Premature burials : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

OK i'm doing a report on poe and i wanted to know what is the meaning of having all the premature berials in his stories and what was the significance of them were for? thanks!

-- Anonymous, September 17, 2000



It would certainly seem that for such a simply stated question, surely, there must be an answer that can be stated simply, dont you agree? Well, Pamela, I just cant think of one that can be provided in just a few sentences. So if you will bear with me, Ill do the best I am able to keep it as brief as I can.

One of the principles that Poe believed in most fiercely was that from the first word in a story, each and every element must, without exception, be subservient to the desired singular effect. Regardless of whether the ultimate intended effect was to excite the intellect, stir the heart, provoke anger, instill fear or arouse any other emotion, nothing in the story should contribute to distraction or diminish the desired effect. This precept is valid today.

One of his most effective techniques was to begin a tale of fiction with some discourse based on facts or real events often well known to his readers. It was always difficult to gauge what the public at large would believe or disbelieve. Although he felt the public, generally, was predisposed to believe almost anything, he often captured the readers attention by first recounting actual cases or events to which the public had most likely been exposed via local newspapers. His tale, The Premature Burial is a good example. Then, as the story progresses, he would lead into the fictional events as told by the narrator. Typically, by this time the reader was fully engaged and at the mercy of Poes incredible imagination.

Poe was assisted in no small measure by the fact that premature burials in the early 19th century were a real fear. Epidemics were not uncommon, tuberculosis (consumption) was certainly well known, heat disease was little understood and, unfortunately, medicine was slow to progress. Instruments were crude and expertise was slow to develop. Therefore, a 19th century citizen found in a comatose state certainly had no guarantee he would not be judged deceased and moved to the morgue, perhaps even for autopsy. There are stories of our ancestors so fearful that they provided some assurances that should they awaken from a deep slumber or unconscious state to find themselves, shall we say, laid to rest, they could simply operate some preset mechanism to signal their dilemma. Hopefully, some conscientious passerby would hear the bell or see the flag and move heaven and earth, (no pun intended) to affect their resurrection. In any event, the mere thought of being buried alive, even today, fills one with absolute horror.

However, Poe did not necessarily treat this theme in a consistent context. In The Premature Burial, it is used as I have discussed here; as a primal fear of the inevitable occurrence should one be wrongly perceived as deceased. Madelines premature burial in The Fall of the House of Usher is treated differently. In this tale, her twin brother Roderick represents the physical or the tangible half of the only remaining members of the Family of Usher and Madeline, the spiritual or ethereal side. When Madeline is thought to be dead and is placed in her tomb, she escapes to return because it is the physical that must cease to exist before the spirit can pass on. As she collapses upon Roderick and causes Rodericks death, they both die and with the ebbing life energy of the twin Ushers gone, the estate of the House of Usher collapses and disappears into the swampy tarn. This image was instantly recalled the first time I ever watched the conclusion of the movie Poltergeist.

In the story, The Cask of Amontillado, the theme of the tale is fully retribution and the entombment of Fortunato in the catacombs is incidental to the main theme. This premature burial serves only to heighten the readers awareness of the agony felt by Fortunato. In The Black Cat and in The Tell Tale Heart, the victims are already dead, with the exception of the cat, of course, and the narrator was unaware of his presence until the wall was opened. Either way, these two latter stories are not applicable to your questions.

Now. I have a question for you, Pamela! Would you possibly be related to Arthur Hobson Quinn, the premier biographer of Edgar Allan Poe and the author of Edgar Allan Poe  A Critical Biography? : )

Good luck on your assignment and

Warm Regards,

-- Anonymous, September 24, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