KNOW GOOD THESIS FOR POE RESEARCH PAPER?? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

Hi, could someone pleaaaase help me. I need to write a research paper and Poe sounded like a good idea. Does anyone know anything interesting that i can explore???

-- Anonymous, April 11, 2001


A very wise choice, selecting this genious as the focus of your paper. All aspects of his being are indeed interesting, but I believe that you seek something more specific. Perhaps you could research the reflection of his life in his works, his mentality, or what elements of his stories can be noticed in general human nature, and which ones are quite fantastic. There are indeed many themes that one could choose from, and once you have made your selection, if any trouble occasions your research, than by all means, write me and I will do all that I can to help you.

All Respects and Regards,

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2001

hey stephanie. you might consider looking into the relationship between poe the author and poe the man. there is a general misconception that poe was just as disturbed a man as some of his characters were. there is a lot of information and controversy surrounding that issue, so it might be a good thesis for your paper. good luck!

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2001


In an effort to assist, I hope the following may provide some additional ideas for your research. I apologize for its length but I thought it may add to the discussion.

In a definitive study of any individual, particularly one of historical note, there seems a consistency of defeat among researchers, enthusiasts and scholars alike, in the avoidance of presumption in regards to the ideals, the character and, often, the behavior of a historical figure of interest. While we may begin our trek with the brutal determination to be impartial in our assessment, inevitably, we are almost immediately confronted with subjective material with which we are to discern some objective reality. It is the rarest of biographies that successfully imparts a sense of crystalline detachment from personal views and, I dare say, it is even rarer still to find one whose conclusions cannot be argued until the moment of the next "big bang". This is especially applicable to the life and art of Edgar Allan Poe.

There are few, if any, American contributors to the literary arts with a greater celebrity than Mr. Poe. Among those of the general public that have been, even briefly, exposed to classic American literature, the mere mention of the poem "The Raven" immediately provokes haunting mental images of its author. Similarly, the simple sound of his name instantly triggers the cerebral recitation of a favored stanza of this poem. Whether you are an ardent admirer or a dedicated critic of his work, there is one fundamental truth to be found in the study of Edgar Allan Poe. That is that in a realistic study of American literature, Edgar Poe's contributions to the art simply cannot be ignored without cost.

For the past 152 years, this question has been repeated countless times, by countless students and from numerous perspectives. In an attempt to answer your post, I must first preface the response with the caution that my views are based less on a consensus of traditional opinions than on my personal understanding and interpretations of Mr. Poe's life and his work that cause me the least conflict. Therefore, I would encourage you to seek balance.

As a rule, it is thought to be undeniable that Poe led a difficult and trying existence. Generally, I believe this to be fundamentally factual and there is ample evidence to support the notion that tragedy, want and deprivation troubled him from an early age. Consequently, it is a testament to the power of his intellect, the firmness of his character and the tenacity of his resolve that we, here in the 21st century, still revel in his originality, creativity and imagination. But, just how much of the events and circumstances of his life are portrayed in his stories is open to interpretation. As a practical matter, I think it is exceedingly presumptive to read his tales as a mirror image to his life. Fiction, by its very definition is fantasy, make believe and illusion. While there may well be some fleeting fragrances of his life's circumstances in his stories, it is dangerous to read too much substance into the interpretations. That is to say, dangerous, from the perspective that, ultimately, one may discover or reveal more about oneself than could ever be concluded about the author. It does seem clear that he used many of his tales to air his grievances and social opinions as well as some philosophical views he may have held dear. In this, Poe was not at all unique in expounding on any specific philosophical dogma. The whole transcendentalist movement led by Ralph Waldo Emerson taught their own concept of self-reliance, moral accountability and the theoretical perfectibility of man.

