In every story from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, a bit of his own life had been molded into each piece of his work. This left his readers and critics with a better understanding of Poe’s life. Poe displayed his greatest life’s achievements and his worst disappointments in a series of stories and poems created throughout his whole life. It is the goal of this research paper to reveal symbolic facts about Poe’s life and define these hidden parallels in some of his most famous works.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 001809 in Boston, Massachusetts (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). Poe’s parents were David Poe, an actor from Baltimore and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, an actress born in England, who had relocated to Baltimore. At birth, Poe had been cursed. Shortly afterwards, Poe’s father abandoned the family and left Poe and his mother to fend for themselves. Not long after that, the cruel hands of fate worked their horrible touch on Poe again by taking his mother. In 1811, when Poe was two, his mother passed away, leaving him with a great loss. After his father’s departure and mother’s sudden death, Poe was left in the hands of his godfather, John Allan. John Allan was a wealthy merchant based in Richmond, Virginia with the means, knowledge and money to provide a good life for Poe.
In 1815, Poe and his new family moved to England to provide him a classical education. Upon returning from England in 1826, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. This was a magnificent achievement for him, because Poe was only seventeen at the time while the normal age for attendance was nineteen (Quinn 130). For the first time, life was going good for Poe. His future looked to be a path paved with gold. When Poe entered college, his path of gold ended quickly. It was only another path of grief and disappointment. Poe soon began to gamble and drink alcohol quite heavily. He developed gambling debts from 2,000 to 2,500 dollars, which caused problems between his godfather and himself (Quinn 130). After eleven months at the university, Poe dropped out mainly because of his debts and drinking, but also for John Allan’s refusal to pay for his habits (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540).
Soon after Poe dropped out of school, he and John Allan had many quarrels over his gambling addiction. They finally decided it would be best for him to join the army. He joined under the alias of “Edgar Allan Perry” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). In 1829, Poe was honorably discharged, but not before attaining the rank of Sergeant Major. A year later, John Allan scheduled an appointment for Poe with the West Point U.S. Military Academy. Poe had not been in the academy for a year when he was dismissed from West Point. It was after his military career when Poe starting to become a successful writer of poetry and short stories. In 1831, Poems included three of his greatest works: “To Helen,” “The City in the Sea,” and “Israfel” (Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). When his poems failed to gain recognition, Poe began to write short stories such as “MS. Found in a Bottle” in 1833. It was around this time when he married his fourteen-year old cousin, Virginia Clemm. Virginia became a very influential character in Poe’s later works. In 1840, Poe published a collection of his first twenty-five stories called “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”. Even when this collection failed to sale or gain recognition, Poe continued to write on a daily basis. Then suddenly, in 1843, he sold 300,000 copies of “The Gold Bug”. Also in 1843, Poe published one of his greatest works, “The Tell-Tale Heart” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encarta Encyclopedia). Then again, in 1845, Poe had some success with his work “The Raven and Other Poems”. In 1848, Poe explained his theories on the universe in his well-known piece, “Eureka” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 592). . “The Raven” brought Poe the most recognition and finally provided a spot for him among America’s greatest writers. Writers and critics were giving great praises to him during this time. It was with his stories of mystery and murder featuring C. Auguste Dupin that inspired one critic to write, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” (Quinn 139). “It is not enoughcertainly for literary criticism it is not enough to call his stories, strange, extraordinary, fantastic” is a perfect quote to summarize Poe’s works and their effect on critics and people (Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the Short Story”). This period of tranquility and good times would turn out to be Poe’s last. In 1847, Virginia Clemm died of tuberculosis and in doing so added one more name to Poe’s list of lost loves (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). Her death had affected Poe more greatly than any other of his former loses. Poe was once quoted saying: “Each time I felt all the agonies of her deathand at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitivenervous in a very unusual degree. During these fits of absolute unconsciously I drank, God only knows how often or how much” (Buranelli 38). Despite the tremendous agony Poe felt over Virginia Clemm’s death, he still passed a sigh of relief over her passing. In Poe’s belief, death should not be feared, but instead it should be sought (Quinn 137). As Poe had said in “For Annie,” “The fever called Living’ is conquered at last” (Buranelli 38). For Poe, when Virginia died she escaped the curse of life.
