Allan Edgar Poe, a renowned Romanticism writer, is one of the greatest contributors to the modern American literature because he refined the short story genre and put forward the detective fiction during his short life (Kennedy 61). In an attempt to achieve the American dream, Poe ventured into full-time writing as his career after losing his wife (Rein 22). Poe’s three works “The fall of the house of Usher”, “the Raven” and “The Masque of the Red Death” describe his dedication to literature and his negative attitudes towards aristocracy (Silverman 121).
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However, his frustrations in life, loneliness and premature death display Poe a dedicated man who never achieved his American dream, despite contributing a lot to American literature. Arguably, Edgar Allan Poe vented his own frustrations, stresses of reality, and used his own experiences to create a negative and darkness of his works.
Poe belonged to Romanticism movement, a literary, intellectual and artistic movement that began in the late 18th century in Europe before spreading to the United States. At the beginning, the movement was a reaction to the industrial movement in the mid and late 18th century, but later became a form of intellectual revolt against social and political norms that were based on aristocracy. In addition, it was a revolt against scientific rationalization of nature. A major characteristic of Revolutionary artists is the belief that products of imagination can be equal or even surpass those of the elites in courts, thus the ability to convince scholars and connoisseurs. The popular belief was that things must flow in their natural form “…from the outpourings of the untutored and common persons in a society”.
Edgar Allan Poe was the son of two professional actors, David Poe Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. He was born on 19 January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. David Poe Sr., was an Irish immigrant who had settled in American in 1750s. Soon after Edgar Allan Poe’s birth, the parents separated and one year later, Mrs. Poe died. The young Poe was taken into John Allan’s home, where he lived as one of the family members, although there was no formal adoption. Allan was a rich Scottish immigrant and a trader in a variety of goods such as clothing, slaves and agricultural products. Edgar adopted the name “Allan” when living with the Allan family.
His life was not good because as soon as he joined the newly established university of Virginia, he became active in gambling, a tradition that was upcoming in the young institution (Scott 77). Due to poor money management, he dropped from the college just after one year of study. He attempted to modify his life by joining the military, which he served for two years before leaving at his own will. He moved to Baltimore to live with his relatives, but married his first cousin Virginia Eliza Clemm. The death of Virginia affected Poe in various ways, and is recognised as one of the factors that contributed to his approach to writing (Scott 77). After leading a lonely life full of frustrations, he was found weak and unable to speak on the Baltimore streets in October 3 1840, taken to hospital but died 4 days later.
Poe’s work illustrates a man who is dedicated to achieve the American dream, but who vents frustrations and loneliness using his own experience. Consider for instance, his work “the raven”, a narrative whose main theme revolves around ‘undying devotion’. In this narrative, the narrator feels a strong desire to remember and a strong desire to forget. Thus, he experiences pressure from both desires. He assumes that the raven can only understand or knows a single word, ‘nevermore’.
Even though he is aware the raven cannot answer, he goes on to ask it a number of questions. At first, the narrator is weak, grieved and weary but as he speaks to the raven, he becomes fury and mad (Scott 134). The narrator’s perception that the raven knows only the word “Nevermore” that it learnt from “…some unhappy master” is an indication that Poe was somehow attempting to reflect his own life (Poe 171). It appears that he is frustrated with some important issue, and in his loneliness, he seems to be talking to objects and animals. It is probable that Poe was using the term “Nevermore” as a reflection of his failures in life, right from school to military and failure to obtain revenue from writing.
Poe’s personal experience and destruction is also reflected in his work “the fall of the House of Usher”, in which he describes the feelings of fear, guilt and doom as a problem affecting Roderick Usher (Evans 138). Roderick Usher, who buries his sister alive, is suddenly stricken with grief, guilt and fear as the narrator reads a novel to clam him (Peeples 59). However, the sister, appearing as a dragon, forces her way from the vault to the house, killing Roderick and herself on the instant. As the narrator explains, fear and guilt affect Roderick in his final moments. The narrator cannot escape but must observe the fall of the house of Usher. This probably reflects Poe’s experience with his own family, especially after the death of his family, his 13-year old wife and inability to cope up with the Allan family (Peeples 47).
Thirdly, Poe’s reflection of allegory of life and death in his works attempt to describe the inability to escape death or fate, despite however much they try. This is indicated in his short story “the Masque of the Red Death”, in which the price, Prospero, attempts to escape the Red Plaque by confining himself in his palace (Laurent 53).
He succeeds to avoid death in the first stages as everybody outside dies, but as he and his party celebrate their triumph, a masked man appears from nowhere and moves towards the darkened end of the room. As the prince confronts him, he dies instantly, but the body of the masked man is not seen. The other parties seek to know the fate of the prince, but they also face death because the masked man is the plaque they had feared (Laurent 56).
In this narrative, it is clear that Poe was attempting to use allegory of life and death to show that one cannot run from fate and death. It may reflect his life, as he struggles to fit in the society, use his writing skills to fight aristocracy, but cannot face the realities of life- he turns to alcohol and leads a lonely life. Actually, he cannot cheat fate, realities and death.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that Poe’s work demonstrates the fate of common people as they struggle with the realities of life. While the “Raven” indicates a frustrated person who turns mad due to frustrations, “The fall of the House of Usher” is used to indicate the form of guilt, regret and frustrations that affect people after taking a misinformed action. In addition, “the masque of the red death” shows how man attempts to flee from reality, fate and death, but all in vain (Poe 152). These themes seems to be reflecting Poe’s personal life, from frustrations to guilt and finally to his fate (Silverman 121).
Evans, Walter. “‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and Poe’s Theory of the Tale”. Studies in Short Fiction 14.2 (2007): 137–144. Print
Kennedy, Gerald. “Introduction: Poe in Our Time” collected in A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. London: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
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Laurent, Sabrina. Metaphor and Symbolism in ‘The Masque of the Red Death. Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
Peeples, Scott. Poe’s ‘constructiveness’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’” as collected in ‘The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe’. Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
Poe, Edgar A. Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002. Print.
Rein, David M. Edgar A. Poe: The Inner Pattern. New York: Philosophical Library, 2006. Print.
Scott, Peter. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. Print.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper, 2007. Print.