Poe is a very complicated author. His literary works are perplexed, disturbing,and even grotesque.
His frequent illnesses may have provoked his engrossment insuch things. In 1842 Dr. John W. Francis diagnosed Poe with sympathetic hearttrouble as well as brain congestion.
He also noted Poe’s inability to withstandstimulants such as drugs and alcohol (Phillips 1508). These factors may havemotivated him to write The Tell-Tale-Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and TheBlack Cat. All of these stories are written in or around 1843, shortly after Poebecame afflicted. His writing helped him to cope with his troubles and explorenew territory in literature.
Poe’s interest in the supernatural, retribution,and perverse cause them to be included in his burial motifs; thereforesustaining his interest. There is a common thread laced through each subject,but there is variation in degrees of the impact. The supernatural is thephenomena of the unexplained. With this comes an aura of mystery and arousal offear.
Death in itself is the supreme mystery. No living human being can becertain of what happens to the soul when one dies. It is because of thisuncertainty that death is feared by many. These types of perplexing questionscause a reader to come to a point of indifference within one of Poe’s burialmotifs.
One is uncertain of how the events can unfold, because a greater forcedictates them. Reincarnation in The Black Cat is a supernatural force at work. There is some sort of orthodox witchcraft-taking place. The whole story revolvesaround the cat, Pluto, coming back to avenge its death.
One can not be sure howPluto’s rebirth takes place, but it is certain that something of a greater forcehas taken hold. The cat’s appearance is altered when the narrator comes acrossit the second time. There is a white spot on the chest “by slow degrees,degrees nearly imperceptible. .
. it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctoutline. . .
of the GALLOWS” (Poe 4). Foretelling the narrator’s fate aconfinement tool appears on the cat’s chest. This also foreshadows the cat’sconfinement in the tomb. It reappears like a disease to take vengeance on a manthat has committed horrid crimes. “I was answered by a voice within thetomb! –By a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, andquickly swelling into one long, loud and continuous scream, utterly anomalousand inhuman–a howl–a wailing shriek, half of honor and half of triumph (Poe6).
Pluto is like Poe’s reoccurring illness it keeps coming back just when hethinks it is gone. This can be related to the ever-looming question of whypeople become afflicted with disease. Is it punishment for wrongdoing’somereligions find this to be the answer. Poe’s intrigue in reincarnation may havebeen in that of his own immortality. Metaphysical events take place in TheTell-Tale-Heart. The perpetrator is driven by some unknown source to reveal hisevil deed.
The paranoia he feels is very real to him. “I fancied a ringingin my ears. . . [it] became more distinct. .
. I found that the noise was not withinmy ears. . . It is the beating of the hideous heart [of the old man]” (Poe 3).
Ringing is heard only in the man’s head, but because a impetus has compelled himto believe otherwise he is inclined to reveal his misdeed. The source of theman’s “voices” is from a force within himself. One’s soul is anunexplainable power, which governs over the body. The murder of the old man iscommitted in passion. Disregarding any rational thoughts the narrator is engagedin his own desires. His unconcern for mankind causes his own insanity.
Even hecan not live with his actions. The mind as a supernatural force, that dictateslife, can only cope with so much. Poe himself experiences hallucinations fromhis illness, and abuse of alcohol. Years of defilement caused his body, and mindto break down. At one point in time Poe raved “. .
. for protection from animaginary army of conspirators disguised as ‘loungers'” (Mankowitz 232). Constant weight on ones mind can lead to insanity. Human beings can lose controlof their lives. The Tell-Tale-Heart illustrates the human spirit as a mysteriousand unexplainable force.
Poe’s life was full of turmoil, which inevitably causedhis madness. The enveloping force of evil drives Montressor to commit murder inThe Cask of Amontillado. If supernatural is used in its broadest sense to mean”unexplained” then the force that impels Montressor’s lack of humanityis indeed supernatural. Evil, as a uninhibited force propels the callous, vileact.
When evil is introduced as a possible catalyst one can, at least in somesense, comprehend what drives Montressor’s act of revenge. With out this forcerevenge is less likely to be taken to the extremes in this story. Fortunato, theunsuspecting victim, is blindly led to his death via a premeditated plan. Montressor guides him on the journey, patronizing him all the way. The torturethat is put upon him is horrendous.
