When trying to get into the mind and works of 19th century American writer Edgar Allan Poe, it is important to first consider his biographical implications – his life experiences – which the influence the work of all artists. His darker works, like the short stories “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as well as his famous poem “Annabel Lee,” all deal with death, sickness, the grotesque, the macabre, even insanity. He is a subject studied by many literary scholars, mostly due to his deeply impressionable and penetrating works that are still read and discussed at length today.
One can examine Poe’s life experiences, as well as his obsessions and fears, to better understand the meaning behind his most famous works. He experienced death and loss throughout his life, starting from a young age with the untimely death of his mother just a short time after Poe’s father abandoned the family. Also, years later, his young wife, Virginia Poe, died at the age of 24 due to Tuberculosis. Quite naturally, these horrific events had a definite impact on his life and how he related to people, got close to them, and how he saw the life experience, and this naturally seeped into his creative life: his famous writings.
Very little of Poe’s life was pleasant, it seems. After achieving literary success with his famous poem “The Raven” in 1845, Poe – then 36 years of age – seemed to head downhill. He became a literary celebrity quite young, only to die a few years later a broken, ill, lonely and pathetic man on a rainy, empty street one night in Baltimore, Maryland. He was just 40 years of age. Poe was thought to be a drunk, a womanizer, drug addict and a madman. His life was, unfortunately, one of pain, heartache, and suffering – mostly due to the loss of many of his dearest loved ones. Take a look at his most popular works. They are filled with death and horror, tales and stories that even today demonstrate the work of an insane man – maybe even a brilliant one, both of which are often hard to distinguish in Poe’s works.
His poem “Annabel Lee,” tells of a young couple so deeply in love that even the angels in Heaven were envious. They marry but she ultimately falls ill and is taken away from him, she dies too young, and the narrator is left with the cruel memory of the powerful love they shared. This tragic, though famous, poem is evidently the result of losing his young bride, Virginia. It follows the exact same storyline of Poe’s life, and the famous poem was published just a few years after the untimely death of his young bride.
This theme of loss, death, and pain runs in other Poe works, as well. In examining “The Tell-Tale Heart,” his famous, horrific short story, the reader sees the other side of Poe’s dark tendencies. This time, instead of a person losing a loved one, the narrator becomes “mad” and plays God himself: he kills another person in cold blood because the narrator is obsessed with the man’s frightening “vulture” eye. Nothing in Poe’s life provides any insight as to this particular tale and this particular indication of mental illness, but one can point to his assumed madness and depression in order to further understand exactly why Poe wrote it. Perhaps he enjoyed the thought of taking the life of another perhaps because God took the life of his closest loved ones. It may have been a revenge fantasy or a defense mechanism.
To conclude, writer Edgar Allan Poe was a dark soul who wrote even darker works of English literature. More than 150 years after his death, Poe is still talked about and highly read in classrooms all across the world. In just a short life, he accomplished so much. And it should be acknowledged that he was at least able to turn such a painful experiences into beautiful works of art. His legacy will endure as long as people experience pain and suffering.
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