How Poe's personal life affected his works, HOW TO START?? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I'm writing a term paper [3-5 pages] about how Poe's personal life affected his poems and short stories. i have my outline, but i don't know how to start off the paper part. Here's my outline:


Thesis: Death is the main theme in most of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories.

I. Edgar’s personal life A. Everyone close to him died 1. Both parents died of tuberculosis 2. Wife, Virginia, died of same disease B. Many failed marriages

II. Death affected his life A. Became depressed B. Brought out feelings in stories and poems

III. Short Stories A. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” is about Poe’s insanity 1. In “The Tell-Tale Heart” he kills a man 2. In “The Black Cat” he kills a cat B. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is about a journey into the depths of the self

IV. Poems A. “A Dream Within A Dream” is about the illusions of life like love B. “Annabel Lee” is about childhood love

can anyone work from th

-- Anonymous, June 03, 2001


Death is NOT the theme of most of his stories. I recommend you get another "thesis" - preferably one that is actually true.

-- Anonymous, June 03, 2001


It appears the premise of your term paper is a regular topic of this forum or, at least, a commonly asked question dealt with often. Regretfully, as indicated in the post above, the facts are at odds with your thesis. Generally, this is the simple result of exposure or, more precisely, the lack of exposure to the bulk of Poe's work. It cannot be denied that death is an element in many tales and poems, your statement that, "Death is the main theme in most of Edgar Allan Poe's stories.", is simply, not accurate. More accurately, death and dying are merely incidental to the story line to enhance a broader theme of revenge, perversity of man or madness. There are other ideas mentioned that are common misperceptions as well.

As for Edgar's personal life, I would caution you against using the absolute term "everyone". It is not accurate. Poe was survived by many friends and loved ones. There is no evidence that either his mother or his father died of tuberculosis. Poe's mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe died on December 8, 1811, most likely of pneumonia and his father, David Poe, Jr. is thought to have died of pneumonia as well but he is lost to history and no one knows for sure. There is ample evidence Virginia died of tuberculosis on January 30, 1847. There is no evidence that Poe was ever married to anyone other than Virginia Eliza Clemm.

Regarding death affecting his life, I would suggest you consider other elements of the period as well. One of Poe's most debilitating problems in terms of depression was his persistent poverty, lack of recognition, his own illnesses as well as his wife's tuberculosis, literary theft, poor pay and poorly enforced copyright laws. See the forum thread at msg_id=005B1M for additional comments.

The story "The Tell Tale Heart" is simply a story of a man personally confident of his own sanity yet lost in a fantasy of paranoia and convinced that the root of his terror lies in the hideous vulture- like eye of his benefactor. To suppose this story is an indication of Poe's own madness is to diminish Poe's genius, his imagination and surrender common sense to fantasy. It is fiction, make-believe, made up stuff, fantasy... nothing more... nothing less. Would you apply the same interpretation to the 18 year old young woman who wrote the tale "Frankenstein", Mary Shelley?

The story "The Black Cat" is similar except that the narrator acts in a manner completely at odds with his character and in direct opposition to his own well being. He is aware of his weakness for drink and yet drinks. In a temperate state, he is his old self but in a state of excess, his human and social inhibitions, his cognitive restraints are gone and his behavior unchecked by reason. This does not necessarily infer insanity or madness, but suggests a personal weakness of will, a perverse nature if you prefer. Incidentally, in this tale he also accidentally kills his wife.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is about the deterioration of the family Usher. Roderick and Madeline are twins and while fraternal twins by birth, in life, Roderick represents the intellectual element of this singular personality while Madeline represents the physical existence. One cannot survive without the other and the crumbling of the Usher mansion is representative of the slow disintegration of Roderick's mind and the loss of substance to Madeline's physical existence. Of course there are several interpretations and I would urge you to seek them out.

As for "Annabel Lee" and "A Dream Within A Dream", I have sent you summaries of both that include my personal thoughts. I assure you, there are others not especially consistent with my own and I would suggest, yet again, that you seek them out. My interpretations merely suit my own sensibilities, perceptions and studies and I do not wish to impose them on anyone without balance from alternate perspectives. In any event, I wish you the best of luck on your paper.


-- Anonymous, June 03, 2001


-- Anonymous, October 11, 2004

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