The imp of the perversegreenspun.com : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread
Can someone give me some insight on "The imp of the perverse"? I need to write a paper and was wondering if anyone could provide me with some insightful information regard this work by Poe. I would greatly appreciate any help!!!
Thanks so much!
-- Anonymous, June 27, 2000
Poes short story, The Imp of the Perverse was first printed in Grahams Ladys and Gentlemens Magazine in July of 1845 and reprinted in 1846 in The Mayflower. It is one of my personal favorites and repeats a theme found in many of Poes stories and even some of his poetry.
While Poes personal beliefs on the subject were extraordinarily complex and fraught with varied causes and effects upon the human soul, the nature of the Imp itself, was relatively uncomplicated. You see, Poe believed that mankind, that is to say, all humans, male and female, are inherently possessed of an inclination; a natural predisposition or are somehow driven by intrinsic impulses to act in a manner that is recognized rather clearly as inconsistent with their own well being and, at times, their very survival. Poe repeatedly demonstrated an interest in this phenomenon and wrote about it in this story as well as Never Bet the Devil Your Head, The Black Cat and The Tell Tale Heart. There is even a strong hint of this theme in his most famous work, The Raven. The Imp of which he speaks is not the perversity, but the impulse, the prima mobilia he mentions in the tale. Phrenologists of the period had mapped out all the different regions the brain that were said to be areas of motivation for specific behaviors, moods and abilities. In the story, it was the narrators contention that the phrenologists had failed to identify the brain region responsible for this most unfathomable impulse. It is my personal belief that Poe saw this, not only as a failing of the individual, but also recognized that mankind acted collectively in this same irrational manner.
This perverse nature of the human soul should not be confused with personal sacrifice. A soldier that places himself at risk for the greater good, a mother that forfeits nourishment to ensure her child is fed, a father that endures personal hardship for the sake of his family, all examples of personal sacrifice, are driven by compulsion, not impulse.
The perverseness can take many forms from the benign to the profound. The homework, the financial analysis report, that recipe, all due to their recipients within days, yet we stall and put it off for one more day. Then one more day. We justify the delay by assuring ourselves we will eventually get to it. We know well ahead of time when it is due and we know the consequences if we fail to deliver. The compulsion to get it done and over with is easily overshadowed by the impulse to delay to put it off just one more day. As each day passes, the urgency to begin increases as does the impulse to delay. Poe described it best where he says The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (. In defiance of the consequences) is indulged. Perhaps this story or, at least, the theme of the story is the source for the old saying, The devil made me do it! As Poe states in the story, Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In effect, we understand the consequences and know we must not delay for there exist no reason, no cause to keep us from executing our duty, from fulfilling our obligation. Yet we are impelled by this imp to put it off. just for one more day.
In the story, the narrator has contemplated and, through careful deliberation, committed murder. So ingenious was his method and execution that the likelihood of detection was nonexistent. To ensure his safety, he discreetly disposed of the only possible evidence, the poisoned candle. So content in his inheritance and pleased with his assured security, he reveled in the perfection of his evil deed and knew he would remain safe as long as he did not speak of it. But the impulse to speak became stronger and he found himself muttering and cautioning himself against open confession. Ultimately, he is overtaken by the impulse and begins to run to avoid the crowd. The crowd becomes alarmed and pursues him. Caught by the crowd, he fights desperately to remain silent but the secret bursts forth and he confesses all to the crowd.
I trust this answers at least some of your questions and provides some measure of explanation. I sincerely regret the delay but I have just recently returned to the forum. I hope it is not too late.
-- Anonymous, August 26, 2000