on the motifs in the short stories by E.A.Poe

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Who could tell me the mean and the origin of term "doppelanger"? Is it a motif in literary tradition? What is origin and development of this motif? Does it appear in "The fall of the House of Usher", "William Wilson"...? And what other works does it appear? Who could tell me a list of motifs of the Fantastic in the short stories by Edgar Allan Poe?

-- Anonymous, June 27, 2004


The main web pages on Romanticism and the Gothic could help you there. Some German philosophy that preceded freud in delving into the supra rational or emotional aspects of thought and perceived reality. Twinning, personality splits, etc. often are far deeper than the motif of doppelganger and go to Poe's personality. hence the danger in "William Wilson" when Poe's originality goes from both directions(perosnal biographical details, the Gothic(German) tales of the troll child, the doppelganger and contemporary stories using those legends). Note that Poe rearely gives physical reality to supernatural phenomenoa. Eevn compared to Wilde's "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" the twin in William Wilson seems at the end to have no reality except in the narrator's disordered, self destructive mind, unlike the fashion of his contemporaries. For Poe, it is enough to say the narrator believes and is utterly fascinated to the point of destruction in his extreme perceptions- a pure form of romanticism and akin, almost authentic to Poe's own expereience- for Poe was a supreme rationalist merely working the genre.

Poe avoided the use of extreme similies(and similies in general) as also was common in the hyper Gothic tales of his time. He did use the Byronic hero(brooding, isolated, wild anti-hero above conventional morality in extrme experiences), the atmosphere of the fantastic(dark exagerrated settings, gargantuan, dark nature, decadent medievalism, terror. Poe in this cheap scare medium opted for the thoughtful formula(think Rod Serling) where an extrme philospohical insight is fleshed out thematically in the tale. Though for Poe, this "explanation" too is secondary to the emotional effect utterly captivating the narrator and hence the focus of the work.

In "The Raven" and "Ulalume" there is this inner dialogue of the divided self that flows into the telling- so much so that the reader believes the bird talks or in the "twin" of William Wilson as much as the disturbed slef-deceiving narrator. The narrator's need and desire this deception and so apparently(Poe's tweaking) does the unwary general reader.

The divided self(with one expressing the opposite or cancellation or emnity in insane illogic) can be seen also in "The Imp of the perverse", "The Black Cat" "Tales of the Ragged Mountain". Poe's own life is sometimes a dangerous conflict with the rational combining with the inutitive to deal with failure, addiction, tragedies, self doubt and the dangerous instability of the Romantic experiment itself, in which Poe was personally invested with less strong faith or hope in anything other than his Muse. See "The Lake" and his valuation of his life(second mature revision of the text) and all else(faith, love, fame, profit) vis a vis his poetic core.

It is easy to expand the doppelganger motif to include all inner dialogues or divisions in self or narrative pairings, but that would likely be going in the wrong direction. Poe picked up on a tale of a murderous, vengeful and replacement threatening doppleganger to express something more basic and common- and hence no need to give it any supernatural reality. "The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym" is another where the two very similar friends go to sea and one alone comes back.

The other German tale of the Golum(the imitative construct of creation of Man) is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, another rational Romantic who divides a real monster from phiosophical underpinnings with the usual assumption that in thses tales the monster must have objective reality. Poe makes things more interesting by poetically reducing everything to the single subjective. Motifs are the poetic devices to express this. So often critics and readers get it awkwardly backwards and thus confuse themselves in a different way more than Poe himself.

-- Anonymous, June 28, 2004

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