Edgar Allan Poe and Dark Romanticism

Topics: Edgar Allan Poe, Mind, Romanticism Pages: 5 (1830 words) Published: February 18, 2014
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote ‘The world is nothing, the man is all; in yourself is the law of all nature’(Norton 548). Emersonian individualism has had a burning influence on American society, where the individual mind is perceived as something divine, where man stood alone, independent and all-knowing. A contemporary author, Edgar Allan Poe, had a different take on this. What if you look inside and you cannot find anything? What if instead, you find something abhorrent and repulsive? Worse yet, what if you look inside and find that you are mad? Poe’s view on the individual was far from the romanticized man you find in Emerson’s “The American Scholar”. Poe, in company with Hawthorne and Melville, set in motion a new literary sub-culture as a response to the Romantic wave that had reached Americas shores. The so called Dark Romanticism ‘held less optimistic view of nature, mankind and divinity’(Lawrence 43). In this essay, we will look at Poe’s short story The Black Cat, and see how it can be an example of Dark Romanticism. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) led a short, but turbulent life. During his forty years he experienced the loss and abandonment of both his parents, the loss of his brother, being kicked out and betrayed by his foster parents and the death of his wife. In addition to this, he suffered from poverty, alcoholism and a feeling of alienation from the world. Still, no matter how little money it gave him, he never gave up on his writing. Poe believed prose and poetry to be a form of art and one of the most effective ways to express literature. It should also only appeal to the sense of beauty. He wished to make an impression on his readers, to shake them a little, and ‘sought ways to get its [his audience] attention for stories that, aside from their shock value, regularly addressed compelling philosophical, cultural and psychological issues’ (Norton 687). The poet played with the human mind and the human consciousness. This is why we often find deranged sociopaths, macabre settings and tragic fates in his works. Poe’s writing has often been described as dark, twisted and disturbed. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that his literary works has had a great impact on America’s literary history. As previously stated, Poe was a part of the literary genre known as Dark Romanticism. This sub-genre can be looked at as the dark side of the coin that is Romanticism. Man was no longer an example of perfection, he had no longer any divine qualities or wisdom. ‘Nature was also an ambiguous force - dark, decaying and destructive’ (Lawrence 43). Dark Romanticists thrived in mysteries and superstition, pulled on the strings of imagination and plays with human complexity. Poe uses these ideals to create settings where the reader is immediately drawn into his macabre world, as well as the minds of his characters, which are often quite unblanced. The Black Cat was published for the first time in 1843, and it tells a story about a mans slow descent into madness. The story introduces a man who, after having experienced a major change in character, kills his cat by hanging it. He finds a new one a few months later, but when he tries to kill the second cat as well, he ends up killing his own wife instead. Hiding the body in the wall, he is convinced no one will ever find it. Without the mans knowledge, he had trapped the cat inside the wall as well, and this leads to his capture. Poe uses language to draw the reader into the story, by creating a gloomy and dismal background. At the very beginning of the story, he writes ‘these events have terrified - have tortured - have destroyed me’. Already, he has provided us with a sense of darkness and evil. Words such as ‘demon’, ‘atrocity’ and ‘haunts’, helps support this background throughout the story. In addition, the use of 1st person narrative emphasizes the gloom even further. The combination of language and narrative makes it impossible for the reader to...
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