In 1849, Poe met up with his former sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster and became engaged shortly thereafter (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). As life would have it, just days before his wedding, Poe stopped in Baltimore and disappeared. On October 3rd, 1849, Poe was found lying in a side street anesthetized. He was taken to a hospital where he lay unconscious on his bed. After four days of complete unconsciousness, Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7th, 1849 (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 591). The cause of his death had remained a mystery since then. Although, it has been said that the cause of death was rabies.
All of Poe’s works of literature possess a link to his own life’s stories and events. His characters’ possess biographical insights into his loved ones’ lives. Poe learned sometime in his life that a good story possesses real life events and those events are what give his stories a sence of truth. Since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of mankind, he would be considered a madman. This was horribly painful for him!
The sad figure of Edgar Allan Poe stalks forever through the pages of his stories and poems. He is declared to have only one endlessly repeated male character, himself. He is pictured as appearing and reappearing under the disguises of mad, hallucinating protagonists. Among these protagonists, the one Poe seems to represent more is the half-mad, Roderick Usher (Buranelli 19-20). In the story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe presents himself through the morbidly uncanny Roderick Usher. “All in all, he is an unbalanced man trying to maintain an equilibrium in his life” (Poe 194). Usher was also a man who realizes his insanity but struggles to grasp his lost sanity. In this passage Poe writes about the narrator’s description of Roderick Usher, but in doing so describes himself to his readers: “A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than weblike softness and tenuitythese features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.” (Poe 196) Poe also manages to describe his more unpopular personality traits when he refers to himself as “a lost drunkard or the irreclaimable eater of opium” (Poe 201). Poe also used his memory of past events and places to set the background for his pieces of literature. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe uses his Gothic home as the background and his family as its characters. Poe knew the feelings that came to a person when confronted with something from their unpleasant past. Therefore, with that knowledge, he could write a story appealing to readers. Poe also used “The Fall of the House of Usher” to portray loved ones, such as his mother, to the reader. It was said that he could not bear to think of his mother, because of the pain it brought to his heart. To compensate for this he portrayed her through the disguise of Lady Madeline (Buranelli 35). Lady Madeline was Usher’s mysterious sister who in the end died without warning or reason. Poe also wrote a sonnet called “To My Mother” that appeared to be for his mother. Along with putting his mother in his tales, Poe also portrayed his life’s greatest love, Virginia Clemm. Virginia inspired such pieces as “Eleanora” and Annabel Lee”. In”Annabel Lee,” he describes their love “I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea; but we loved with a love that was more than loveI and my Annabel Lee; with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, in this kingdom by the sea, a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee; so that her highborn kinsman came and bore her away from me, to shut her up in a sepulchre in this kingdom by the seafor the moon never beams without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee; and the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee; and so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride, in the sepulchre there by the sea, in her tomb by the sounding sea.” (Bloom 145). In this excerpt, Poe portrays to the reader his love for his wife. “Annabelle Lee” was written in 1849, just two years after Virginia Clemm’s death. (“Poe, Edgar Allan, World Book Encyclopedia 591). Poe was trying to explain her death and its importance to him.
Poe used his greatest achievements, such as marriage and his worst times, such as his wife’s death to help the reader better understand what his life was like. Poe was a genius in the fact that he can captivate a reader with his true-to-life, but mad stories and then explains himself through allusions and hidden meanings. When a person reads works of Edgar Allan Poe, he is actually reading his autobiography with eccentric details to describe his life. Although he lived a short and tragic life, Edgar Allan Poe remains today one of the most beloved mystery writers of all time. His contributions to literature and the mystery genre cannot be matched.
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