****POE and the AMERICAN DREAM****

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How would Poe view the "American Dream"? Would he feel the average person today has achieved this "American Dream"?

-- Anonymous, January 03, 2001


Dr. Ripley,

An interesting question to contemplate, especially from some specific perspectives but there is unlikely to be a meaningful answer. Poe had his own "American Dream", complete literary independence, and was faithful in its pursuit up until his death in October of 1849. Regretfully, his failure to realize that dream was America's loss. However, if you mean to ask how Poe would view the materialistic dream of American's today, that is freedom from want, I dare say he would see it as little different than his time. Except, perhaps, that he may perceive the opportunities available to achieve this freedom are more abundant today.

Clearly, no one can say with certainty just what Poe's views would be for I would speculate that there are few of us that recognize what currently makes up the "American Dream." Presuming the fundamental precepts of our constitutional guarantees of liberty, justice and equality still apply, I think Edgar would be, shall we say, cynically amused that 150 years has proved to be little more than an inexorable passing of time. I do not mean to infer that Poe would not marvel at the incredible increase in our knowledge base as well as our technological advances in all the sciences, and the medical disciplines in particular. Who could possibly fail to be astounded at the limitless promise of completely mapping the human genome. I would speculate, however, that while Poe may be astonished at the progress of knowledge, he would most likely demonstrate little surprise for our lagging wisdom in the use of that knowledge.

Would he feel the average person today has achieved this "American Dream"? Perhaps, but honestly, Dr. Ripley, I think that while he would certainly find some measure of appreciation for the improvements, the advances and the incremental social progress in our country over the last century and a half, he would not necessarily view that portion of mankind that occupies the North American continent as a model for the political or social ideal. I do believe he would agree that it remains the best available model, but with mankind as its most significant flaw.

Poe, with his circle of intellectual friends, often discussed mankind's relentless march toward perfection. A curious but interesting subject for the time and, unquestionably, a noble goal. I will not go into the obvious debate over how they may have reconciled the issue of slavery with the concept of mankind's purity for in my personal view, the mere existence of the former precludes the latter. In any event, Poe once wrote in a letter to his friend Dr. Thomas H. Chivers in July of 1844, "I disagree with you in what you say of man's advance towards perfection. Man is now only more active, not wiser, nor more happy, than he was 6000 years ago." In many respects, this observation still rings true today.

I realize this is a poor response to a specific question, but I wanted to thank you for raising an interesting topic and just got carried away. I have thought about it at length and have had some difficulty filtering my own views from my interpretations for those of Poe. Generally, I am much less pessimistic relative to mankind's progress, yet there are times when the words of history seem so well synchronized to today's events it gives one pause to rethink our capacity for understanding.

Be that as it may, I thank you once again.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, January 06, 2001

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