He is entombed alive, and left to die. Themind can be a torturous device when all hope is stripped away. Fortunado mustwait for death, all the while reliving his regrets. Montressor states “. . .
abrief moment I hesitate–I trembled. . . But the thought of an instant reassuredme. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and feltsatisfied” (Poe 8).
For an instant his humanity is unveiled, but quicklycovered again. He has no problem leaving his victim in the catacombs to die. Poedoes an excellent job creating a character of evil. Many of his literary worksdeal with the origin of evil. Montressor’s need for revenge causes him to givehimself to the dark side. Perversity is a theme that exists within the threestories at hand.
When one takes pleasure in something that is knowingly wrong itis perverse. It exhibits a blatant lack of humanity. Delectation in thegrotesque is also sinful. Committing or witnessing acts of mutilation or murderis depraved. Someone has to be out of balance to seriously consider suchignominious acts. Poe uses perversity to shock, and disgust the reader.
Readingabout such atrocities brings the reader to a different level of cognition. Onesees into the mind of a character that is distorted, and gets a direct show ofwhat is motivating him or her. The main character in The Black Cat kills hiswife without any compunction. After he “. .
. buried the axe in herbrain,” his only apprehension is of how to conceal the crime (Poe 3). Hestates “many projects entered my mind,” attesting to his search forthe perfect burial place. The man commits a bloody, brutal murder of a lovedone, but is only concerned with himself. Delight is actually taken in the death,because he is able to get a good night sleep.
“The guilt of my dark deeddisturbed me but little;” he has no regrets and nothing to fret about. Pleasure is obtained from the death, not the act, but the rewards of it. Hidingthe body in the false chimney illustrates his lack of respect for his wife. Heis pleased with himself for finding such a clever hiding place, but she is notattributed a proper burial. Perversity embodies this man.
He is disturbed. Montressor, in The Cask of Amontillado, is a pervert. He enjoys watchingFortunato suffer. Pleasure seeps from his spirit when Fortunato exclaims”Ha! ha! ha!–he! he!–a very good joke indeed–an excellent jest. We willhave many a rich laugh about it. .
. Let us be gone” (Poe 7). The man is usinghis last fragment of hope, but Montressor plays with him. He likes to hear thesuffering in the voice of his victim. He gets off on causing pain. Replying toFortunato’s plea he mimics “Yes, let us be gone,” with contempt in hisvoice (Poe 7).
Montressor has broken another man’s spirit, and taken away hislife. This makes him happy, because he has upheld a troublesome family motto”Nemo me impune lacessit” (“No one assails me withimpunity”) (Poe 4). A twisted outdated motto causes the death of Fortunato. The burying of a live body conjures up images of desperation and hopelessness ofthe victim. Montrtessor has all of the power. He picks the time and place whereFortunato will meet his end.
Obvious disregard of life is maniacal. Theperpetrator in The Tell-Tale-Heart states clearly that he enjoys the act ofkilling. “In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavybed over him, I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far gone” (Poe2). This sick individual not only kills the old man, but he “. . .
dismembers thecorpse. [He] cut off the head and the arms and the legs” (Poe 2). He seemsto take pride in his clever cover up of the annihilation bragging “Therewas nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood spot whatever. I hadbeen too wary for that.
A tub had caught all -ha! ha!” (Poe 3). This man isa true sociopath, and psychotic. Any act one can imagine being grotesque he hascommitted. This is a person who is not in his right mind. His acts are shockingand almost unbelievable, but not quite.
There are deranged people who commitvile, meaningless acts of violence just because. The scariest part about thisperversity is that it does happen, people can be this repugnant. The ultimatepayback for wrongdoing is retribution. It is a means by which one releasesanger. When revenge is taken, the outcome is satisfaction. Power is definitelyassociated with it.
The need to be the dominating figure in a relationship fuelsthe desire. Sometimes retribution is directed at personage who has little to dowith what is being avenged. The person may be representative of a greater cause. He or she is just an outlet for abuse. It feels good to get even with someone,even if it is not the source of the problem.
Poe has many problems that he cannot fix. This angers him. He does not understand why he is afflicted with somuch grief. The Black Cat is a story that revolves around revenge. It is a morecomplex then first observed. The man is not lashing out at his animals becausethey have done something to offend him.
