Event in Poe's life influencing his writing and historic event.

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I am tutoring an 11 year old boy and would appreciate responses(is it too much to ask as soon as possible!!??) 1)Which 2 short stories,besides The telltale heart, are simplest to understand? 2)What important event in Poe's life influenced his style of writing? 3)What historical event occured during Poe' lifetime? Any websites elaborating on the last two questions would greatly be appreciated. Thank you in advance,Ruchama

-- Anonymous, August 20, 2001


Since Poe's tales were for an adult 19th century audience and often tested their erudition beyond the simple tale this is not necessarily easy. Some seem easier to read though the popular reduction of Poe's horror stories to the chilling plot alone, watering down the art- and the effect. "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" is easier because it is styled after real life adventure and simply explains the "science" needed to drive the hero's struggles against a force of nature. Of course, there is much more to the Maelstrom than that, but the story stands well on the simple level. "The Gold Bug", one of the detective stories of Poe dealing with secret pirate treasure and clues is a natural, again based on facts and scientific reasoning. Among the dark tales, again on the easy level of primal effect, comes "The Pit and the Pendulum"(again reason versus real danger), "The Black Cat"(another disturbed narrator with reason overthrown), "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Cask of Amontillado." Tales that are stranger, dated with obscure references or long philosophical explanations integral to the story pose the greatest challenge to the difference in reading levels. "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" are simple stories, but maybe too rich a read? It would be wise not to drown the boy in nothing but horror stories, giving a false impression of Poe, with some unknown elements totally misunderstood or nagging. Encourage the reading with Poe's main goal being the singular EFFECT created by the story, details coming second. I rmember trying to plow through "Pym" as a boy and getting the effect while drowning in the lengthy exposition(a general response by most readers!)

As to historical events in particular, Poe does not seem all that much critically engaged. Looking at a timeline you might wonder that Poe was living at the same time! Larger movements such as the developing literature of America, the westward expansion, scientific progress, north-south conflicts, the individual in urbanized society, are important to him. You are as likely to see Poe commenting on a small incident as upon the Mexican War and with as little complete attention to the whole story. "The Man that was all used up" is a humourous tall tale commentary on Indian fighting reminding me of a Twain story about cannibalism on a snowbound train. Most would wish that he had written more articles on people and events of the time WE consider more crucial and that should have been influential on his art and life. When he did latch on thoroughly, as with the South Seas Polar Expedition, both his interest and art flowered around it based on prior interests in Coleridge or the Hollow Earth theory.

Poe's inspiration-sources? His troubled upbringing is crucial. The encouragement, then death, of Stannard at his youthful beginnings as a poet mark his birth as a classic, romantic poet? His education in England exposing him to Coleridge, Byron and the English Romantics. In his "Philosophy of Composition" he will define it all for you including his view of the "highest" theme of such poetry, the tragic death of a young beautful woman, which, viewed alongside his life seems connected, prophetic, ironic in ways beyond mere artisitc principle. Online a good source for Poe's complete works(with variations) and many other references and good online sites can be found at www.eapoe.org the excellent site of The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

Often if you think something is annoying, difficult to understand or offbeat you are probably in the company of many of Poe's contemporaries. Digging into his literary teasers may not be so extremely crucial.

-- Anonymous, August 21, 2001

I think the cask of amontillado and the mask of the red death are easiest to read. The symbolism isnt hard to find/see and the stories are very "deep" in respect to plot and character development. Try those. P3ac3...


-- Anonymous, February 17, 2003

Poe's short story The Cask of Amontillado, if I recall correctly, is used as 9th grade material. That I think would be your best choice for an easier read.

-- Anonymous, September 30, 2003

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