What is Poe's views on...

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To what extent is the depiction of the human will and intelligence in Poe? To what extent does Poe suggest the human capacity for self-control, and self-direction? To what extent does he suggest that the human condition places individuals at the mercy of supportive and/or destructive forces beyond the reach of human control?

In what way might "The Purloined Letter" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" present an understanding of the human psyche consistent with that of Poe's stories in which the human will and repose and intelligence become unraveled in the presence of mystery or horror? What consistent view of the human will and intelligence might be offered to the reader in the range of Poe's stories as a whole?

What role does humor, or irony, play in the psychological portraits of Poe's characters?

-- Anonymous, October 06, 2002


A complex question because Poe himself and in his works was fairly complex and apparently contradictory. At once he is the pragmatic American, confident in science and reason and will to solve problems, yet intimately conjoined is the wild romantic fatally captive to passions, mystery, melancholy and great froces beyond the controlof man or the reach of religion. Such force in themselves ARE too overwhelming in physical danger(Maelstrom) and plain terror, yet all Poe's characters struggle to understand, puzzle out survival and resist. Only the mad and the weak succumb. The alternately despairing and persistent captive in "The Pit and the Pendulum" saves himself by fighting for time ans sanity. Though he is rescued anticlimactically he has won the mental victory by reserving the last choice on how to meet his death. Not so poor Roderick Usher who diverts himself but never works to escape the doom that he sees rushing upon him. Nor does the rebellious Prospero in the Red Death who feigns strength in blocking himself in a claustrophobic, mad architecture. The Imp of the Perverse tales show the murderous man circling doom upon himself, trying to cleverly escape in between the fall to crime and the crazed confession.(Tell Tale Heart, Black Cat). In Ligeia, most of all is will examined as a preternatural force beyond the rational,beyond life, transformed into a horror a la Frankenstein. Forgotten all science there. It is a cultic enactment to resurrect the lingering will of his first love, now a vast obsession devoid of affection or physical love.

All the minds are superior, ingenious, hyper sensitive with all the strengths acting in unison to create an intelligence at once broader and more powerful than any ordinary man. In this Dupin is the superior character and in fact is Poe's serial character hero of the detective stories, the poetically enhanced reason(Romantic Age) able to probe all mysteries, dispel the clouds and find rational truth. Note how few really of all Poe's main stories contain actualelemnts of the supernatural. Most dark gothic mysteries are merely suggested, usually unveiled.

His own struggles highlight this tenacity for the superiorityof will, the depth of the poetic mind, but he knew complete defeat, loss and personal weakness to the extreme as well. Even his successful heros are first touched with the overwhelming horror, the melancholy, the shock of the unknown and deadly. The Poe mind teeters on the balance over the maelstrom. Ordinary men, like ordinary policemen cannot solve the riddle or pierce the darkness at all. Weak or diseased genius succumbs to a vertigoof horror and defeat.

-- Anonymous, October 07, 2002

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