Edgar Allen Poe and Racism

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What were Edgar Allen Poe's views on racism?

-- Anonymous, April 19, 2000


fuck poe

-- Anonymous, December 08, 2000

fuck poe he sucks

-- Anonymous, December 08, 2000

tell me, "me" if Poe sucks so much, how come you're on this site? Is your own life so pathetic that you go around insulting other peoples' interests? Or are you just an illiterate little bastard who has never read Poe and therefore doesn't know? Would you prefer J.K. Rowling?

-- Anonymous, January 30, 2001

Now, now, there's no reason to sling insults at someone else entirely. You may not care for J.K. Rowling's work, but I'm willing to bet that a lot of people, who like Poe and are visiting this board, do. By letting the equivalent of tree T.P.ers get under your skin, you're actually satisfying them. Ignore 'em and move on, don't stoop to their level and don't reply. I don't mean to sound condescending, here, I'm just tired of these strings of epithets continuing because people respond to them. I'd like to see someone actually respond to this person's question, especially since it's a good, well-written query, every other word's not misspelled and it doesn't ask for the same book-report analysis on The Tell-Tale Heart (or whatever the story assigned this week happens to be) that's already been requested a million times over. Thanks.

-- Anonymous, January 30, 2001

While I can fully understand the impulse to admonish, I cannot get past the logic and sound advice in Alex's comments. The internet has created its own brand of e-vandals and lacking any reasonable means of control, its simply best to ignore them. Since this forum's intent was to provide space for open discussion, I hope the following is perceived as a reasonable response to the original question.

Actually, there were some connections between Poe and the institution of slavery, at least, in the passive context. That he, personally, owned another human being is exceedingly doubtful. However, there is a historical record dated December 10, 1829, between Edgar Allan Poe aged 20 years, acting as an agent for his Aunt Maria Poe Clemm, and a freed black slave named Henry Ridgway, to effect the assignment of a 21 year old slave named Edwin for a period of 9 years for $40.00. (May Garrettson Evans, "When Edgar Allan Poe Sold a Slave," the Baltimore Sun, April 6, 1940, The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore)

As a practical matter, however, any clear and comprehensible explanation in this regard would require volumes of details or, in its absence, at least a sound, fundamental understanding of the American institution of slavery and its effects on American society (North and South) in the early 19th century. Generalities simply will not suffice when it comes to understanding the impacts slavery had on everyday life, individual attitudes and the political stance of any individual American citizen. Here, in the year 2001, the impact and residual affects of slavery of the old antebellum South are still with us. Fortunately, it does not appear to be as divisive an issue as it was in Poe's day. I do not mean to infer that conflict over this issue has completely evaporated of the years, but speaking comparatively, the struggles, social and political, between the old abolitionist movement and advocates of slavery could be characterized as, at times, brutal. While there remains an underlying schism with the American public, open discourse in this regard is more accepted and often much more refined and civil than in Poe's day. After a bloody Civil War, two World Wars and several brutal conflicts, we must hope that the lessons of enslavement, for any cause, have not been lost on mankind.

Upon the death of his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, Edgar Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan. Although Edgar Poe was never formally adopted by the Allans, he was raised as their foster son and baptized on January 7, 1812 by the Reverend John Buchanan as Edgar Allan Poe. For all intents and purposes, Edgar was raised as the "adopted" son of a very wealthy Virginia family with all its attendant benefits and privileges including his excellent education. In fact, from as early as his teens and in spite of his city of birth, Boston, Massachusetts, Poe always considered himself a "Gentleman of the South."

Contrary to modern perceptions, Poe was not always at odds with his foster father, John Allan. An astute merchant and tobacco trader, John Allan often expressed his pride in young Edgar's intellectual progress and achievements and Edgar, more often than not, affectionately referred to Allan as "Pa". Growing up in the Allan household, Edgar was clearly familiar with and constantly exposed to those individuals of African descent owned by John Allan as slaves. There is also sufficient cause to believe that as he matured, he would also have been exposed to the social and political rhetoric of the time regarding the slavery issue. It was a constant debate and often a bitter one between the agricultural South and the industrial North that had been going on for decades. For example, as early as 1776, Thomas Jefferson must have had great personal difficulty reconciling the fact that he so passionately believed in the principles extolled in the opening words of our Constitution and yet, he personally owned and maintained several slaves. Surely, this fracture of logic was troubling and certainly not unique to Jefferson. Ironically, the Southern plantations of the antebellum South clearly owed the bulk of their success (and wealth) to slave labor. Without question, the cost of their produce and material goods was significantly diminished and, therefore, much more competitive and marketable as a result.

