Angels Fighting Demons: Edgar Allan Poe's Battle with Alcoholism

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Angels fighting Demons

The tragic and chaotic life of Edgar Allan Poe is reflected in his writings; he was an alcoholic and a madman who was self-destructive, and this behavior is conveyed in his works of literature. Poe had a troubled relationship with his alcoholic foster father, and his brother was an alcoholic, so it is plausible that Poe had a genetic predisposition to alcoholism (A E Poe Society, Alcohol). Poe’s writings reflect the tragedy and chaos of his life. His self-destructive alcoholism is portrayed in his work “The Black Cat” and his ability to overcome alcoholism is portrayed in his work “The Cask of Amontillado.” In the short story "The Black Cat,'" published in 1843, the author Edgar Allan Poe uses this written work to symbolically reveal his battle with alcoholism. Poe suffered from alcoholism for many years, and the narrator in “The Black Cat" fights an alcohol addiction as well. During the time Poe wrote “The Black Cat,” he was in the midst of one of his longest series of alcohol binges (A E Poe Society, Alcohol). In addition, Poe’s wife, and also cousin, Virginia was suffering from a prolonged illness, and it was for Poe to cope with this so he turned to alcohol (A E Poe Society, Alcohol) Poe had lost his mother to tuberculosis so it was particularly challenging to see his wife suffer from the same fatal disease (A E Poe Society, Alcohol). In this short story, the narrator succumbs him to alcoholism, which leads the main character to destroy what he loves most. When the speaker in the short story succumbs to this addiction, he turns into a vicious monster; the narrator goes from being a gentle animal lover to a cruel animal killer. The speaker notes that Pluto, his cat, was his most “favorite pet and playmate” (Poe, Cat). The speaker relates that under the influence of alcohol is what drove him to abuse his cat, his most loved animal. He goes as far as stating that a spirit of “perverseness” came over him from his experience with the cat, which compelled him to abuse Pluto. This spirit was so strong that he cut Pluto’s eye out while under the influence of alcohol in which he contributes his “intemperance” to his unlawful behavior (Poe, Cat). The cat represents alcoholism to the narrator of the “Black Cat” and just as an alcoholic loses his love for everything except alcohol, the narrator loses interest in all of his other pets (NMHA). The cat bites the narrator as a warning, when the narrator approaches it in a threatening manner. The cat’s reaction causes the narrator alarm, which, in turn, forces the narrator to exert control in his drunken state and abuse the cat. After the narrator murders the cat, whom he cherished, a second cat appears that he finds in a tavern. This second cat serves as a reminder of who he once was and what he lost. The second cat also brings back feelings of guilt over the original cat. The narrator feels possessed by it and begins to admit that alcohol plays a big role in his life (Poe, Cat). In addition, the narrator abuses his wife while under the influence of alcohol. In the end he ignores his subconscious, or anything that reminds him of his past. He murders his wife and walls her up in his cellar that the narrator refers to as his “dark deed.” The violent decision due to his alcohol intake is what ultimately leads to his alienation from everything that he loved and the exposure and penalty for his crime. Commentators on Poe’s life, such as Dr. Joseph Evan Snodgrass, suggest that Poe’s life was “dissolute,” and because he was a blatant “drunkard,” it is no surprise that many presume that Poe’s death can be linked to his addiction to alcohol. Clearly, alcohol played a massive role in Poe’s life. Bio-historian Arno Karlen believed that Poe had a rare enzyme malady called Alcohol Dehydrogenase Deficiency Syndrome, which would explain Poe’s oversensitivity to alcohol and his “bouts of insanity and abrupt death” (Hoffman 46). Poe was clearly suffering from an...
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