In Poe's tale "The Masque of the Red Death", we are treated to fanciful visions of opulent grandeur, wealth and privilege of the ruling class from an unknown sovereignty where Prince Prospero has gathered together one thousand knights and dames of the royal realm into his abbey. While the less privileged of the kingdom slowly succumb to a hideous pestilence that is sweeping the land, Prince Prospero and his thousand revelers remain secure within the walls of the abbey to enjoy the bountiful food, flowing wine and lavish entertainment. Many interpret this as Poe's personal vision of the inevitability of death, that regardless of wealth and power, life begins only to end. Certainly, by the end of the story, we have learned that, "... Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all." The curious acknowledgment by Poe of the power of death is striking in that he repeatedly refused to openly concede the inevitability of his wife's death. Privately, he anguished and suffered unbearable fits of despair and depression, which often led to his abuse of alcohol. With friends, however, he was said to fly into a rage at the mere mention of her inevitable fate from an incurable disease.

Yet another reading of this story can be seen in the possibility that Poe was lamenting about the privileges of the wealthy. Living in an era where new immigrants to America could, and often did, bring with them some strange new plague or epidemic, the stage was set to re- enact a repeating drama. A drama where the wealthy could simply escape to the countryside to wait it out while the poor and underprivileged would be left to endure the ravages of the latest bout of cholera or yellow-fever or any other communicable virus with which the medical community was unprepared to cope. Cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Richmond and Charleston saw this occur time and again throughout the 1800s. Poe was no stranger to death and death, a seemingly constant companion of Poe.

Of special interest and, perhaps, most pertinent to the question at hand is Poe's treatment of "The Raven". It is thought that this poem was written while Poe and his family was living at the Brennan Farm near New York in 1844 having moved form Philadelphia in April. The environment and open air seemed to ease Virginia's suffering somewhat and she periodically showed signs of improvement but only to have Poe watch in despair as her health declined once again. By this time, Virginia had endured the effects of consumption (tuberculosis) for just over two years. The constant cycle between recovery and decline must have begun to weigh on Poe. No longer able to deny her fate, privately, Poe seems to have started to anticipate life in her absence. Given Poe's complete and unquestionable devotion to his wife, the desolate visions of existence without "Sissy" must have been unbearable. Essentially, this is the story told in this poem. It is the tale of a despairing soul suffering the loss of his life's greatest love, Lenore and attempting to distract himself from the agony of remembrance. For the narrator, there are only two possibilities open to him, to hold her once again, even if death provides the path for the glorious reunion in Aidenn. Or, to drive her memory from his tortured mind with the legendary potion "nepenthe", a drug that induces forgetfulness. Initially, the raven is simply used as a literary device but by the end of the poem, the bird has become a dark symbol of "mournful and never-ending remembrance." (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Philosophy of Composition" April 1846)

These are but two examples of impressions Poe's life experiences may have had on his work. I'm confident there are many more but, hopefully, these two offer differing measures of reflection when evaluating the impact of his life's circumstances on his work. In the former example, Poe is merely expressing his views or opinions in allegory while in the latter, the theme is derived from events of his life with more substance. Others may be found throughout his works but I think you'll find that the bulk of these "inspirations" or "influences" were ideas, images, feelings, thoughts or dreams collected from a mind consumed with literary endeavor. Poe was a voracious reader and maintained an interest in a diverse array of subject matter that ranged from human emotions to cryptography to the birth and demise of the material and spiritual universe. Likewise, his work includes a similar diversity for those who care to read it.

Traditional opinions, such as Poe's inordinate fear of death, his constant terror of being buried alive and his supposed madness are all, in my opinion, grossly disproportionate exaggerations taken from his gothic tales of the macabre. While I am sure Poe feared or dreaded the attendant loss resulting from death, it does not necessarily follow that he was consumed by the fear of dying himself. As regards premature burial, it was not an uncommon public concern in the early 19th century and Poe's treatment of the subject in "The Premature Burial" is simply a product of his fabulous imagination. It is exceedingly doubtful his personal fear for being entombed before death was any greater than that of the public at large and there is certainly no evidence to support the idea that he was overly burdened by this fear. He simply understood the literary potentials of combining factual and partial truths from newspaper articles of the day with the fantasies and imaginings of his intellect. As to the subject of his madness, well, frankly I am in possession of little faith in definitive results from psychoanalysis in the first place. Any analysis of an individual whereby the conclusions are based on reading his works of fiction must, at once and for all time, remain highly suspect.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2001

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