Considering Poe's superior intellect and his abiding interest in contemporaneous issues, there is little doubt Poe would have developed a position of some sort. Specifically what this position was, we will never know. Some Poe enthusiasts, as a defense, tend to suggest that at some point in his early adulthood, Poe became disenchanted with the culture of the antebellum South and that over time, he had aligned himself, at least confidentially, with the attitudes of the abolitionists. One proposed reason appears to be that Poe's desperation for recognition as a serious author engendered, to a large degree, dependence upon the good graces of the New England literary clique. This position is wholly inconsistent with Edgar's apparent personality, his character and his predisposition toward the provocative. There are those, including myself, that would suggest that if a critic in the North proposed that sunrise always occurred to the East, Poe would have felt compelled to argue the contrary and then, perhaps, demonstrate it to a proven certainty.

Poe once wrote a review of James Kirke Paulding's "Slavery in the United States" for the Southern Literary Messenger (April 1836, Volume II, Pages 336-339) which, in fact, was more a defense of the institution of slavery than a critique. According to Arthur Hobson Quinn in his "Edgar Allan Poe - A Critical Biography", the article clearly reflected Poe's formative years raised as a Southerner by a wealthy Virginia family that owned and traded slaves. While the article is less a review than it is a defense of the institution of slavery, it attempts to absolve the institution of slavery on the basis of a mutual affection, caring and loyalty between slave and owner. He gives several examples but most notably, one in which a pregnant female slave is inconsolable over the impending loss of her mistress. Permitted to stay with the dying woman, at night she is told to leave and go to bed. She repeatedly disobeys and secrets herself in the dark in close proximity to her mistress. Although very well written with some measure of sensitivity, the other examples are equally as weak. That is to say, weak from the 21st century perspective for we have no way of knowing how this "review" was accepted or rejected in the early spring of 1836. Perhaps, it is sufficient it to say that we fought a horrible war to settle the debate and the institution of slavery was abolished.

So... was Edgar Allan Poe a racist?

Racism is a term dated from around 1936 and refers to one with the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. By this definition, perhaps the bulk of the American population of the early 19th century would probably qualify with comparatively few exceptions. Certainly, given Poe's apparent views, he would suitably fit this definition were he alive today.

Was Edgar Poe a bigot?

This is a word from middle French that dates from 1661 and refers to a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. This pretty much sums up anyone that possesses DNA and has a predisposition to openly express their own individuality. I don't think I'm sufficiently free of these sins so, perhaps someone else should decide this one!

One last question... a purely rhetorical one... Are the literary contributions from a brilliant mind less precious in the 21st century as a result of the author's views in the context of the early 19th century?

Lets not be obtuse!


-- Anonymous, January 31, 2001

The reason behind me asking this question in the first place was the pretty blatantly apparent color symbolism in his only novel, The Narrative of Aurthur Gordan Pym of Nantucket. I was wondering if all of this symbolism was a statement of Poe's racism, or concurrence with slavery. Well, thank you for the educated responses. I appreciate them greatly.

-- Anonymous, February 02, 2001

Many people at that time were racist.

-- Anonymous, February 27, 2003

You all suck

-- Anonymous, May 02, 2003

ya'll suck big

-- Anonymous, May 07, 2003

A classmate and I are doing a report on Poe and need to find his veiwpoint on slavery? Many people contradict themselves in saying what he stood for. Can I please get some honest, educated answers, not some 5 year olds trying to be funny?? It is appreciated.


-- Anonymous, October 17, 2003

Look for a book called Poe and the Masses, by Terrance Whalen. It covers the subject of Poe and racism very nicely.

-- Anonymous, October 17, 2003

not sure but i have another question...Did any of poe's work relate to slavery and how did his work impact the people of his time period?

-- Anonymous, October 29, 2003

I appologize for my ignorance pothry

-- Anonymous, December 02, 2003

fuck poe the god damn ho

-- Anonymous, December 03, 2003

yeah,yeah, yeah, FUCK Poe that lil ho. He ain't nuttin but a bitch ass ho. Yall can't fuck wit the Wu-Tang. hahaha

-- Anonymous, February 04, 2004

you people need to sit down and read some of poe's work before you go saying how bad he is... he was a great poet and writer... SO FUCK OFF

-- Anonymous, March 30, 2004

Yes I am doing a report on Poe and I need a good quote to go in it. By chance might someone know a quote from Poe himself or from anyone who knows a good amount about Poe?

-- Anonymous, March 30, 2004

Heya.... i gatta do this L.A project and i was wondering if anybody knows Poe's ethinic backround like was he italian like me or french or sumthing please e-mail me with a responce.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2004

Tis, I would prefer 19th Century literature over the garbage of the 21st Century anyday. Or am I being obtuse for thinking that women shaking their thonged asses in the faces of blinged out white boys is disgusting?

-- Anonymous, January 30, 2005

You guys are killin' me! lmao. I'm trying to do research on Poe for a report and this is what i get. Crazy!

-- Anonymous, March 01, 2005

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