underground vaults. ?Hop-Frog? has a sinister king burned

alive by his abused midget. ?The Tell-Tale Heart? is another deranged man who slaughters

an old man in his sleep and the list goes on. The very best example of this would have to

be ?The Black Cat?. The classic tale of man who comes home in a drunken daze. He is

angered by his cat and in attempt to kill the animal with an ax, the main character buries

the axes head into his wife, killing her. For the remainder of the story he is tormented by

his failure to kill the cat. That, coupled with the loss of his wife, devour his mind until he is

a rambling mess. It is fairly clear where the inspirations come from in that story, as well as

many of his others. The situations change, but the end result is always the man being

portrayed in a poorly in his short stories (This isn?t necessarily true in Poe?s poetry, which

tends to feature more topics on loss and grief). This portrayals can be largely attributed to

the daily struggle Poe had with John Allan. For Poe to create some mythical land where

his relationships with males are tolerable, would have been untrue to himself as a writer.

He is effective writing about topics he is familiar with. Poe is the poster child of Ernest

Hemmingway?s philosophy: ?Only write about what you know, and then don?t write too

damn much.?

Another theme that frequents Poe?s literature, is the presence of a female. She is

generally portrayed sympathetically and for the most part is dead, or dies in the course of

the story. I?ve already mentioned the ?Black Cat?, which features a young wife brutally

murdered by her husband. ?Murders in the Rue Morge? and ?The Mystery of Marie

Roget? were two detective style stories that featured women being killed. Yet, there can

be no better example of Poe?s women issues as well as his own mental instability than in a

short story published in 1839. In ?Fall of the House of Usher?, Roderick Usher has

inadvertantly buried his sister, Madeline, believing her dead. It eventually comes to light

that Madeline was buried prematurely when she arrives in time to die in her brother?s

arms. Again, this is an example of a women being mistreated, albeit accidentally, by a man.

Though ?Usher? is far more complex and compelling than merely that. Read as Poe

describes the Usher house in the opening paragraph:

. I looked upon the scene before me –upon the mere house, and the simple

landscape features of the domain –upon the bleak walls –upon the vacant eye-like

windows –upon a few rank sedges –and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees –…I

scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be

that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi

overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the

eaves….Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely

perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way

down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

After rereading the paragraph, the striking part becomes that Poe isn?t merely

describing a house, but a mind. It is clear to see that the bleak walls represent human skin

even as the vacant eye-like windows symbolize human eyes. The white, decaying tree

trunks are teeth and the ?minute fungi? is clearing hair. That leaves only the ?perceptible

fissure? that splits the house in half unexplained. This is finally explained as the narrator

flees the house in horror. The entire house literally cracks in half, while the families mind

metaphorically cracks. This fissure in the human mind mirrors Poe himself who long

struggled with his own sanity.

In addition to the enormous impact John Allan and Virginia had on Poe?s career,

there is also another variable that has gone unmentioned. That would be William Henry,

Poe?s older brother. Like both Virginia and his mother Elizabeth Poe, William died at age

24 of tuberculosis. Though it is impossible to determine exactly how close the two ever

were, I can speculate that his death had at least some effect on Edgar.

In 1841, nine years after William?s death, Edgar wrote “A Descent into the

Maelstrom.” In this tale, an aged Norwegian tells of his experience three years past, when

his fishing boat became trapped in the Maelstrom, an enormous whirlpool “speeding

dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the

winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of

Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.” Though frightened by the chaos of the

Maelstrom, the fisherman also wants to understand it, and is saddened that he will not live

to tell anyone else the secrets he might discover. Through a systematic analysis of the

events within the Maelstrom, the sailor gradually realizes that the world of the Maelstrom

is not entirely anarchic; he recognizes certain physical “laws” that hold for the various

objects whipping around the whirlpool, and understands how he might escape. Lashing

himself to a cylindrical water-cask, he throws himself and the cask into the water; though

his boat, carrying his brother, “plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of

foam below,” the cask remained secure until the whirlpool calmed. The Norwegian was

safe, though “my hair, which had been raven black the day before, was as white as you see

it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed.”

Though his escape is indeed very interesting the true focus of the tale is the relationship

between the fisherman and his brother. His older brother at that, who perishes while he

lives. The fact that the fisherman?s entire ?countenance had changed? would lead me to

believe that William?s death drastically changed Edgar?s outlook on life. Perhaps not to

the catastrophic level that Virginia?s did, but nonetheless had some impact.

It should also be noted that though clearly all of these tragedies had significant

impacts on Poe himself, it should also be mentioned that Poe wasn?t the most stable

person to begin with. It seems unfair to Death itself to blame everything Poe did on tragic

events in his life. Variables like drinking must taken into account when considering his

subject matter. No documents of his pre-drinking era exist, so it is quite impossible to

determine how developed his imagination was before his alcoholic delusions. As

mentioned earlier, he was often found rambling to himself on the streets of Baltimore in

inebriated states. Alcohol is mentioned repeatedly in his works (Black Cat, Cask of

Amontillado…) so the possibility of that also influencing him seems a realistic option.

Another aspect less talked about, but just as significant would have to be his addiction to

opium. Though very taboo to his understudies and contemporaries, this hallucinogenic

drug could easily have swayed his decision making and therefore his story writing

material. Thing like alcohol and drug abuse can quite easily effect an individual?s

performance, but again Poe is no normal individual. At age seventeen Poe wrote the

Spirits of the Dead. Not a normal topic for any teen, regardless the theme is very different

than most latter Poe works. The final stanza reads:

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,

And the mist upon the hill

Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,

Is a symbol and a token.

How it hangs upon the trees,

A mystery of mysteries!

Though this is one of Poe?s earliest pieces, it can be assumed that this poem

doesn?t carry the same melancholy tone that is typical of Poe. It doesn?t have to be

assumed, because this poem deals more with the curiosity and mystery of adolescence than

anything more serious.

One should not think that Poe?s life was a completely horrific existence. Though

he certainly was forced to deal with his share of controversy and death, he was also

influenced in a positive way by the people he came in touch with. This isn?t particularly

obvious in his prose, but in his poetry it is more blatant.

Take for instance his poem, The Dream. Poe is speaking to the reader, of his

mythical playland where everything is very surreal and very pleasant. There are no

foreboding tones of death and decay. Clearly he has just as much potential to be cheerful

and dreamy as he does morbid and pessimistic. Yet Poe chooses the more unpleasant tone

as his centerpiece, not because it sells better or to please anyone in particular, but because

that is how he stays true to himself as a writer. Not only in The Dream, but even in some

of his short stories does Poe keep an upbeat and fun tone. In both ?Dr. Tarr and Professor

Fether? as well as ?Gold Bug? Poe is so optimistic of humanity to the point of being really

funny. A reader certainty wouldn?t expect this of a gloomy, dismal author like Poe which

is exactly what makes him so special. He is more famous for his terrifying accounts of

death and revenge, but at the same time he has potential to change gears and write a piece

that is so vastly different and just as appealing. There is no better summary of his life and

work than the quotation from Francis Bacon, inscribed over the Poe Gate at West Point:

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.” Poe himself is

indeed an exquisite beauty with his completely unconventional style and unorthodox

techniques. This, combined with his strangeness, has made Poe what he is; the most

influential and talented American author of all time.