The abuse is given because the animalscan not fight back. They are defenseless against the brute force. He is reallyangry at society, but can not tap the proper channels to vent his rage. “Igrew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings ofothers. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my At length, I evenoffered. .
. personal violence” (Poe 1). He has grown cold throughout theyears losing the lust for life he once had. He needs to seek refuge from theoutside world.
“. . . My disease grew upon me-for what disease is like Alcohol(Poe 1).
Alcohol gives him a place to hide and, contributes to his lunacy. Underthe influence he becomes a monster. Poe himself “uses alcohol as ananesthetic to ease other problems, both physical and emotional” (Mankowitz236). He feels isolated from society parallel to the nameless man in this story.
Deliberately sinning allows the man to feel power. He is in control of hisactions. I “. . . hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because Iknew that in so doing I was committing a sin.
. . ” (Poe 2). Challenging asystem of beliefs questions its existence. He is almost daring a higher power topunish him.
This will let him know if there is something to believe in. He is alost soul among many that is yearning for something to believe in. Poe is facingdeath, because of all of the pain he has gone through he too questions God. Howcould God let him suffer, and take his life so soon? He can not answer this, buthis stories do scream the question. Retribution against death is a focus in TheTell-Tale-Heart. The old man is symbolic of death.
“He had the eye of avulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, myblood ran cold (Poe 1). The vulture is a bird that only preys upon the dead. Blood running cold is associated with a corpse; therefore, death.
His wordsprove that the eye is expiration looking him in the face. “He was stillsitting up in bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night,hearkening to death watches on the wall” (Poe 1). Killing the old man isretribution for fear of death. He is a constant reminder of the perpetrator’sgreatest fear. Wondering when cessation is going to occur can drive a maninsane. “His eye would trouble me no more,” illustrates that the manhas defeated death (Poe 2).
This is ironic because death will always triumph inthe end. The killing may give the man temporary solace from his fear, but it cannot last. Poe’s illness causes him to constantly deal with the coming of hisend. He too wishes there were something he can do to ward it off.
Obviously thisis not possible. The Cask of Amontillado revels in revenge based on upholdingone’s family motto. Fortunato disrespected Montressor, “the thousandinjuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but he. . . ventured uponinsult.
. . ” (Poe 1). Montressor is an extremely proud man.
He takes thecomments to heart, and is disturbed by them. His need for revenge is innate. Theneed is genetic, based on the family motto, which states “No one assails mewith impunity”. He is compelled to commit murder to honor his family name.
Montressor must seek his resolution very mechanically. “A wrong isunredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressedwhen the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done thewrong” (Poe 1). Fortunado must not know that he is seeking revenge, butwhen the plot is revealed it is imperative that he takes credit for the act. Montressor’s act of murder is calculated; thus, chillingly horrifying. Theorganization insures that Fortunado is doomed.
Poe’s interest in burial motifsallows him to explore the same themes, but using different premises. Poe’s freeand out of the ordinary style is very successful in incorporating thesupernatural, perverse, and retribution into his work. He maintains his interestas well as the reader’s by including subjects that are not prevalent. It isshocking, disturbing, and challenging to read. Some of Poe’s literature hasobvious relations to his own life, and how he coped with the problems that facedhim.
Having problems in ones life can escalate the soul to accomplish greatthings. Poe’s lifestyle is very much a part of style. BibliographyMankowitz, Wolf. The Extraordinary Mr. Poe and his Times. New York: SummitBooks, 1978.
Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe-The Man, Volume II. Chicago, IL:The John C. Winston Co, 1912.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Black Cat. Online. PersonalComputer. Simpatico. Internet.
18 March 1999. Available http://www. gothic. net/poe/works/black_cat. txtPoe, Edgar Allan. The Cask of Amontillado.
Online. Personal Computer. Simpatico. Internet.
18 March 1999. Available http://www. literature. org/Works/Edgar-Allan-Poe/amontillado.
htmlPoe, Edgar Allan. The Tell-Tale-Heart. Online. Personal Computer.
Simpatico. Internet. 18 March 1999. Available http://www.gothic.net/poe/works/tell-tale_heart.txt