Hypocrisy of society

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Hello, I need some informations about the relationship between Poe's short stories ( in particular "The house of Husher", "Hop-Frog" and "The man of the crowd") and the theme of hypocrisy of society that has like consequence the evil in human being.

-- Anonymous, June 09, 2001


First, I think it is cruel and unhuman scholarship to assign topics like these in June. Second, I am not sure "Usher" is the best example of social commentary. At the least the "reduplication" of decay and evil in the environment, house and family and brain of Usher shows a spiritual and physical connection that seems a supernatual fate. It only ushers in the topic.

-- Anonymous, June 09, 2001

The horrible pun caused me to inadvertently and prematurely bury the rest of my thought. It rises again.

"Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere"- Charles Baudelaire. I think it wise to acquaint yourself with Poe's personal background as the apolitical nineteenth century writer. His commentary on social hypocrisy is profoundly personal, based on bitter experience. Both Baudelaire and Poe had an early taste of the genteel bourgeois life, ideal for the pursuit of aesthetics and art- and the expectation of inheritance. Both were quickly disappointed and never recovered though they had strong ambition that their talent and calling would prevail. Instead they saw medicority not only pass them by, but established in power over and against their success. Grinding poverty, persecution etc etc. Neither artist had a gentle sense of humor in these matters. Niehter was "pure" and both had a skill for self-defeat.

"Hop Frog" is an appalling tale of mocking revenge by the little guy(dwarf- not deformed, Trippetta-short but delicately beautiful) against the gross tyranny of the big and fatcat court. The most repellent characteristic is that the tale so thinly stretches over Poe's own vicious attack against his enemies. He wants everyone to see him burning his enemies in more than effigy. His comment on their blindness and self-aggrandizing destructive behavior is embodied in the tale as grotesquely as the Usher residence. His enemies write terribly and mock him of course. They hold the power of the world in satanic sway and mirror physically their own evil.

That brings us to "The Man in the Crowd", almost Dickensian as it moves through the strata of urban society, following the mysterious and menacing "man". It is a cavalcade of social criticism, the evil lurking within the shadows of the common evils, the "reduplication" and personification of the whole by the part and vice versa. Note the observer, as Usher's friend or Hop Frog judges, participates then escapes this intermingled, decaying structure, powerless to do anything more.

The evil itself for the poet is lack of ideal truth and beauty that is not admitted but buried by triumphant mediocrity, the most laughable, grotesque and evil mask of "perfection" that brooks no protest, competition or individualism within its walls, walls that are doomed to fall. This sounds like an essay. Sorry. One does that when stretching the data to fit a "theme". One can really see some hypocrisy, at least jealousy, in the poethimself after all. The oppression Poe felt was intimately interior as well. The Ideal he hoped for became a fear of the beyond because of the real miseries and defeats he experienced. The ideal dream can as easily be a nightmare. He struck back, angrily and desperately in his last works, the idealist devoured by his quest and society by its overly secure mediocrity.

-- Anonymous, June 09, 2001

Valentina - I don't think that "The Fall of the House of Usher" really fits the theme you describe. In fact, I think the theme itself is quite flawed. For the most part, Poe did not decry society per say. If he were asked to comment on the evils in society, I think he would say that they are but the evils of the individual writ large, rather than the other way around. Poe felt that evil was an inherent part of the human soul, expressed, in part, in his concept of the imp of the perverse. (In Poe's usage, "perverse" means the urge to self desctruction rather than anything of a sexual nature.) This tendency is mentioned in a famous passage from "The Narrative of A. G. Pym" (a passage about a cliff) and given full reign in "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat" and "The Imp of the Perverse." (In the last of these, Poe gives it an unusal twist since the narrator's imp makes him confess his crime rather than commit it.) If you look at "Hop Frog," "Masque of the Red Death" and "Metzengerstein," Poe seems to be showing us disfunctional government, or to be criticising the concept of aristocracy. Instead, I think Poe sees these as specific failures of specific individuals rather than the failure of any particular form of society. If the individual is inherently flawed then any form of government will also be flawed, but so will a society which tries to have no government.

Poe wrote to several friends in 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." And he said much more in his public writings. Poe's bleak view came at the end of the "Enlightenment," when people felt that humanity was making real progress towards perfection. It also flys in the face of Emerson's transcendentalism, which began as the utopian prediction of man's perfectability, and ended in the nightmare of Nietsche's superman and the rise of the Nazis. Emerson felt that conscience was a crutch, or a weight, "golden chains" holding man down. Poe saw the error in this sort of thinking. The message of "Cask of Amontillado" is that man without a conscience is a monster. But most people want to believe in the false dream of perfectability in spite of the evidence to the contrary -- now there is some genuine hypocrisy. To do this, they mistake Poe (the messenger) for the message. They dismiss him as a drunkard (a gross exaggeration) and a drug fiend (a patent falsehood) and a madman (debatable, but essentially untrue). For them, the real horror in Poe's writings is that he was simply right.

-- Anonymous, June 10, 2001

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